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MSc Quaternary Science

Comprehensive postgraduate training at the Centre for Quaternary Research, Royal Holloway University of London with the Natural History Museum, on the processes of past environmental change, confronting some of the most profound issues of our time.

This course develops skills in: high resolution palaeoenvironmental proxies and dating, remote sensing and GIS, glaciology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, tephrochronology, fieldwork and mapping, and transferable skills in data analysis and evaluation. 

Centre for Quaternary Research

The Centre for Quaternary Research, in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway University of London, is a leading research centre that promotes interdisciplinary research on Quaternary Environmental Change.

The Department of Geography was recognised in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework as overwhelmingly world class.  It is home to a vibrant postgraduate community of 130 students from across the world.

Strong research culture

The staff and facilities of the Centre for Quaternary Research provide a wide range of opportunities to students, including participation in internationally significant research programmes in Quaternary science and links with potential employers.

This consortium of staff constitutes the strongest teaching team in the UK for the provision of Masters' teaching in non-marine Quaternary Science and environmental change.  You’ll have the opportunity to contribute to this leading research culture with your own individual research project.

Innovative and highly respected MSc Course

Our interdisciplinary, innovative and highly respected MSc in Quaternary Science is offered jointly with London’s prestigious Natural History Museum, and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) recognizes this course as 'Excellent'.

You will join a world-wide exclusive club of MSc alumni, who have become established researchers and professionals in universities, NGOs and commercial companies around the world.  Around 70% of our graduates go on to study for PhDs and pursue research careers in Quaternary Science.

The photograph in the slideshow above shows alumni of the MSc in Quaternary Science at a major international conference in Japan in 2011, demonstrating the role of this course in training future researchers.

Course content

The MSc in Quaternary Science will provide inter-disciplinary training in the analysis of palaeoenvironmental proxies.  You will receive core training in sedimentology and stratigraphy, Quaternary palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, dating and quantification, and techniques in Quaternary research.

These modules will develop your skills in key Quaternary Science areas and provide trainining in GIS and remote sensing, programming, graphics for creating scientific illustrations, and presenting information orally, in posters and on webpages.

The second academic term provides key training in a wide range of option modules. For a complete list, please visit:  http://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/geography/quaternary-science.aspx

You will also participate in our research-led Field Training Programme, with excursions to Wales, East Anglia and Glen Roy in Scotland.  The cost of these trips is included within the tuition fees.

The third academic term and summer holiday comprise a 10,000 word dissertation, where students select and research a topic of their choosing.

Frequently students will participate in on-going research projects of staff members.

Career prospects

On completion, graduates will have a thorough understanding of some of our most pressing environmental issues.  Our exciting interdisciplinary training will develop your technical skills and critical numerical and literary abilities.  You will gain transferable skills in developing arguments, understanding large datasets and critical thinking.

Around 70% of our graduates go on to pursue further research. In recent years, our highly employable graduates have entered many different Quaternary-related sectors, including:

  • British Antarctic Survey
  • British Geological Survey
  • Scientific Publishing
  • Historic England
  • Environment Agency
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Environmental Consultancy
  • Museum curation
  • UK Government
  • Natural England
  • Teaching
  • Archaeology

Application Procedure

Students are expected to have achieved a 2:1 in a relevant undergraduate degree.  If your first degree result does not quite meet this requirement, please contact us to discuss your case.

Consideration will also be given to relevant professional experience and qualifications.

Please visit our website for the latest information and how to apply: www.royalholloway.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/geography/quaternary-science.aspx

Please visit our Postgraduate Programme page to see more information on departmental and university funding opportunities: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/geography/prospectivestudents/postgraduatetaught/home.aspx

RHUL offers various postgraduate scholarships and bursaries: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/studyhere/postgraduate/feesandfunding/scholarships/home.aspx

More guidance on funding postgraduate degrees is available from websites such as FindaMasters.com: https://www.findamasters.com/funding/guides/masters-funding-guide.aspx

External Participants

External Participants are welcome to participate in various MSc Quaternary option modules.

For each week-long course, the fee is £500.  For more information, please see the flyers below:

Students' testimonials (Please click on the down-arrow to view them.)


Name:  Bethan Davies

Place of Work:  Royal Holloway University of London

Position:  Lecturer in Physical Geography


I found the MSc in Quaternary Science to be an extremely interesting and valuable course. I learned key skills in sedimentology, stratigraphy and data analysis. One of my favourite courses involved going to the Natural History Museum in London, where we were taken behind the scenes to look at the Quaternary mammals exhibits. The field trip to Glen Roy was a highlight.

After taking on the MSc in Quaternary Science at RHUL, I was able to obtain a funded PhD place at Durham University. The MSc was critical in obtaining this PhD place, but also had provided me with key skills that I have used throughout my career. The broad introduction to a wide range of Quaternary Science, together with detailed skills-based modules, provided me with the skills I needed.

I did my MSc Dissertation in conjunction with the British Geological Survey, mapping glacial sediments in Norfolk. It was a valuable experience and I have maintained the connections I made to this day.



Name:  Jacob Bendle

Place of Work:  Royal Holloway University of London

Position:  Teaching Fellow in Physical Geography


I came to the MSc Quaternary Science programme after studying Physical Geography at Aberystwyth University.  I found the MSc fascinating, challenging, and incredibly rewarding, and the knowledge and skills gained through this programme formed the cornerstone of a subsequent PhD investigating past fluctuations of the Patagonian Ice Sheet.  I came to the course as a glacial enthusiast, but my knowledge grew across a much wider range of Quaternary environments, and I developed a new array of research skills in, for example, sedimentology, stratigraphy, tephrochronology, and micromorphology.  I continue to use these skills in research.  I particularly enjoyed the research dissertation, which gave me the opportunity to use state of the art x-ray computed microtomography scanning techniques to conduct a novel piece of research into the 3D structures preserved within glacial sediments.

I would highly recommend RHUL and the MSc Quaternary Science programme to students thinking about undertaking a PhD in this field.  The degree gave me a unique opportunity to explore a wide range of Quaternary topics, which were taught by genuine experts in their field, whilst the range of lecture, laboratory and field based teaching were fundamental towards developing me into a more well-rounded researcher.


Amy Walsh

Name:  Amy Walsh

Place of work:   Royal Holloway University of London

Position:  Postgraduate Research Assistant in Tephrochronology


I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Quaternary Science MSc course owing not only to the variety of interesting modules it offers but also to the great staff and student community at Royal Holloway.

The core modules in the first term provide an overview of key Quaternary principles in palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology and dating methods which helped to focus my research interests, with the second term offering the flexibility to choose optional modules.  The 10-day field trip to the Scottish Highlands was also a highlight in this term.

These opportunities allowed me to develop a detailed skillset in a number of laboratory and field techniques which I was subsequently able to employ during my independent dissertation research.  My project combined varve counting, tephrochronology and pollen analysis to investigate the Early Holocene period at a lake site in Norfolk.

Throughout the course, I also gained experience in writing for a range of audiences as the course is assessed through scientific reports, research proposals, oral and poster presentations.  Members of my cohort have already found these transferable skills to be highly sought after by employers and valuable for those of us hoping to embark on a PhD in the future.  Overall, I have found this MSc a very rewarding experience and I would 100% encourage anybody interested to apply.



Name:  Jenna Sutherland


I graduated with an MSc in Quaternary Science in 2015 and am now in my second year of PhD study at the University of Leeds.  From my point of view, the best thing about the MSc was the diversity of the course and the sheer amount of knowledge and skills I accumulated in such a short space of time.  The wide range of optional modules available also meant that I was able to tailor the programme towards my specific research interests.  The modules really pushed me beyond my comfort zone at times but gave me a greater thirst for knowledge and the confidence to pursue a PhD.  The course dramatically improved not only my scientific writing but also my ability to read scientific literature with a more critical and observant eye, setting me up well for a career in academia.

My dissertation investigated the processes and provenance of the North Sea Lobe of the last British Irish Ice Sheet, which involved fieldwork on the Holderness Coast in East Yorkshire.  This independent research taught me many skills and techniques that are directly applicable to what I do now in my PhD.  The department has a welcoming research community and works hard to ensure the students are not working in isolation.  The lecturers are enthusiastic and passionate about their research, which really comes across in their teaching.  The course has an international reputation which hugely influenced the success of my many PhD applications.  The excellent teaching and supervision, as well as the range of useful academic resources and facilities available, really makes this MSc stand out from the rest.



Name:  Luke E. Parker

Place of Work:  Archaeological Research Services Ltd.

Position:  Palaeoenvironmental Officer and Assistant Projects Officer


I joined the Quaternary Science MSc. following on from my Physical Geography bachelors which I also undertook at Royal Holloway.  This led to me graduating in 2016 and immediately into my current role as the Palaeoenvironmental Archaeologist of a commercial archaeological company based in Bakewell, Derbyshire.  I am engaged in helping us to understand the ways in which humans have interacted with and utilised their landscapes and environments throughout history and prehistory.  The lessons and experiences I gained during my time, as well as the fantastic reputation of Royal Holloway in the archaeological community, contributed directly towards my subsequent employment.

The MSc gave me a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the advanced skills and techniques which are used in order to progress our understanding of the ways in which the natural world has rapidly altered throughout the Quaternary and how it impacted human development.  The techniques that are taught such as palynology, geochronology, sedimentology and stratigraphy are endlessly useful in my role and I am constantly using utilising what I was taught during my time on the course.  The wide range of subjects taught on the course led towards focussing on a particular area- for me this led to a dissertation utilising Optically Stimulated Luminescence Dating to date early Neolithic hearth stones from the Western Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia.  The course not only taught me many of the skills which I use daily in my profession, but also the ways in which to ask the right questions, and how to go about answering them. The course really helped to teach the particular mind-set with which to approach these palaeoenvironmental and archaeological questions in the right way.

One of the main reasons that I thoroughly enjoyed the MSc. Quaternary Science programme was taking my first steps in becoming a researcher in my own right.  The course places you at the cutting edge of current understanding, taught by passionate experts who are constantly immersing you in their subject areas and research.  You are always being shown the boundaries of what we know and always being involved in participating in pushing those limits forward.


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