Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

MRes Vertebrate Palaeontology (1 yrs)

The Master of Research is a minimum of one and maximum of five year programme comprising mainly of research, but also containing taught modules exclusively delivered at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS).

The MRes in Vertebrate Palaeontology is designed for graduates of biology, geology, environmental science and other relevant numerate disciplines, and offers you the chance to build on the background of your undergraduate degree, while allowing advanced specialisation in vertebrate palaeontology.

Programme Overview

The programme is taught by staff from OES and Biological Sciences. Cutting edge research carried out by academic staff provides direct and enthusiastic input into a challenging and stimulating teaching programme. There are unique opportunities for you to undertake research projects with OES and Biological Sciences scientists.

To Apply

You can apply through the University of Southampton's online postgraduate application system. You can find out more here.


For all enquiries, email mscenq@southampton.ac.uk or telephone +44 (0)23 8059 6043.

Programme tutor: Dr Gareth Dyke.

Email Dr Gareth Dyke

Programme Structure

For students studying the MRes in Vertebrate Palaeontology, the spectrum of programmes within Ocean and Earth Sciences and through our collaborations with Biological Sciences and Aeronautics and Astronautics in Southampton are all scientifically exciting and challenging, as well as highly relevant to the modern world. Within this particular programme of study we aim to develop and enhance your knowledge of and enthusiasm for vertebrate evolutionary biology, anatomy, phylogenetics and biomechanics.

By the end of your MRes programme you will have extended your subject-specific and more generic skills beyond the level of your undergraduate degree. This will be partially the result of further instruction during the programme, but also will be a direct result of the application and practice of your skills during your research project and the practical elements of your studies. Additionally you will have developed research skills of sufficient depth to produce work which is publishable in refereed scientific literature.

Entry requirements

Typical entry requirements

Selection process:

You will need to have, to expect to have, a good (2:1 or equivalent) Honours degree in biology, geology, environmental science or a similar subject.

Applications are considered throughout the year; most candidates will be invited to interview to discuss the programme in more detail.
Visit our International Office website or the NARIC website for further information on international qualifications.

Visit our International Office website or the NARIC website for further information on qualifications.


Typical course content

All students must take two compulsory modules: an introductory module that will provide a background to the major lineages, anatomy and evolutionary relationships of fossil vertebrates (15 credit points) and a module that covers key literature on a variety of “key contemporary topics” in vertebrate evolution, systematics, general palaeontology and evolutionary biology (15 credit points). You will follow a specific pathway. The tables below indicate which modules should be taken for each pathway.

Year 1

Only one optional module is to be taken.

All Students will also be encouraged to attend, and audit, the following Semester 2 courses:
BIOL 2001 Evolution and BIOL 3010 Topics in ecology and evolution.

Please note: This specification provides a concise summary of the main features of the programme and the learning outcomes that a typical student might reasonably be expected to achieve and demonstrate if s/he takes full advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided. More detailed information can be found in the programme handbook (or other appropriate guide or website).

Learning and teaching

Teaching and learning methods

To assist the development of your knowledge and understanding of vertebrate palaeontology we use a wide range of teaching methods in this MRes. You will develop core knowledge and understanding via compulsory modules and specialised option module lectures, tutor-led and student-led tutorials, student-led seminars and presentations, laboratory and practical classes, case studies, fieldwork, guided independent study, group study and your own research project. A wide range of support is available for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Assessment methods

To test your knowledge and understanding of material presented in the lectures and associated practicals, you will be assessed via a combination of written examinations, oral presentations, essays, poster presentations, and fieldwork reports. In addition, during Semester 1, you will complete a research proposal based on the topic selected for your individual research project, which will be assessed by the project tutor. Material in Semester 2 will be assessed only by coursework (essays, literature reviews, practical reports). You will also present seminars during Semester 2 and these will be assessed by tutors. All students carry out a major individual research project, culminating in a dissertation that is assessed by both internal and external examiners. Additional support can be provided for those students who have further or specific needs.

Summative assessment contributes to your marks and usually involves a combination of unseen written examinations (at the end of the study module) and coursework (which includes essays, project reports, and computing practicals, etc.). Assessment of your knowledge and understanding is undertaken primarily via these summative assessment methods; in addition you will receive feedback on all formally assessed work.

We take very seriously the quality assurance of our learning and teaching structures. These issues are addressed in a variety of ways by the University, and by direct engagement of student comments at every level.

You will have the opportunity to have your say on the quality of the programme in the following ways:
 Anonymous student evaluation questionnaires for each module of the programme.

  • The National Student Survey.
  • Through student representation on the School’s Staff-Student Liaison Committee and at the Education and Quality Committee, and other School Committees.
  • Anonymous exit questionnaires when you leave the degree programme.

The ways in which the quality of your programme is checked, both inside and outside the University, are:

  • External examiners, who review examination papers, moderate marking and overall results, provide viva-voce examinations and provide annual reports to the University via the School.
  • Periodical Programme review prepared by the Programme Leaders and considered by the School Education and Quality Committee.
  • Periodical review of modules via a sub-group of the School Education and Quality Committee.
  • Annual appraisal of teaching staff, including setting staff development priorities.
  • Observation of teaching and learning.
  • Annual statement to the Faculty Educational Policy Sub-Committee.


Career Opportunities

MRes Vertebrate Palaeontology brochure

MRes Vertebrate Palaeontology brochure

Why study Vertebrate Palaeontology?

    • This innotative programme offers you the chance to study the evolution and anatomy of vertebrates in one of the UK's leading Earth science departments

    • You will join an active research group who contribute to world-leading studies of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, fossil birds and ancient marine reptiles
    • NOC is perfectly located for students to enjoy several sites of global importance for vertebrate palaeontology including the Isle of Wight, Surrey and Sussex, and the Jurassic Fossil Coast of Dorset.

Media Coverage

The Evolution of flight

  • Wind tunnel test provides new insight into the evolution of bird flight

    A study into the aerodynamic performance of feathered dinosaurs, led by Dr. Gareth Dyke from Ocean and Earth Science, Southampton has provided new insight into the evolution of bird flight.


    Find out more & watch the video here

A unique world-class event

  • Ocean and Earth Science hosted the Jehol-Wealden International Conference in September 2013. A unique event bringing together vertebrate palaeontologists from the UK and China to discuss their research. 

    Find out more