PhD study overview

General information

The School of Biology at St Andrews comprises 78 academic staff, 82 postdoctoral researchers and over 120 postgraduate students. You will have the opportunity to undertake a research degree in your chosen subject area within a School where research interests span the breadth of biological science.

The School of Biology comprises a large number of research groups organised into three interdisciplinary Research Centres, resulting in a highly collaborative approach to research and scholarship. The School aims to nurture excellent research and provide an integrated programme of training for postgraduate students. The School promotes an interdisciplinary approach to both applied and fundamental research problems and to postgraduate training.

Our PhD students are part of a strong and welcoming community. In addition to strong links between research groups within the three main interdisciplinary centres: the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI), Biomedical Sciences Research Complex (BSRC) and Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD), the student-run ‘Bionet’ provides a wide range of networking and social opportunities.

Entry requirements, selection process and progression

The School of Biology admits about 25 PhD students each year. Our minimum entry requirement is a good first degree (minimum 2(i)) from a recognised British, British Commonwealth or foreign University. Students with qualifications equivalent to a degree may also apply for admission.

Applicants to advertised projects will first be short-listed by the project supervisor, often by SKYPE; short-listed candidates are then formally interviewed by a small committee made up of members of the PhD recruitment committee and other qualified members of academic staff. It is, therefore, advisable to contact the supervisors of projects you are interested in well ahead of any official closing date for applications.  Please note that a project proposal is not required for any advertised projects, however, when short-listing applications, the research supervisor may request a project proposal relative to the information that has already been provided.  In addition, although not a requirement in other Science Schools, we do expect to receive a written work sample which could be e.g. an extract from a final year project or a written paper.

All postgraduate students aiming for a PhD within the School of Biology have regular meetings with a review committee, to ensure that they are making suitable progress towards completing their PhD. As part of this process, all students are required to produce a written report after 3 months and again after 9 months. The satisfactory completion of the 9-month report is key to formal registration as a PhD student.

In addition to project-specific training within the research group, PhD students also have access to a wide range of training in transferable skills through the award-winning University of St Andrews GradSkills programme. Specific PhD programmes run within the School of Biology may also offer or require additional training.

Research degree programmes and funding

There are many different ways in which to fund PhD studies within the School of Biology. The best ways to find out what funding opportunities are available are to look for projects advertised on and here, or to contact potential supervisors directly. The duration of a PhD is also variable, depending largely on funding arrangements, but all full-time registered PhD students are expected to submit their PhD within 4 years.

Overview of application process


Examples of funding options:

UK Research Councils: BBSRC. St Andrews is a member of the EASTBIO doctoral training partnership.

School of Biology Scholarships: we have an annual round of recruitment for School of Biology Scholarships. These are usually advertised in the autumn, with interviews held early in the year.

School of Biology PhD Apprentice Scheme: we can periodically offer positions for PhD students that include a formal role in teaching undergraduates. Recruitment to these runs alongside the School of Biology Scholarships and includes an additional short interview with a senior member of our teaching staff.

China Scholarship Council and University of St Andrews Scholarships: the School of Biology is involved in the collaborative agreement between the University of St Andrews and the Chinese Scholarship Council, providing funding for CHINESE NATIONALS ONLY. More details can be found here.

Charities: some supervisors are able to obtain grants from charities to support PhD studentships. These opportunities are advertised as they arise.

Other opportunities also arise on a regular basis. Funded projects will be advertised when available and we would advise contacting potential supervisors directly to explore funding opportunities. Self-funded students are also welcome to apply.


Skills training

The University places great importance on improving the depth of knowledge of research students, on developing their transferable, generic and employment-related skills, and on preparing them to complete theses successfully within the allocated time.

Postgraduate students arrive at St Andrews with widely differing levels of expertise and experience in the skills required to advance their research and career. Following the introductory training sessions in Week 1, you will meet with your principal supervisor and postgraduate tutor to carry out an individual skills analysis and to formulate an appropriate programme of training, with elements drawn from courses provided by the University and the School. Your training programme could also feature modules from the taught MRes courses, or courses run outside the University. The latter may include, for example, the Vitae courses supported by the UK Research Councils. Your training programme will be approved by your School Postgraduate Convener and reviewed annually.

The annual report to Faculty on your progress submitted by the School will indicate training completed and identify future training. You must confirm in your annual report to Faculty that you have completed the agreed training and whether or not it is meeting your needs. You are required to maintain a record of the skills training that you have completed. This may also include internal and external seminars, presentations, demonstrations, conferences and teaching and discussion groups. This record must be shown to, and agreed by, the principal supervisor and be available for inspection at your progress review meetings.

atBenchSchool of Biology postgraduate training programme

Courses included in the School of Biology Postgraduate Training Programme include: Health and Safety, Radiation Protection, Library and IT Facilities, Environmental Techniques, Laboratory Techniques, Introduction to Demonstrating, Essential First Aid in the Laboratory and the Field, Commercialisation of Science and Intellectual Property Rights, Student-Supervisor Interactions, Presentational Skills, How to Create a Web Page, Science and the Media, Ethical Issues. You also get practice at demonstrating practicals and tutoring undergraduate students.

In addition, every year the School organises a two-day Postgraduate Conference, usually in January. The aim is to give you experience of participating in a real conference setting but with an audience of School colleagues (postgraduates and staff) rather than a room full of strangers. First years are simply required to attend. Second years prepare and present a poster presentation.Third years prepare and present a talk. You will get critical feedback on your work and your presentation, and get the opportunity to comment on those of your colleagues. There are prizes for the best talks and posters and a ceilidh following the Conference.

gradskillssee also: GRADskills Programme