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Prospectus

The Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology was established in 1996, and 280 students have now graduated. Each year a further 15-25 students are enrolled. The University of Bristol has had a strong reputation in palaeobiology for many years, and currently hosts the largest palaeobiology research group in any British university. The strengths of the programme derive from this active research atmosphere, and from excellent research facilities in both the Wills Memorial Building and the new (2014) Life Sciences Building.


Atrium of the Bristol Life Sciences Building, opened in October 2014 by Sir David Attenborough.

The School of Earth Sciences in Bristol was awarded a top rating in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, carried out by the British government, retaining our position in the top rank of internationally recognized departments in the country, and the world. There are currently about 35 academic staff, 60 postdoctoral researchers, and 60 PhD students in the Department, as well as 40 MSc students and 250 undergraduates. Recent expansion has involved the arrival of several new staff, as well as an ambitious programme of refurbishment and rebuilding.

Research in palaeobiology focuses on a number of topics, including macroevolution, phylogenomics, evo-devo, functional palaeobiology, taphonomy, palaeoecology, and palaeoceanography. The organisms of interest range from microbes to crustaceans, and gymnosperms to dinosaurs. Bristol palaeobiologists are frequently seen on television and heard on the radio. They include key advisers for the Walking with dinosaurs (1999), Walking with beasts (2001), Walking with monsters (2005), as well as some 50 TV programmes for the Discovery Channel, and for many other palaeobiological activities of the kind. They have written over 50 books, including leading textbooks, such as Vertebrate Palaeontology (2015) and Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record (2009).

Current staff and postdocs in the palaeobiology group are listed here, and graduate students here.

Handbook
Each year, we prepare a handbook for all students attending the MSc in Palaeobiology programme. This covers the taught and research aspects of the programme, as well as University, Faculty, and School regulations. The latest (2014-2015) version is available here as a pdf.

The MSc Programme
The MSc offers a research-oriented programme in palaeobiology, with advanced coverage of quantitative aspects of the fossil record and the history of life. The programme aims to bridge the biology-geology divide, and to provide students with a strong background for independent research to PhD level or for an applied career in museums, libraries, management, or the media. So far, graduates of the programme have been highly successful in obtaining PhD positions in top institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, and in other commercial and educational activities. The programme is inter-disciplinary: it is taught mainly in the Earth Sciences Department, but some units are given in Biology and in Archaeology.

Students learn about current debates in evolutionary biology, phylogenomics, and palaeobiology, and they learn a broad range of numerical methods to explore phylogenetics, macroevolution, morphometrics, and functional palaeobiology. The School has a strong geochemical and climate change research programme, and students have the opportunity to develop analytical skills, with hands-on experience of a range of analytical instruments. Various taught units give students first-hand training in laboratory techniques, museum methods, and media aspects.

In addition, a wide range of advanced transferable skills are taught: computer use, programming, numerical methods, planning research, problem solving, laboratory techniques, and communication skills are addressed directly throughout the programme. Students learn multi-media techniques, including presentation of palaeontological data through talks, posters, formal written reports, and web sites.

Read an independent review of the MSc, as well as some personal accounts of former graduates, at the Palaeontological Association website.

Programme Content
The MSc programme is divided into two sections, each of equal value in terms of time and marks, and these represent a developmental sequence. First are the taught courses, which run mainly in the autumn term, and consist of lectures, practical classes, and tutorials, as well as presentations by visiting speakers, designed to provide a firm foundation in the theory and methodology of the subject. The programme consists of four core units, which all students take, and a number of optional units, of which students choose four. The core. or mandatory, units are all focused on developing the professional skills of students in the context of palaeontological debate and research: Current controversies (discussion and debate on new topics), Scientific communication (practical skills in writing, speaking, illustration and web authorship), Phyklogenetic methods in palaeobiology (laboratory and computing skills), and Literature review (reading and writing about your planned thesis topic).

In order that all students have the necessary background, we recommend biologists to take the new Geology for research palaeobiologists unit, and geologists, the Evolutionary biology unit. The taught courses are outlined in more detail here

The second part of the programme consists of the thesis (sometimes called the dissertation or research project). This is divided into an initial Research methods in palaeobiology unit that allows students to carry out a 'proof of concept' study in which they take a subset of the main project, collect and analyse the data, and present a full report. This is completed by Easter, and provides clarity on how well the research is progressing, and whether adjustments have to be made to the original plans. Students then progress seamlessly to the second, major, phase of the thesis, in which the data sets are expanded, and analyses completed. The aim is to maintain a high standard throughout, to make sure projects are working and students are working to a realistic timetable, with the ultimate aim of producing wrk of publishable quality.

A broad range of project titles are offered at the beginning of the year, students choose their project by week 5, and can then spend time, especially as part of the Literature review unit above, developing their knowledge and plans around the theme. Current projects are listed here, and the titles change each year, as work is done and published, and new opportunities arise.

Duration and assessment
The programme runs each year from late September to early September. Assessment falls into three parts, divided equally among the taught units, the Literature review and Research project preparation units, and the Thesis. In the taught part of the programme, marks are split between continuous assessment of assignments and terminal theory examinations. Project marks are assigned in terms of the quality of the scientific work and the quality of the written presentation.

Funding
There are no scholarships associated with the programme, but current students have obtained funding from a variety of sources, including grants and loans.

Full-time or Part-time?
Most students study full-time for the MSc degree. This involves 12 months of continuous study, starting at the beginning of October each year. Your time is pretty fully occupied during the twelve months, and it is not really reasonable to expect to be able to work at the same time (other than very limited part-time work).

One option is to study the degree part-time. Several students have completed the programme part-time, over a two- or three-year span. and others are part-way through. The teaching programme is divided into two blocks of five weeks before Christmas, and you have to be able to attend for one or more of the 5-week blocks each year. The important thing is that you are able to attend the first 5-week block in your first year (this runs from the beginning of October to mid-November). We recommend that you plan to complete the degree in two or three years at most. You cannot complete the programme by attending one day a week, or attending only in the evenings or at weekends.

Fees for part-time students are calculated essentially pro rata , based on fractions of the total annual fee.

Recommended Textbooks
There is no single recommended textbook for the whole MSc programme, but the following are used in several of the units:

Benton, M.J. 2015. Vertebrate palaeontology (4th edition). Wiley-Blackwell, New York.
Benton, M.J. and Harper, D.A.T. 2009. Introduction to paleobiology and the fossil record. Blackwell-Wiley, Oxford.
Brenchley, P.J. and Harper, D.A.T. 2004. Palaeoecology. Taylor & Francis, London.
Briggs, D.E.G. and Crowther, P.R. 2001. Palaeobiology 2. Blackwell Science, Oxford.
Brusatte, S.L. 2012. Dinosaur paleobiology. Wiley-Blackwell, New York.
Foote, M. and Miller, A.H. 2007. Principles of paleontology. Wiley-Blackwell, New York.
Hammer, O. and Harper, D.A.T. 2005. Palaeontological data analysis. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
Lewin, R. 2005. Human evolution (5th edition). Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
Ridley, M. 2004. Evolution (3rd edition). Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
Smith, A.B. 1994. Systematics and the fossil record. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Certificate, Diploma, Degree
The taught materials in the MSc programme may be used for other qualifications. For example, with 60 credit points (equivalent to 6 taught units completed successfully), you can be awarded a Certificate in Palaeobiology. With 120 credit points (equivalent to 9 taught units, and the Phase I Research Project unit completed successfully), you can be awarded a Diploma in Palaeobiology. The MSc is then based on a full 180 credit points, composed of 90 credit points of taught units plus a full research thesis (30 + 60 credit points).

Entry Requirements
A good Honours Degree, at least a 2(1) in a British Bachelors degree, or equivalent for an overseas qualification,in Geology, Biological Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Archaeology, Anthropology, or a related discipline.

Further Information

E-mail earth-MSc@bris.ac.uk for further information.
Find out more about the Palaeontology group, and the MSc, at http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk.
There is more information at here to tell you about postgraduate life at the University of Bristol.


School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol, UK BS8 1RJ
Tel: +44 (0)117 9545400  Fax: +44 (0)117 9253385  Email: earth-msc@bris.ac.uk  Web: www.gly.bris.ac.uk