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Geography, Environment and Development Studies


Application options include:

Full-time Part-time
On campus Online

Course Overview

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.

Key information

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  • 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.
  • Entry Requirements Entry Requirements

    Entry Requirements

    Good first degree in a relevant discipline.

    English language requirements

    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.

    Visit the International section of our website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

    Visa and funding requirements

    If you are not from the UK and you do not already have residency here, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months' duration: Student visa
    • Courses of less than six months' duration: Standard Visitor visa

    International students who require a Student visa should apply for our full-time courses as these qualify for Student visa sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Student visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck's part-time courses (with the exception of some modules).

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

    Please also visit the international section of our website to find out more about relevant visa and funding requirements by country.

    Please note students receiving US Federal Aid are only able to apply for in-person, on-campus programmes which will have no elements of online study.

  • Fees Fees


    Geography, Environment and Development Studies MPhil/PhD: 7 years part-time or 4 years full-time, on campus or online, starting in academic year 2024-25

    Academic year 2024–25, starting October 2024, January 2025, April 2025

    Part-time home students: £2,539 per year
    Full-time home students: £4,786 per year
    Part-time international students: £7,525 per year
    Full-time international students: £14,885 per year

    Students are charged a tuition fee in each year of their course. Tuition fees for students continuing on their course in following years may be subject to annual inflationary increases. For more information, please see the College Fees Policy.

    If you’ve studied at Birkbeck before and successfully completed an award with us, take advantage of our Lifelong Learning Guarantee to gain a discount on the tuition fee of this course.

    Fees and finance

    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.

    Discover the financial support available to you to help with your studies at Birkbeck.

    International scholarships

    We provide a range of scholarships for eligible international students, including our Global Future Scholarship. Discover if you are eligible for a scholarship.

  • Our research culture Our research culture

    Our research culture

    Our students benefit not only from the advisory insight of specialist academics in geography, but also from a wider culture of support and advice from staff and other research students. We see our research students as a central part of our community, who play a key role in the vitality of the wider research process. Those completing our research degrees in the past have often moved on into highly skilled occupations in both the commercial and academic worlds.

    Research students are able to participate in subject-specific doctoral seminars and can attend relevant modules on any of the MSc degrees we offer or social sciences as part of their research training. Find out more about the training and support you will get as a research student.

    Students also have the opportunity to participate in guest lectures, films and workshops, for example at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, the Institute of Voluntary Action Research, and the London International Development Centre. We offer financial assistance for conference attendance where appropriate.

    Our research computing laboratory has powerful geographical information system (GIS) software, provides networked PCs and is used for a range of system GIS applications and remote sensing/image processing functions.

    Read more about our vibrant research culture.

  • How to apply How to apply

    How to apply

    Follow these steps to apply to an MPhil/PhD research degree at Birkbeck:

    1. Check that you meet the entry requirements, including English language requirements, as described on this page.

    2. Find a potential supervisor for your MPhil/PhD research. You can look at the Find a Supervisor area on this page for an overview, or search our Experts’ Database or browse our staff pages for more in-depth information. You may also find it helpful to view the research projects of our current students.

    3. Contact the academic member of staff - or the department they teach in - for an informal discussion about your research interests and to establish if they are willing and able to supervise your research. (Please note: finding a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission to the research degree, as this decision is made using your whole application.) Find out more about the supervisory relationship and how your supervisor will support your research.

    4. Draft a research proposal. This needs to demonstrate your knowledge of the field, the specific research questions you wish to pursue, and how your ideas will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding. Find out more about writing a research proposal.

    5. Apply directly to Birkbeck, using the online application link on this page. All research students are initially registered on an MPhil and then upgrade to a PhD after making sufficient progress.

    Find out more about the application process, writing a research proposal and the timeframe.

    Application deadlines and interviews

    You can apply throughout the year.

    If you wish to apply for funding, you will need to apply by certain deadlines. Consult the websites of relevant bodies for details.

    Apply for your course

    Apply for your course using the apply now button in the key information section.

  • Finding a supervisor Finding a supervisor

    Finding a supervisor

    A critical factor when applying for postgraduate study in geography, environment and development studies is the correlation between the applicant’s intellectual and research interests and those of one or more potential supervisors.

    Find out more about the research interests of our academic staff:

    Community, youth and voluntary sector studies

    • William Ackah, BA, MA, PhD: Black and ethnic minority community and voluntary sector; political and cultural movements in the African diaspora; political and community engagement of Black churches; race equality-legislation and practice.

    Development studies

    • Joana Barros, MSc, PhD: computational models of urban systems; Latin American cities; complexity theory; urban planning in developing countries.
    • Jasmine Gideon, MA, PhD: Latin America; gender, globalisation and social policy; health; migration and health; socio-economic rights.
    • Penny Vera-Sanso, BA, PhD: rural and urban India; gender and family relations in low-income households; ageing and inter-generational relationships.

    Geographic information science

    • Joana Barros, MSc, PhD: geocomputation, specifically agent-based and cellular automata models applied to urban systems; complexity theory; representation of dynamics in GIS; urban development in developing countries; applying dynamic models to urban development of cities in Latin America.
    • Professor Susan Brooks, BA, PhD: mapping and monitoring environmental change using GIS techniques; use of historic maps and aerial photographs to monitor shoreline change; coupled GIS-modelling of environmental systems.
    • Shino Shiode, BA, MEng, MPhil, PhD: methods of spatial analysis and spatial statistics; GIS programming and tool development; urban and regional analysis; transport analysis; spatial criminology; spatial epidemiology.


    • Joana Barros, MSc, PhD: computational models of urban systems; Latin American cities; complexity theory; urban planning in developing countries.
    • Becky Briant, BA, MSc, PhD: quaternary river systems; quaternary dating methods (radiocarbon, luminescence).
    • Professor Susan Brooks, BA, PhD: geomorphological processes; hydrology; hydrological modelling; soil erosion; soil development; slope stability; Holocene climate change.
    • Professor Rosie Cox, BA, MA, PhD: social polarisation in London; paid domestic work; food consumption habits; gender and geography.
    • Jasmine Gideon, MA, PhD: Latin America; gender, globalisation and social policy; health; migration and health; socioeconomic rights.
    • Shino Shiode, BA, MEng, MPhil, PhD: biodiversity, conservation, capitalism and social exclusion; epistemologies of human/non-human relationships; political ecology and social movements; dryland ecology, nomadism and non-equilibrium dynamics.
    • Professor Karen Wells, BA, MSc, PhD: cultural and social urban geography, particularly in relation to children and childhood; transnational spaces and identities.

    International childhood studies

    • Professor Karen Wells, BA, MSc, PhD: constructions and experiences of childhood with a particular focus on the impacts of globalisation on the material and visual cultures of childhood.