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MPhil in Polar Studies (Scott Polar Research Institute)

Course Description

The aims of the course are to provide an understanding of key contemporary research problems in a range of disciplines in either the humanities and social sciences or physical sciences relating to the Arctic and Antarctica, and for students to undertake original research on a topic selected in consultation with members of staff.

Taught material is presented in the Michaelmas Term, usually in the form of seminars. The material is organized in two strands, suitable for students interested in the humanities and social sciences or in the natural sciences. It is examined through the submission of three essays, which can take the form of research papers. In the Lent and Easter terms students carry out research towards their dissertations. Dissertation topics are agreed with supervisors and are closely integrated with the ongoing research activities of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). Students are expected to participate in internal and external research seminars, and a research forum.

See the website http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses/directory/eaggmpmps

Course detail

The outcomes of the course are achieved both through focused study of specialised aspects of research on the Arctic and Antarctic, either in terms of Arts and Humanities or the Sciences, and through the development of research skills and methods. The following outcomes of student learning are sought:

Knowledge of ideas: Students gain familiarity with an appropriate range of intellectual and methodological traditions relevant to the study of the Arctic and Antarctic. For the humanities and social science strand, students draw on material from Geography, Anthropology, Political Science and other social sciences, and understand the significance of different epistemological positions that provide the context for research. For the physical sciences strand, students will become familiar with theories and empirical work from, amongst other areas, the fields of glaciology, oceanography and atmospheric science. They will gain knowledge and understanding of the field-based, remote sensing and modelling techniques used in polar science research. The teaching is provided via lectures and seminars, research supervision via bi-weekly meetings between students and their supervisor and sessions concerning research skills. Students also attend the research seminars held in their research groups. This allows exchange of ideas and debate with more experienced academic researchers and their peers;

Critical skills: Students become skilled and critical readers of Arctic and/or Antarctic publications and data sets. This is achieved through structured reading associated with each module, as well as via supervision on the essays and dissertation;

Substantive knowledge of ideas: Students gain in-depth knowledge of substantive areas of Arctic and/or Antarctic research. This knowledge is gained in the modules on The Emerging Arctic, Northern Peoples, Polar Remote Sensing, Glacier and Ice Sheet Dynamics: Present and Past. Students gain an in-depth knowledge either of underlying patterns of development, conservation and cultural transformation in the Arctic and/or Antarctic regions, or of the physical processes at work in these regions, how these have changed in the past and are changing currently, and the methods and techniques for investigating them;

Research design skills: Students develop their capacity to frame research questions, to derive appropriate research designs, and develop awareness of different epistemological approaches. This is achieved through the ‘Research Training’ sections of course;

Practical research skills: Students gain a competence and confidence in using a range of qualitative and/or quantitative methods for gathering, analysing and interpreting data. This is achieved through the ‘Research Training’ sections of course and the dissertation;

Presentation skills: Students gain skills in the presentation of research-based evidence and argument. Students are expected to take an active role in the research seminars of the research groups to which they belong and to contribute actively to seminar discussions. They are also expected to present their dissertation aims, methods, preliminary results, and plans for future work at a student forum held part way through their dissertation research period;

Management and other transferable skills: Students gain skills in managing a research project, and its execution (including, where appropriate, elements of data management, understanding ethics and codes of good practice in cross-cultural research, understanding uncertainty, disseminating research). Several of these elements are taught in the ‘Research Training’ sections of course, and then are extended and applied via the dissertation research, which has individual supervision from an experienced researcher.


- 20,000 word dissertation that, at the discretion of the examiners, can include an oral examination on the thesis and the essays and on the general field of knowledge.
- Three essays or other exercises of up to 4,000 words each.


70% overall in MPhil.

How to apply: http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying

Funding Opportunities

AHRC for Arts and History topics approved by the AHRC DTP at University of Cambridge.

General Funding Opportunities http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/finance/funding

Visit the MPhil in Polar Studies (Scott Polar Research Institute) page on the University of Cambridge website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Therese Rudebeck

"I would highly recommend the MPhil in Geographical Research to anyone who is thinking about doing a PhD, or who is interested in pursuing his/her own research project for a year. The MPhil provides excellent training in research skills and independent work, and gives the student a chance test new ideas and develop a pilot study, as well as to familiarize his/herself with the department and the supervisor(s). I found that this MPhil bridged my M.A and my PhD, and placed me in a very advantageous position for further research."

(Student Profile)

Jonathan Hughes

The MPhil in Geographical Studies was great preparation for the PhD. It's like having an extra first year in which to get a handle on your chosen subject and to develop your skills as a researcher.


Entry Requirements

Applicants for this course should have achieved a UK II.i Honours Degree. Find University Minimum Academic Requirements here View Website

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