Postgraduate research in biological sciences
Ready to start your research career? Explore our postgraduate research degrees in biological sciences
If you want to continue to be immersed in the biological sciences, and further your career with a postgraduate research degree, get started at Portsmouth.
We're exploring topics ranging from the evolution of life on Earth, to the huge ecological consequences of human activity, to the growing danger posed by antibiotic resistance. By studying for a postgraduate research degree with us, you'll play a part in our mission to turn our expertise into impact. You'll also become a part of our research community and engage in research projects supervised by academics who are specialists in their fields.
You'll work in modern laboratories with some of the latest equipment contributing to our world-class research. 82% of our research outputs in the area of Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences – which includes Biological Sciences – were classed as world leading or internationally excellent in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
You'll get the opportunity to work across research disciplines including molecular, micro, marine and environmental biology. Your research may also be closely linked to Biomedical Science and Pharmacy, Geography, and Earth and Environmental Science.
School of Biological Science Research
Learn about the leading research being carried out within the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth.
Joanne Preston: Our research is focussed on understanding the biodiversity. Particularly we focus on oyster reefs, seagrass, saltmarsh and kelp forests. And our research really looks to see how marine organisms function and how they respond to environmental pressures. So these are things such as overfishing, climate change, microplastics. A real problem here is all the excess of nutrients, which is called eutrophication. Ultimately, why it's called restoration ecology is because the science we do underpins the protection and restoration of coastal habitats. We've lost 95% of all our native oyster reefs and pretty much half as a conservative estimate of all our seagrasses and salt marshes. And these systems that are largely gone are really crucial for our human well-being, but also our planetary health, because they provide services that we absolutely rely on, such as clean the water, they draw down carbon, so they help buffer climate change. And we need a healthy marine environment for our own well-being because of these things, but also psychological benefits and well-being. Microplastics are sort of a huge concern and we know there are a lot of them in the marine environment. We don't particularly know where they are. So we're analysing sediment, water organisms to really find out the impacts. Microplastics, when they're out there, they're not clean, they get covered in a biofilm. And we fed microplastics that are covered in the biofilm to oysters and compared those with plastics that are just clean. And we found they took up ten times more microplastics. And the concern is that means that microplastics can more easily go up the food chain to higher traffic organisms, but also into humans.
Gordon Watson: We're really focussed on looking at how we can improve water quality within the marine environment, focusing on places like the Solent. So these projects are linked with colleagues in France and in other institutions in the UK, and we're testing these different types of interventions. These interventions involve growing oysters and looking at how those oysters develop and how good they are at filtering out nutrients in places like Langstone Harbour. We're also interested in culturing seaweed and seeing how good they are absorbing those nutrients and also converting that algal mat which develops because of these elevated nutrients into something more useful like Polychaete Worms which can be used for aquaculture feed. And finally, we are also trying to test how we can remove some of that algal mat in a environmentally friendly way that minimises impact to those habitats and see then if we can convert that algal mat into something more useful. And those projects then link directly into restoration, because if you're restoring seagrass, if you're restoring oysters, you need to understand the water quality that those oysters and those seagrass beds are going back into to make sure that they are appropriate for those restoration projects to flourish.
Charlie Mountain: Our research is also underpinning the restoration of other blue carbon habitats, such as kelp forests and saltmarsh. The aim of these projects is to trial methods to work out the most effective ways of both establishing and monitoring restoration sites in terms of both their restoration success and also the services that they provide to wildlife and people. For example, in the River Hamble, we have a project pioneering the use of biodegradable structures placed in front of saltmarsh, which aim to promote the growth, whilst also providing substrate for oyster larvae to settle upon. And the monitoring around that project will investigate not only the effects of the structures on the saltmarsh and the oysters, but also the fish populations, the bird populations, the nutrient concentrations and the sediments of the local area.
Bronwen Paxton: For our MRes project, we've been working in collaboration with Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Boskalis on the Solent Seagrass Restoration Project. And what we've done so far is plant over 21,000 seeds in Farlington Marshes.
Hannah Stead: So the whole project is going to last one year. And what we do is we go back every three or four months, sort of spring, summer, autumn, check on the seeds, see how they're doing. Hopefully we'll see some growth soon. And part of our research is that Bron is going to be tracking blue carbon changes and I'm going to be tracking changes in biodiversity. And the great thing about this project is that it can continue past the year that we're doing our research and for the years to come.
Luke Helmer: So here in the algal culture room, which is the first in a variety of rooms for the production of the native oysters, the larvae and the adult oysters will be requiring this kind of feed. So this is the first batch that will go into that production this year. Oysters do a great service by filtering impurities from the seawater and improving coastal water quality. A healthy oyster can filter an astonishing 140 litres of seawater a day consuming algae and other organic material. They also create a unique seabed habitat forming aggregations and supporting restructures, providing nursery fishing grounds and a whole host of environments for other marine life. Here at the Institute of Marine Sciences, we have built the UK's first restoration focussed oyster hatchery focusing on the native species.
Joanne Preston: The research we're doing here is to overcome some of the knowledge gaps around the reproduction and hatchery production, and we're also investigating the resistance to disease. So we have Bonamiosis, which is a disease that's wiped out lots of oysters and it's present in the Solent. But we also have a disease resistant remnant stock. So what we're doing is we're taking local stock into the hatchery breeding from them, and this way you benefit from both their genetic resistance to the disease, but also their local adaptation to the condition. And so the research has been done here by our team, and Monica Fabra, our PhD student, is really trying to solve some of these barriers to this production of this larvae that is then settled on, spat-on-shell. So we settle the larvae on the shell and we put the shell in the larvae out into the, into the environment, and that's like kickstarting the natural lifecycle of the native oyster.
Emma Ward: There's been growing interest in blue carbon habitats because they have potential to offset carbon emissions, support climate change mitigation. As such, the services they provide, such as carbon sequestration, can be seen as a product and in that way these carbon credits can be used to offset carbon emissions that we couldn't otherwise reduce. This can be used to kind of incentivise wider financial support for the protection and restoration of these habitats. So for instance, they sequester carbon in two ways. The first ways through their plants, photosynthetic activity. And the second way is through their canopy. It reduces the water flow. And this enables that sedimentation to be enhanced. In this way, our research is looking at fine tuning carbon flux in these habitats so that we can support financial investment and then the habitat restoration work that goes alongside that.
Joanne Preston: In 2017, I co-founded the Native Oyster Network with the Theological Society of London. I led a suite of handbooks launched at COP26 last November, which enables the restoration and shows people how to do the restoration of seagrass. The overall goal of our research is to help facilitate bending the curve back for future generations to increase biodiversity and all the services that will mitigate and help protect against climate change.
Find out about our PhD, MPhil, Professional Doctorate and PhD by Publication opportunities in Biological Sciences below, including how to apply, entry requirements and funding your degree. For more detailed information about the application process, visit our How to Apply pages.
Biological Sciences PhDs and MPhils
Explore our pre-approved funded and self-funded PhD projects in Biological Sciences, or submit your own research idea.
PhD and MPhil projects
There are currently no funded PhD projects available in this area – for more information on funding your own research project, visit our pages on funding your research degree.
- Relationships between contaminant exposure and reproductive physiology in the common harbour porpoise
- Revealing DNA and RNA consuming bacteria and their roles in wastewater treatment plants
- Quantifying the marine ecosystem functions and services provided by restoration of biogenic native oyster reefs in European temperate coastal systems
- Modern molecular techniques for old domestic breeds at heritage sites
- Assessing the capacity of seagrass meadows in the Solent (UK) for blue carbon sequestration
- The spread and persistence of antimicrobial resistance genes in aquatic environments
- Pollination precision, phenotypic specialisation and species diversification in triggerplants: A critical evaluation of the Grant-Stebbins model of plant diversification
- The effects of neurological drugs (antidepressants) on aquatic wildlife
- The Asian date mussel: understanding a new and severe threat to Europe’s benthic habitats and blue economies
- Identification, validation and characterisation of i-motif promoter elements in vertebrate genomes
- Restoring degraded ecosystem: artificial reefs as carbon sink and habitat builders in leisure marinas
- Harvesting the seashore: the impacts and management of inter-tidal fisheries
Submit your own idea
If you already have a research idea, find a supervisor whose research interests match yours by searching our Find a PhD Supervisor page. Once you've identified someone suitable, contact them to discuss your idea.
PhD by Publication
A PhD by publication is a postgraduate research degree based on research you've already undertaken and had published (excluding self-publishing) before registering with us.
Eligible research outputs include peer-reviewed academic papers, complete books or chapters in anthologies, and other materials accepted for publication, exhibited or performed. You'll have to submit these materials for examination between 6–12 months after registering with us.
For more information, please visit our PhD by Publication page.
Duration, fees and funding
What do my tuition fees cover?
If you're self-funding your PhD, you'll pay tuition fees to the University to cover course and university costs.
Your tuition fees cover:
- The cost of your postgraduate research programme* at the University as well as charges for registration, tuition, supervision, and examinations
- Bespoke training, professional development courses, networking, and research support through The Graduate School
- Research seminars and workshops (university-wide and faculty-specific)
- A contribution to funding to attend a conference or development activity in your research field
- Tailor-made weekly and monthly events, including weekly, themed experienced researcher-led talks and workshops
- Helping you become part of our thriving research community, including Research and Innovation services where 77% of our research is world leading and internationally excellent in REF 2021
- Your graduation ceremony
- Viva examination and administration costs
- The facilities and equipment you need to complete your studies, such as computer rooms, access to laptops, the Library, and laboratories
- Access to resources including electronic journals, alternative guide to funding, and thousands of hours of educational videos on LinkedIn Learning
- University support services including academic, financial, careers and wellbeing support and personal tutors
- Membership of the Students' Union (giving you the right to vote in elections, join clubs and societies, and get free independent advice)
- Access to software such as Microsoft Office, SPSS and Adobe Creative Suite (this includes Photoshop, InDesign, and Adobe Premiere Pro)
*Please note that some research programmes may come with additional bench fees.
How long will my research degree take?
- MPhil: 2 years full-time, 4 years part-time
- PhD: 3 years full-time, 6 years part-time
- PhD by Publication: 1 year part-time
How much will my degree cost?
PhD and MPhil
UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man students
- Full-time: £4,712 per year (may be subject to annual increase)
- Part-time and part-time distance learning: £2,356 per year (may be subject to annual increase)
(including Transition Scholarship)
- Full-time: £4,712 per year (may be subject to annual increase)
- Part-time and part-time distance learning: £2,356 per year (may be subject to annual increase)
- Full-time students: £19,200 (may be subject to annual increase)
- Part-time and part-time distance learning: £9,600 (may be subject to annual increase)
PhD by Publication
External candidates: £4,712
Members of staff: £1,850
All fees are subject to annual increase. If you are an EU student starting a programme in 2023/24 please visit this page.
Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.
MPhil full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the Government Postgraduate Loan (UK/EU students only).
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the Government Doctoral Loan (UK/EU students only).
For information on other sources of funding, visit our funding your postgraduate research degree page.
The entry requirements for a PhD, or MPhil include an upper second class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject, or a master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications may be considered. All applicants are subject to interview.
If English is not your first language, you'll need English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.
If you don't meet the English language requirements yet, you can achieve the level you need by successfully completing a pre-sessional English programme before you start your course.
Support and facilities
When you join us, you'll be supported by our Graduate School, alongside your assigned supervisory team, who'll help you get the most from our facilities. The Graduate School will help you become part of our thriving, collaborative research community, and help grow your skills as a researcher through the Graduate School Development Programme, which offers training, workshops and events.
You'll have access to our biophysical laboratories including equipment such as 600 MHz NMR spectrometer with cryo-probe, X-ray diffractometer, confocal-laser scanning, and transmission electron microscopes. You can also use our extensive facilities for bacterial growth and protein purification.
You can also access facilities for Synchrotron Radiation at the Diamond Light Source (Harwell) and ESRF (Grenoble), Neutron Scattering facilities at Institute Laue-Langevin (Grenoble) and protein expression facilities at OPPF (Harwell).
At our Institute of Marine Sciences, you can use the following facilities:
- Aquarium rooms with temperature-controlled flow-through sea water system
- Shallow water research and testing platform
- Quarantine facilities for non-native species
- Experimentally-controlled temperature rooms
- Molecular, general and sediment laboratories
What can a postgraduate research degree do for my career?
Once you complete your postgraduate research degree, you'll be a highly-skilled researcher with the knowledge and skills to make an impact in many different industries.
Your postgraduate research qualification demonstrates to potential employers that you're an intelligent, capable and motivated person, with provable abilities and experience in critical thinking, problem-solving, project management, communication, leadership and creativity.
Apply for a research degree in Biological Sciences by completing our online form.
Biophysics and molecular genetics research group
The University of Portsmouth is studying biomolecules such as DNA, RNA and proteins to allow us to tackle issues such as disease, pollution and energy.
Ecology and evolution research group
The University of Portsmouth is expanding knowledge of the diversity of the living world, from molecules to ecosystems, and creating a basis for assessing and reversing the extinction of species.
Marine biology research group
We're researching key environmental issues in marine science such as climate change, biodiversity loss, habitat degradation and ocean acidification.