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School of Environment, Education and Development

MSc Research Methods with Human Geography
MSc Research Methods with Human Geography
A research-intensive master's degree, perfect if you're considering PhD study or a career in human geography research.

MSc Research Methods with Human Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course description

MSc Research Methods provides grounding in social science research methods, developing you as a well-rounded researcher.

You will graduate from the course able to access the full range of research in relation to your chosen specialism of human geography (pathways in education, international development, and planning and environmental management are also available), with the necessary practical skills to design, conduct and develop research studies.

The course complies with the research training requirements for ESRC scholarships for a PhD scholarship (commonly termed +3). It is also suitable as the master's year as part of an ESRC scholarship award that covers both the master's and PhD (commonly termed a 1+3 award).  The course is therefore ideal if you want to apply for an ESRC scholarship or School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED) scholarship, as 70% of the ESRC Core Training can be demonstrated prior to commencing a PhD.

A distinctive aspect of the course is that the strong focus on developing your research skills is combined with the opportunity to study one of the four pathway fields of education, human geography, international development, and planning and environmental management.

We believe that developing deeper and new understandings of your chosen field requires a thorough understanding of research methodology. Conversely, developing a deeper understanding of research methods is inextricably linked to the context in which research is conducted.

You will therefore study four mandatory research methods units and four units taken from the human geography pathway - which will be a mix of mandatory and elective units.

You will study and learn alongside peers from the three other related fields - fields that share strong traditions of interdisciplinary and mixed methods approaches. The course will therefore allow you to develop interdisciplinary connections within SEED, and draw upon the significant expertise from our departments in Education, Geography, Global Development, and Planning and Environmental Management.

In addition, you will attend some of the introductory PhD research training lectures, which will be supported by seminars and tutorials. This will provide you with a taste of life as a PhD student.


  • Prepare you to evaluate, use and carry out research in a critical and self-critical manner.
  • Promote understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of different research approaches and of an applied social researcher.
  • Develop analytical skills appropriate to study at postgraduate level to enrich the academic community.
  • Enable you to develop a thorough understanding of the contextual and substantive issues in human geography, and how this relates to knowledge production within human geography.
  • Support the acquisition of cognitive, practical and transferable skills that are appropriate for postgraduate study and relevant to applied social research and practice in the UK and overseas.
  • Develop the knowledge, understanding and skills necessary for employment as a researcher or as a practitioner researcher in human geography, or for progression to postgraduate research (PhD).

Coursework and assessment

You will conduct a small scale piece of empirical research of relevance within your pathway field and use this as the basis for your dissertation. The emphasis of the dissertation will be on the use of methodology in the context of:
  • tracing the application of certain methods to the investigation of particular issues
  • discussing how that methodology functioned in practice
  • research reflexivity.

You will be expected to report on the findings of the study, although the scale of the work will necessitate modest aims and outcomes, given that you will require space to provide in-depth methodological critique and potentially also methods development as an outcome of their study.

It will also be possible you to choose to undertake a literature-based dissertation, in which case there will be an expectation that a formal review methodology will be used to conduct the review.

The form the dissertation ultimately takes will reflect the particular study conducted, and its structure will be negotiated and agreed your supervisor. All dissertations undertaken will be required to contribute to meeting the ESRC's research training criteria.

Course unit details

There are three mandatory units.

Semester 1: Research Literacy and Design

This unit will develop your research literacy skills, skills for conducting an academic literature review and practical skills in academic critique and writing by fostering a deeper understanding of research design and its relation to knowledge production. It will include guidance on writing a research project proposal.

Semester 2: Qualitative Research Approaches

This unit will critically engage with the generation and analysis of empirical data. Presented through applied case studies, you will be exposed to a series of qualitative tactics ranging from ethnographic approaches to archival research and comparative methods. It will also introduce you to NVivo as a platform for data analysis and code generation.

Semester 2: Quantitative Research Approaches

This mandatory unit will familiarise you with the use, application and possibilities of quantitative methodological instruments. More specifically, it aims to:

  • foster an awareness of the principles of quantitative data collection, coding and analysis
  • develop skills in constructing and administering questionnaires or observation schedules
  • develop an understanding of statistical analysis and modelling
  • enable you to present quantitative data analysis visually
  • develop a quantitative research-based proposal
  • enable you to review quantitative and mixed-methods based research articles.

It will allow you to understand basic commands in research methods, develop and curate and analyse surveys, and construct and delimit samples for research. In addition, it will introduce the use and manipulation of different software and platforms such as GIS, the handling of big data and using social networks for data mining.

You will also select one elective unit.

Doing (Environmental) Research

Familiarise yourself with planning and designing a good research project. This unit will:

  • assist you to develop a coherent and feasible dissertation project
  • advance your skills in effectively communicating a research project and writing a dissertation proposal
  • familiarize yourself with the process of preparing and presenting a poster that communicates a research project.

Development Fieldwork

This unit aims to provide fieldwork experience of socio-economic development in action. It offers the opportunity to observe development interventions in situ and to reflect on how theoretical explorations of development covered in some of the core course units are operationalised in the real world.

Independent Research Methods Research

This unit gives you the opportunity to explore one relevant area of research methods in close detail. The subject matter will be negotiated with your supervisor. Areas relating to research methods in the context of your pathway field would be appropriate.

Specialism units

A wide range of human geography specialism units are available. The choice will be in negotiation with a within academic from your pathway field. The emphasis will be on providing a coherent set of specialism units that meet your individual research interests.

Scholarships and bursaries

MSc Research Methods complies with the research training requirements for ESRC scholarships for a PhD scholarship (commonly termed +3). It is also suitable as the master's year as part of an ESRC scholarship award that covers both the master's and PhD (commonly termed a 1+3 award).

It is ideal if you want to apply for an ESRC scholarship or School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED) scholarship, as 70% of the ESRC Core Training can be demonstrated prior to commencing a PhD.

It will also be of interest to people who are considering a career in research in one of the pathway fields.

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: