Skip to main content

Astrobiology

MSc

Application options include:

Full-time Part-time
On campus Online

Course Overview

Our MSc Astrobiology gives you the unique opportunity to gain a comprehensive grounding in the rapidly growing field of astrobiology. This highly interdisciplinary topic aims to understand the origins, distribution, evolution and future of life in the universe.

In recent years, research and public interest in astrobiology has expanded. This has been greatly driven by incredible discoveries in areas ranging from:

  • improving our understanding of the conditions under which life first arose on our planet
  • the search for life elsewhere in the solar system
  • the study of potentially habitable planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy.

This MSc Astrobiology explores such discoveries and is the first postgraduate degree dedicated to astrobiology in the UK. It is ideal if you are a graduate of the sciences, such as in biology, astronomy, chemistry or geology, with an ambition to undertake research in astrobiology at MPhil or PhD level but with undergraduate study that did not entail the interdisciplinary breadth that a subject like astrobiology demands.

We draw on the experience of our staff, who are recognised leaders in astrobiology research and education, and our strong connections with partner institutions in the University of London to offer this novel and pioneering course. Being of considerable breadth and depth, it will equip you with the knowledge, experience and tools required to make significant contributions to astrobiology research and leadership in the UK and beyond.  

Discover the career opportunities available by taking Astrobiology (MSc).

Key information and modules

Find another course:

Highlights

  • Birkbeck is a pioneer in astrobiology-focused research with a long teaching legacy in this area. This course further demonstrates our commitment to becoming a national and international centre for astrobiology education and training.
  • Our teaching staff are leaders in their respective fields within astrobiology, including experience gleaned working at NASA institutes, in leadership roles with the Royal Astronomical Society, alongside hundreds of citations in peer-reviewed literature.
  • We are part of the joint UCL-Birkbeck Institute of Earth and Planetary Sciences (IEPS) meaning we share laboratories, expertise and events, all open to students for research projects. Find out more about our research facilities.
  • Birkbeck was rated in the top 25 universities in the UK for its Earth Systems and Environmental Science research in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework.
  • We have been offering evening study courses in the subjects of earth and planetary sciences for over 70 years and distance learning for more than 20 years.

Birkbeck makes all reasonable efforts to deliver educational services, modules and programmes of study as described on our website. In the event that there are material changes to our offering (for example, due to matters beyond our control), we will update applicant and student facing information as quickly as possible and offer alternatives to applicants, offer-holders and current students.

  • Entry Requirements Entry Requirements

    Entry Requirements

    This course is particularly relevant for recent graduates from physical scientific disciplines, such as geological, astronomical and life sciences, planning to undertake PhD-level research in astrobiology. Typically an undergraduate degree (2:2 or above) in a relevant subject is required, but individual applications will be considered on the basis of experience and merit.

    Please note: students who have completed or who are enrolled on our BSc Planetary Exploration with Astronomy and Astrobiology may not find this course suitable for further study.

    Applications are reviewed on their individual merits and your professional qualifications and/or relevant work experience will be taken into consideration positively. We actively support and encourage applications from mature learners.

    On your application form, please list all your relevant qualifications and experience, including those you expect to achieve.

    Apply now to secure your place. The earlier you apply, the sooner your application can be considered and you can enrol. You do not need to have completed your current qualification to start your application.

    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 6.5, with not less than 6.0 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.

    Credits and accredited prior learning (APL)

    If you have studied at university, you may have accumulated credits through the modules you studied. It may be possible to transfer these credits from your previous study to Birkbeck or another institution.

  • Fees Fees

    Fees

    Astrobiology MSc: 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time, on campus or online, starting in academic year 2024-25

    Academic year 2024–25, starting October 2024

    Part-time home students: £6,075 per year
    Full-time home students: £12,150 per year
    Part-time international students: £9,915 per year
    Full-time international students: £19,830 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.

    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.

  • Teaching and Assessment Teaching and Assessment

    Teaching

    At Birkbeck, most of our courses are taught in the evening and all of our teaching is designed to support students who are juggling evening study with work and other commitments. We actively encourage innovative and engaging ways of teaching, to ensure our students have the best learning experience.

    Teaching may include formal lectures, seminars, and practical classes and tutorials. Formal lectures are used in most degree programmes to give an overview of a particular field of study. They aim to provide the stimulus and the starting point for deeper exploration of the subject during your own personal reading. Seminars give you the chance to explore a specific aspect of your subject in depth and to discuss and exchange ideas with fellow students. They typically require preparatory study.

    In addition, you will have access to pastoral support via a named Personal Tutor.

    Methods of teaching on this course

    Teaching on this course is offered on campus and online through a series of lectures, a revision session and staff-supported, learner-driven research and directed reading. This will develop the skills, knowledge and experience you need to undertake a comprehensive independent research project or dissertation. 

    Teaching hours

    Our evening hours are normally between 6pm and 9pm (6-7.30pm and 7.30-9pm). Some programmes also offer teaching during the day and this will be clearly signposted to you where it is available.

    On our taught courses, you will have scheduled teaching and study sessions each year. Scheduled teaching sessions may include lectures, seminars, workshops or laboratory work. Depending on the modules you take, you may also have additional scheduled academic activities, such as tutorials, dissertation supervision, practical classes, visits and field trips. On our taught courses, the actual amount of time you spend in the classroom and in contact with your lecturers will depend on your course, the option modules you select and when you undertake your final-year project (if applicable).

    Alongside your contact hours, you will also undertake assessment activities and independent learning outside of class. The amount of time you need to allocate to study both for taught sessions (this might include online sessions and/or in-person sessions) and personal study will depend on how much you are studying during the year and whether you are studying full time or part time.

    Birkbeck’s courses are made up of modules and allocated ‘credit’. One credit is equivalent to ten hours of learning time. Modules are usually in 15, 30 or 60 credit units. A 15-credit module will mean around 150 hours of learning, including taught sessions and independent study or group work. This is spread out over the whole period of that module and includes the time you spend on any assessments, including in examinations, preparing and writing assessments or engaged in practical work as well as any study support sessions to help you in your learning.

    On our distance-learning and blended-learning courses, discussion, collaboration and interaction with your lecturers and fellow students is encouraged and enabled through various learning technologies.

    Timetables

    Timetables are usually available from September onwards and you can access your personalised timetable via your My Birkbeck Profile online (if you have been invited to enrol).

    Indicative class size

    Class sizes vary, depending on your course, the module you are undertaking, and the method of teaching. For example, lectures are presented to larger groups, whereas seminars usually consist of small, interactive groups led by a tutor.

    Independent learning

    On our taught courses, much of your time outside of class will be spent on self-directed, independent learning, including preparing for classes and following up afterwards. This will usually include, but is not limited to, reading books and journal articles, undertaking research, working on coursework and assignments, and preparing for presentations and assessments.

    Independent learning is absolutely vital to your success as a student. Everyone is different, and the study time required varies topic by topic, but, as a guide, expect to schedule up to five hours of self-study for each hour of teaching.

    Study skills and additional support

    Birkbeck offers study and learning support to undergraduate and postgraduate students to help them succeed. Our Learning Development Service can help you in the following areas:

    • academic skills (including planning your workload, research, writing, exam preparation and writing a dissertation)
    • written English (including structure, punctuation and grammar)
    • numerical skills (basic mathematics and statistics).

    Our Disability and Dyslexia Service can support you if you have additional learning needs resulting from a disability or from dyslexia.

    Our Counselling Service can support you if you are struggling with emotional or psychological difficulties during your studies.

    Our Mental Health Advisory Service can support you if you are experiencing short- or long-term mental health difficulties during your studies.

    Assessment

    Assessment is an integral part of your university studies and usually consists of a combination of coursework and examinations, although this will vary from course to course - on some of our courses, assessment is entirely by coursework. The methods of assessment on this course are specified below under 'Methods of assessment on this course'. You will need to allow time to complete coursework and prepare for exams.

    Where a course has unseen written examinations, these may be held termly, but, on the majority of our courses, exams are usually taken in the Summer term, during May to June. Exams may be held at other times of the year as well. In most cases, exams are held during the day on a weekday - if you have daytime commitments, you will need to make arrangements for daytime attendance - but some exams are held in the evening. Exam timetables are published online.

    Find out more about assessment at Birkbeck, including guidance on assessment, feedback and our assessment offences policy.

    Methods of assessment on this course

    Depending on the module, assessment on this course includes examinations (on campus or online), assessed coursework and student presentations.

  • Careers and employability Careers and employability

    Careers and employability

    Successful completion of this course offers you progression to further routes of study and possible careers in the field in the UK and abroad. As this is a newly established course, we are excited to see the range of career paths our graduates will launch themselves on. 

    As well as enabling and facilitating your advancement to PhD-level study, this MSc Astrobiology is also designed to equip you with a range of  transferable skills considered as highly desirable across employment sectors such as in research, using quantitative methods, giving presentations, writing and science communication. Depending on your final research project, you may also gain laboratory, field and coding skills. 

    We offer a comprehensive careers service - Careers and Enterprise - your career partner during your time at Birkbeck and beyond. At every stage of your career journey, we empower you to take ownership of your future, helping you to make the connection between your experience, education and future ambitions.

  • How to apply How to apply

    How to apply

    You apply directly to Birkbeck for this course, using the online application link.

    You will need to prove your identity when you apply - read more about suitable forms of identification.

    When to apply

    You are strongly advised to apply now, to ensure there are still places on your chosen course and to give you enough time to complete the admissions process, to arrange funding and to enrol.

    You don't need to complete your current programme of study before you apply - Birkbeck can offer you a place that is conditional on your results.

    You will also receive information about subject-specific induction sessions over the summer.

    Help and advice with your application

    Get all the information you need about the application, admission and enrolment process at Birkbeck.

    Our online personal statement tool will guide you through every step of writing the personal statement part of your application.

    Apply for your course

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

Course structure

Course structure listing

Course structure and modules for Astrobiology MSc: 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time, on campus or online, starting October 2024

You must complete modules worth a total of 180 credits, consisting of:

  • four compulsory modules (75 credits)
  • two or three option modules (45 credits)
  • a 12,000-word research project (60 credits).
Compulsory modules
Indicative option modules
MSc Astrobiology research project

You will also be able to choose, via intercollegiate arrangements with University College London, up to two of the following UCL option modules:

  • Origin of Life and Exobiology
  • Physics of Exoplanets
  • Planetary Atmospheres

Please note: these modules are not available online.