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Postgraduate Study

Course closed:

Polar Studies (Scott Polar Research Institute) is no longer accepting new applications.

The aims of the course are to provide an understanding of key contemporary research problems in a range of disciplines in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences relating to the Arctic and Antarctica, and to allow students to undertake original research on a topic selected in consultation with members of staff.

The MPhil in Polar Studies consists of a core interdisciplinary element after which students follow one of two strands (Social Sciences and Humanities; or Natural Sciences). Lecture, seminar and practical-based teaching takes place in the Michaelmas term. The remaining two terms are devoted to a supervised research-led dissertation.

The course is examined through the submission of two pieces of coursework, a presentation 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 in two ways. First, through general study of important themes essential for a broad knowledge and understanding of the physical and human characteristics of polar regions, and how these interact. Second, through more focused study of specialised aspects of research on the Arctic and Antarctic, either in terms of Social Sciences and Humanities or the Natural 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 and to various degrees. Students gain general understanding of histories, cultural transformation and governance in the Arctic and Antarctic, and of the natural processes at work in these regions. Depending on their specialism, students will then gain a detailed understanding of some of these aspects in more depth, learn 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 those following 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 Natural Sciences strand, students will become familiar with theories and empirical work from, amongst other areas, the fields of glaciology, oceanography, atmospheric science and ecology 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 the core module in addition to each specialist module, as well as via direct guidance for the essay / exercise assignments and direct supervision for the 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 elements of data management, understanding ethics and codes of good practice in 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 formal assessment of a presentation at a student forum of 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 end of October. 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.

See further the Postgraduate Admissions Events pages for other events relating to Postgraduate study, including study fairs, visits and international events.

Key Information

9 months full-time

Study Mode : Taught

Master of Philosophy

Scott Polar Research Institute

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Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 4, 2023
Application deadline
March 26, 2024
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2024

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

Course Funding Deadline
Dec. 5, 2023
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 11, 2023

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2024, Lent 2025 and Easter 2025.

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