Information for prospective students
Why study for a postgraduate research degree?
The decision to carry out a postgraduate research degree should not be made lightly. Whatever you choose to study, you will need to enjoy the subject in order to keep yourself motivated for the length of your degree. If you are going to commit this time – and resources - to a project, you need to be inspired and absorbed by it, know that you enjoy working independently, be happy with what's on offer from the University within which you want to study, and like the location in which you choose to live.
Unlike taught programmes, research degrees are focused on independent study and involves an extended period of supervised research resulting in a thesis which “makes a distinct contribution to knowledge and affords evidence of originality as shown by the exercise of independent critical powers”.
Although the focus of a research project can be very specialised, it is also an excellent opportunity to learn and develop transferable skills such as organisation/time management, self-motivation and problem-solving.
Postgraduate research with us
A research degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands gives you an exciting and rewarding opportunity to explore a topic in real depth in order to make new contributions to knowledge. When you study for a research degree with us, you will be based in one of our campuses which has a specialisation in your field of research, offering unparalleled natural laboratories, environment and opportunities to support world-class research across a wide range of disciplines.
You will work independently under the guidance of a Director of Studies and a small supervisory team with relevant academic expertise. You will also be allocated a Third Party Monitor; an active researcher who will be available to offer pastoral support and guidance.
You will have regular meetings with your supervisory team throughout your studies and, at intervals during your degree, you will be expected to demonstrate that your research and writing are progressing well and any concerns are addressed in a timely fashion (if you have a sponsor, such as a UK Research Council or an overseas government, this is also an assurance that they will expect). You will also have access to a wide range of training and development opportunities to support your studies.
Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES)
The Higher Education Academy runs PRES, which is the only UK, sector-wide survey to gain insight from postgraduate research students about their learning and supervision experience, and we conduct PRES every other year.
In the 2017 survey, the University of the Highlands and Islands scored 89% student satisfaction rating relating to their experience on their research degree programme. This score is 7% above the Scottish and UK sector average and represents one of the best scores in the UK.
Read the full Higher Education Academy report on PRES 2017 (opens in new window)
Types of Research Degree
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
A PhD is a high level, globally-recognised qualification, rooted in original research and is rigorous and demanding. Most students are passionate about their area of interest and pursue a PhD as a result of their academic curiosity and desire for research excellence.
A PhD will typically take three to four years of full-time study, or five to six years of part-time study.
Research Master’s degrees (MRes)
An MRes will enable you to undertake an in-depth independent research project and develop an understanding of research study at an advanced academic level. It will also help you experience what undertaking a PhD might entail, if this should be a future goal.
From 2018/19 we will be offering MRes programmes by two distinct routes. Both will include the preparation of a significant research thesis, but one route will incorporate a credit-bearing, taught element (up to 30%) whereas the other will be examined solely on the basis of the research thesis.
Both routes will include research skills training necessary to undertake and complete the programme successfully, which will typically take one to two years of full-time study, or two to three years of part-time study.
The following programmes will be available (subject to approval):
MRes degrees (including taught modules)
MRes (Gaelic and Celtic Studies)
MRes degrees (with no taught modules)
MRes (Algal Biotechnology, Biology and Ecology)
MRes (Environmental Science)
MRes (Northern Studies)
MRes (Sustainability Studies)
Subject to availability of academic staff, we can offer postgraduate research student supervision in the following academic areas (links to all colleges are at the bottom of the page):
Archaeology: Lews Castle College UHI, Orkney College UHI, Shetland College UHI
Biomedical Sciences: Centre for Health Science
Energy: Lews Castle College UHI, North Highland College UHI, Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, Perth College UHI
Environmental science: North Highland College UHI, Inverness College UHI
Fine Art: Moray College UHI
Gaelic and Related Studies: Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI
History: Centre for History
Marine Science: Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI
Northern Studies: Inverness College UHI; Lews Castle College UHI; Moray College UHI; Orkney College UHI; Perth College UHI; Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI; Shetland College UHI
Rural Health: Centre for Rural Health & Wellbeing
Sustainability Studies: Centre for History, Centre for Rural Health & Wellbeing, Inverness College UHI, Lews Castle College UHI, Orkney College UHI, Perth College UHI, Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, Shetland College UHI, West Highland College UHI
Theology: Highland Theological College UHI
Subject by Location
How to apply
You must possess one of the following in an appropriate discipline:
- A master’s degree at postgraduate level from a university in the United Kingdom or equivalent, or
- A first or upper second class honours degree from a university in the United Kingdom or equivalent, or
- Other qualifications or experience which equate to the academic level required and sufficiently demonstrate the benefit of postgraduate research study to the applicant (to be approved by the Research Degrees Committee on the recommendation of the Principal of the Academic Partner concerned).
If you are an international student from a non-English speaking country, you will be required to possess an IELTS qualification with a score of 6.5 (with at least a 6 in writing), gained within two years prior to your registration date, unless you have a prior UK degree or can provide suitable evidence (to be approved by the University of Aberdeen) of your standard of English.
An English language test is not required if a student is a national of one of the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America.
How to apply
There is no national system for applying for postgraduate research study in the way that UCAS operates at undergraduate level.
Step 1: Make contact with relevant academic staff by searching our Research Database using keywords related to your subject of interest for them to consider your application in detail; to ensure you meet the entrance requirements; to develop a suitable research proposal, title and plan; assign a Director of Studies; establish an appropriate supervisory team; and discuss funding.
Step 2: Complete an application form with your proposed Director of Studies.
Step 3: Your application will be submitted by the proposed Director of Studies to the university's Research Degrees Committee for approval.
Further information on all aspects of applying to study for a postgraduate research degree is available from the Graduate School. Please if you cannot find the information you are looking for on these pages or would like to be put in touch with an academic within your area of study.