Research course

Earth Sciences

Open University · Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Entry requirements

PhD: Entry requirements vary according to the research topic and/or specific studentships. The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or masters degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK. You should also have experience of academic research in the previous four years, normally in the form of either a masters degree in research methods, an undergraduate degree with a research element in the final year, or work-related experience with evidence through research reports. If you have a qualification from outside the UK, or you are not sure if you meet the entry requirements, please contact us by email before applying. MPhil: Applicants should normally hold, or be expecting to obtain, a bachelors degree with at least first or upper-second class honours, or an equivalent qualification. However, entry requirements differ between academic areas, and sometimes a taught masters degree is also required. The research topic pages (in the menu on the right of our Research areas page) give details of specific entry requirements, and provide contact details to discuss your suitability for the MPhil with a member of academic staff.

Isotope geochemistry of the Earth system; Oceanography and palaeoceanography; Present-day and palaeo-environmental change; Sedimentology and stratigraphy; Techtonics and mountain building; Volcano dynamics.

Months of entry


Course content

In Earth Sciences our research provides a fundamental understanding of the key natural processes that have governed the development of planet Earth over its 4.5 billion-year history. We provide a stimulating and well-equipped environment for interdisciplinary research and foster strong links with colleagues in biodiversity and ecosystems, and in planetary science and comparative planetology.

Two widely recognised strengths that underpin much of our research are: (i) the exploitation of our analytical capability for developing novel methodologies for the quantification of the rates of key processes in the Earth system; (ii) innovation in field-based research that is complementary to our analytical work, as in orogenic belts and in areas of active volcanism. Academic and research staff in Earth Sciences are collaborating on a wide range of transdisciplinary projects that currently focus on palaeoenvironmental change, isotope geochemistry and geochronology, mountain uplift and orogenic evolution, stratigraphy and sedimentology, oceanography and palaeoceanography, and volcano dynamics. Research students form an integral and highly valued component within all our research projects.

Key facts
  • We were part of the Unit of Assessment 7 submission from The Open University, which achieved 6th in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework power ranking (reflecting the quality and cohort size), with 77 per cent of our outputs achieving 3*/4* grades.
  • Each year we offer several NERC studentships and university-based studentships; the appointments are made through CENTA (Central England NERC Training Alliance), a consortium of universities and research institutes that provide doctoral research training within the NERC remit. We also have a number of postdoctoral research workers funded by NERC and other sources.
  • At any one time there are over 20 full-time research students studying projects that cover a wide range within Earth and environmental sciences.
  • Our field work and collaborative research projects are global in their distribution; the current focus lies within Central America and the Himalaya as well as across Europe.

Our analytical laboratories are well equipped and lie at the forefront of technological development. Our clean chemical laboratories for sample preparation allow us to undertake cutting-edge geochemical and isotope geochemistry research. Analytical facilities include a laser argon geochronology and noble gas analysis laboratory, two multi-collector thermal ionisation mass spectrometers (Tritons), a plasma-source sector mass spectrometer (Neptune), a quadrupole mass spectrometer for trace element analysis, an elemental analyser for bulk carbon, nitrogen and sulphur analyses and electron microprobe. Supporting facilities include image processing, environmental sciences, palaeontological preparation, and a range of geophysical equipment.

Fees and funding

Qualification and course duration


part time
72 months
full time
36 months
distance learning
variable months


part time
24 months
full time
15 months

Course contact details

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 659036