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I am an MPhil student in the Vertebrate Palaeontology Group, working with Dr Jason Head. My research relates to the evolution of the rib cages of lizards and snakes. Historically, snakes were thought to have evolved from limbed ancestors by a reduction in complexity of the developmental patterning of their head-to-tail axis. Recent research has shown that this is not the case and that snakes retain distinct morphological regions along their axial skeleton. I am investigating the changes in regionalisation of the ribcages of snakes and their relatives to answer questions about how vertebrate skeletons change in the transition from limbed to limbless forms. 

I joined as a postgraduate student after completing my undergraduate degree within the Department of Zoology. I enjoyed a hugely positive experience conducting my final year project in the Gillis Lab, so when it came to choosing where to continue my development as a researcher I knew from experience that I would have access to a wide range of world-class resources here in Cambridge. Research in the department covers a diversity of fields and through seminars, coffee mornings, and happy hours, you are able to broaden your knowledge and interests. Students have access to the Museum of Zoology which houses an amazing collection of specimens. Due to the many collaborations faculty members have established, you are also able to draw on a wealth of experience from academics outside of your own department and even your own University. For example, I have worked closely with researchers in the Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences and utilise specimens from the Natural History Museum in London and Herpetology Collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History. 

Being part of the School of Postgraduate Life Sciences at the University of Cambridge and via partnership with external organisations such as the Babraham Institute, students in the Department of Zoology have access to many courses that enrich your academic experience. I have attended courses on scientific methodology, writing, and figure design, and frequently draw on the skills gained in the statistics courses. Perhaps the most valuable resource I have access to is the other students in my group. Throughout my time in the department I have found it to be a consistently welcoming, friendly, and supportive environment where you feel comfortable exploring your own abilities and ideas. 

Emily Hillan - Vertebrate Palaeontology Group (April 2021)

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Key Information


12 months full-time

24 months part-time

Master of Philosophy

Department of Zoology

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Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2020
Application deadline
Oct. 4, 2021
Course Starts
Jan. 5, 2022

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2020
Application deadline
Jan. 14, 2022
Course Starts
April 17, 2022

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2021
Application deadline
May 16, 2022
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2022

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Lent 2023

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2021
Application deadline
Oct. 4, 2022
Course Starts
Jan. 5, 2023

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2021
Application deadline
Jan. 14, 2023
Course Starts
April 17, 2023

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Graduate Funding Competition
Jan. 6, 2022
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 13, 2021

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2022, Lent 2023 and Easter 2023.


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