Research course

Geography, Environment and Development Studies

Birkbeck, University of London · School of Social Sciences

Entry requirements

Good first degree in a relevant discipline.

Months of entry

January, April, October

Course content

Our MPhil/PhD programmes aim to train you to conduct research of the highest academic standard and to make an original contribution to the subject through your research. Our doctoral programme aims to respond to the needs and interests both of students seeking an academic career or other professional employment and of those who wish to pursue a line of intellectual enquiry for its own sake. We aim to recruit both recent graduates and mature students who now have the time to pursue an intellectual enthusiasm, perhaps after a lifetime of professional work.

PhD researchers can specialise in geography, geographical information science, environmental studies, development studies, international childhood studies, or community, youth and voluntary sector studies. Studying for an MPhil or PhD in any of the areas offered in geography involves working closely with a small group of staff on an independent research project. This means that we are only able to accept students whose proposed research project lies within the areas of expertise of our staff. If there is a particular member of staff you would like to work with, please contact them to discuss your project before applying.

An MPhil/PhD is an advanced postgraduate research degree that requires original research and the submission of a substantial dissertation of 60,000 to 100,000 words. At Birkbeck, you are initially registered on an MPhil and you upgrade to a PhD after satisfactory progress in the first year or two. You need to find a suitable academic supervisor at Birkbeck, who can offer the requisite expertise to guide and support you through your research. Find out more about undertaking a research degree at Birkbeck.

Community, Youth and Voluntary Sector Studies

We offer supervision in theoretical perspectives and understandings of community theory and practice and youth and voluntary sector studies. Staff in this research area have established excellent links with professional organisations in their fields and also have international links with academic institutions in the USA and South Africa, working collaboratively on issues concerning religion and race in public life.

Development Studies

We offer supervision in theoretical and empirical research on practices and experiences of development. Our research areas include ageing, childhood, gender and development, migration, NGOs and political activism, regional specialisation in Latin America and South Asia, rights, social policy, urban and rural poverty, and visual culture and development.


Research study in geography can take a wide variety of forms across the social and physical sciences dependent on topic, but the common thread is the distinctive perspective, often interdisciplinary, that a geographical approach to research offers. Key research interests are: cities and socio-spatial inequality, coastal geomorphology and coastal policy, food security and climate change, flooding and flood insurance, impact of environmental change on nature and agriculture, long-term river behaviour and climate change, remote sensing, renewable energy, and social and urban geography.

Geographical Information Science

At Birkbeck, we pride ourselves in offering one of the longest-running GISc programmes. The Birkbeck GISc academic team works in a broad range of areas of geographic information knowledge, including spatial analytical methods, cartography and visualisation, remote sensing and geocomputation, and their research activities are at the forefront of GIS development.

International Childhood Studies

We offer supervision in theoretical and empirical research on practices and experiences of childhood. Our research areas include cultures of childhood, visual culture and representation of childhood, the governance of childhood, childhood and social identities, and histories of childhood.


  • Birkbeck’s research excellence was confirmed in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework with 83% of our research rated world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • Our students come from a range of geographic and professional backgrounds, many (but not all) having research interests related to their employment. There are now around 15 research students currently undertaking a PhD or MPhil, some of which are linked to staff research projects, which means students benefit from the research infrastructure built up by our major programmes in geography.
  • We provide excellent support for students and will do our best to help you succeed at your research. Most part-time research students only come to the College for occasional meetings with their academic supervisors or for research seminars, and those who require computing or physical laboratory equipment can also come in the evenings or at weekends.
  • We have three computing/GIS laboratories running a wide range of software on IBM and Macintosh PCs and Unix workstations. We are also well provided with fieldwork equipment and have a large laboratory equipped with flumes and wind tunnels for process studies.
  • As well as having access to Birkbeck Library, including our electronic library, you will also be able to use resources at other libraries in the local area and at the Royal Geographical Society.

Information for international students

If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, our usual requirement is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each of the sub-tests.

If you don't meet the minimum IELTS requirement, we offer pre-sessional English courses, foundation programmes and language support services to help you improve your English language skills and get your place at Birkbeck.

Fees and funding

PhD students resident in England can apply for government loans of over £26,000 to cover the cost of tuition fees, maintenance and other study-related costs.

Flexible finance: pay your fees in monthly instalments at no extra cost. Enrol early to spread your costs and reduce your monthly payments.

We offer a range of studentships and funding options to support your research.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • MPhil/PhD
    part time
    84 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
    full time
    48 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

Student Advice Service
+44 (0)20 3907 0700