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Postgraduate Study

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.

The MPhil in Polar Studies consists of two Strands (Social Sciences and Humanities; and Physical Sciences), each composed of two Modules. Lecture and seminar-based teaching take place in the Michaelmas term. The remaining two terms are devoted to a research-led dissertation.

The course is examined through the submission of three essays and the dissertation. Dissertation topics are agreed with supervisors and are closely integrated with the ongoing research activities of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI).

Learning Outcomes

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 social sciences and humanities or the physical sciences, and through the development of research skills and methods. The following outcomes of student learning are sought:

Knowledge and Understanding

That students acquire knowledge of important contemporary polar research questions in a range of contexts. Students gain an understanding of histories, cultural transformation and governance in the Arctic and Antarctic, 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.

That students gain familiarity with an appropriate range of intellectual, theoretical and methodological traditions relevant to the study of the Arctic and Antarctic. For the Social Sciences and Humanities strand, students draw on material from disciplines such as geography, anthropology, political science and history, 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, as well as with field-based, remote sensing and modelling techniques used in polar research.

That students develop specialised knowledge of selected aspects of the polar regions through their own dissertation research.

Critical skills

That students become skilled and critical readers of Arctic and Antarctic publications and data sets. This is achieved through structured reading associated with each module, as well as via direct supervision for the essays and dissertation.

That students are able to evaluate evidence and develop arguments about a range of issues and problems concerning the polar regions. This is achieved by students contributing to discussions in the taught courses, as well as taking an active role in research seminars offered in SPRI, the Department of Geography and across Cambridge.

Research skills

That students develop their capacity to frame research questions, to design research appropriately, and develop awareness of different epistemological approaches. This is achieved through the taught and research components of the course.

That students gain competence in using a range of qualitative and/or quantitative methods for gathering, analysing and interpreting data. This is achieved through the taught and research components of the course.

That 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, and disseminating research). Several of these elements are taught and then are extended and applied via the dissertation research, which has individual supervision from an experienced researcher.

Presentation skills

That students gain experience and skills in the presentation of research-based evidence and argument. This is achieved through class discussions, and through a formal presentation at a student forum of their dissertation aims, methods, preliminary results, and plans for future work. 


Students wishing to continue to a PhD in Polar Studies must re-apply for admission to a PhD before the end of their MPhil via the University admissions process, taking the funding and application deadlines into consideration. To be accepted they must achieve a good pass level in all the assessed units of their MPhil, with particular attention given to the level of performance in their dissertation component. However, readmission is not automatic even to the highest-performing MPhil students. In addition, a continuing student must demonstrate suitability to undertake a PhD and present a thorough research proposal that allows the suitability of the topic to be assessed. They must also have the agreement of a supervisor to supervise, based on the appropriateness of the PhD proposal to the expertise and availability of the academic staff in SPRI and the department.

Open Days

The Postgraduate Virtual Open Day usually takes place at the beginning of November. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions to admissions staff and academics, explore the Colleges virtually, and to find out more about courses, the application process and funding opportunities. Visit the Postgraduate Open Day page for more details.

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Key Information

9 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

Scott Polar Research Institute

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Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Michaelmas 2023

Applications open
Sept. 15, 2022
Application deadline
March 31, 2023
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2023

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

Course Funding Deadline
Dec. 1, 2022
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 12, 2022

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2023, Lent 2024 and Easter 2024.

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