MSc Palaeobiology


Research in palaeobiology focuses on a number of topics, including taphonomy, palaeoecology, palaeoceanography, organic geochemistry, molecular biology, phylogeny, macroevolution, and functional morphology. The organisms of interest range from microbes to crustaceans, and gymnosperms to dinosaurs.

The Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology was established in 1996, and around 250 students have now graduated. Each year a further 15-25 students are enrolled.

The University of Bristol has had a strong reputation in palaeobiology for many years, and currently hosts the largest palaeobiology research group in any British university.

The strengths of the programme derive from this active research atmosphere, and from the close collaboration between palaeobiologists in the Earth Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Archaeology departments.

The MSc offers a research-oriented programme with advanced coverage of quantitative aspects of the fossil record and the history of life. The programme aims to bridge the biology-geology divide, and to provide students with a strong background for independent research to PhD level or for an applied career in museums, libraries, management, or the media.

Graduates of the programme have been highly successful in obtaining PhD positions in top institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, and in other commercial and educational activities. The programme is inter-disciplinary: it is taught mainly in the School of Earth Sciences, but some units are given in Biology and in Archaeology.

Students learn about current debates in evolutionary biology, systematics and palaeobiology, how to analyse problems in a quantitative manner and how to design experimental approaches to resolving questions in macroevolution and in the study of ancient organisms.

The School has a strong geochemical and geomicrobiological research programme, and students have the opportunity to develop analytical skills, with hands-on experience of a range of analytical instruments. A unit on research methods in palaeobiology gives students first-hand training in laboratory techniques, museum methods, and media aspects.

A wide range of advanced transferable skills are taught: computer use, numeracy, planning research, problem solving, laboratory techniques, and communication skills are addressed directly throughout the programme. Students learn multi-media techniques, including presentation of palaeontological data through talks, posters, formal written reports, and web-based presentations.

Programme structure

Students study 120 credit points (cp) of taught units plus 60 cp of research units, comprising the Thesis unit (60 cp).

Most mandatory and optional taught units are completed by Christmas, and examined in January. The Literature Review unit runs from before Christmas until the end of February. The Research Methods in Palaeobiology unit follows, to be completed by Easter, moving on to the main Thesis unit after Easter.  The Thesis is submitted by a University-defined deadline, usually the end of August.

Full details of the programme structure and units can be found in the University's programme catalogue.  Search for the programme name then follow links to the individual units.  Programme structures may change from year to year so please make sure you select the academic year for which you intend to apply.

Your questions:

3D dinosaur skull model Enquiries

Applications must be made through the online system, but you are welcome to make enquiries before you apply formally.


Palaeobiology blog

Many of our successful MSc students have contributed to new discoveries and won prestigious prizes and awards for their published work.  We maintain a record of these on our Palaeobiology blog.

Palaeobiology Research Group

The Bristol Palaeobiology Research Group explores all aspects of the history of the biosphere.

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