The objective of this MRes is to provide a cutting-edge interdisciplinary programme that attracts and trains to a high level the best students from around the world, who are interested to pursue a research career in tropical forest ecology.

The aim of the course is to teach you how to do excellent science in tropical forest environments, and the emphasis is on learning the skills to become an independent researcher and scientist. We will provide you with high-level research training in the latest developments in tropical forest ecology, covering the physical and biological aspects of the forest ecosystem, and give you the opportunity to explore those developments and apply your skills in your own research project.

A central goal of the MRes Tropical Forest Ecology is to prepare you for PhD studies and/or a career in ecology by teaching a suite of transferable and professional skills. You will learn a unique set of skills that are relevant to conducting and managing research across the broad discipline of ecology, be that in a tropical forest or another biome.

This MRes involves a taught field course in Malaysia, and it is anticipated that students will work in a wide range of additional tropical nations for their project work. The field course will provide an opportunity for students to interact with Malaysian and international students and lecturers conducting research at the Maliau Basin Field Centre and working on one of the world’s largest ecological experiments, the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project.  Training on the field course will include working collaboratively with researchers at the SAFE Project, directly embedding you in an active global network of around 500 past and present researchers.

External projects will further expose you to tropical forest research in an international context. We strongly encourage students to seek out international partners to work with on their projects, ensuring project work has direct relevance to national and international needs in this discipline.

Importance and relevance of the course

This course is the only postgraduate programme within the UK that focuses solely on tropical forest ecology. This programme forms part of the Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment Initiative (GCEE). The GCEE is a global hub for addressing key environmental challenges for humanity, carrying out internationally excellent science with a focus on finding solutions to these challenges in a collaborative manner, and acting as an interface between science, practitioners and policy makers.

A key objective of the GCEE initiative is to train the next generation of scientists equipped to carry out the research required to address the grand challenges we have identified. This MRes will provide students with the theoretical background and practical skills to tackle these challenges in tropical forest environments.

This programme is embedded within the GCEE initiative that promotes interdisciplinary research and partnerships, bringing together natural scientists, engineers, mathematicians, medics, economists and social scientists.

In addition the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) identified a set of 15 ‘Postgraduate and Professional Skills Needs in the Environment Sector’, termed critical skills gaps. This MRes programme will give you training explicitly designed to address eight of these 15 gaps:

  • Modelling (incl. physical systems and GIS)
  • Multi-disciplinarity (incl. experience working in multi-disciplinary teams)
  • Data management (incl. data protocols and assimilation)
  • Numeracy (incl. statistical methods)
  • Fieldwork (incl. sampling techniques, protocols and survey skills)
  • Taxonomy and Systematics (incl. identification skills and links with ecological functions)
  • Soil Science (incl. soil carbon monitoring)
  • Freshwater Science (incl. physical and biological aspects).

Students at workWe have talked to potential employers about the rationale behind the MRes Tropical Forest Ecology programme and its training aspirations. The response has been positive, and our programme design comes from this (such as the longer project period, the development of a range of interdisciplinary skills, and the emphasis on both technical and transferable/communications skills).

The taught aspect of this course is based at Silwood Park, a postgraduate campus of Imperial College located 25 miles west of London set in 100ha of parkland. Find out more about Silwood Park.

Programme aims and objectives

The programme aims/objectives are to provide you with knowledge and understanding of:

  • The ecosystem processes operating in tropical forests.
  • Key taxa involved in tropical forest ecosystem processes.
  • Techniques in tropical forest ecology: the main tools for addressing ecological questions in tropical forest ecology, from data collection to statistical analysis and mathematical modelling.
  • Key issues in tropical forest ecology, covering the fundamental underlying science and key knowledge gaps about ecological processes.
  • Research techniques, including information retrieval, experimental design and statistics, modelling, field sampling, field safety, analysis and presentation of results.
  • Transferable skills including problem definition, project design, risk management, ethics, project management, teamwork and scientific communication.

Who should apply?

StudentThe programme would be ideal training for students who want to pursue a career in academic, governmental or non-governmental organisations engaged in research into tropical forest ecology, biodiversity and conservation.

In these sectors employers are increasingly looking for students with real-world experience of projects, relevant research and a solid grounding in a range of academic, professional and transferable skills, which this programme will be able to offer.

Structure and assessment

The course involves four months of full time teaching, a three week field course in Sabah, Malaysia and a 30 week independent research project.

This course is an MRes, meaning there is no formal written examination. Assessment is by coursework (40%) and by dissertation (60%). Coursework may include components such as writing project proposals, developing a product for scientific communication, and assessment during the field course will involve short reports and basic data analysis exercises.

The dissertation, or project, element will be assessed for its scientific quality as a publishable research paper and for your ability to communicate the message emerging from your research. We expect a high proportion of dissertations to be of sufficient quality to allow them to be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals at the end of the course.

Part-time study

We offer an option to take this course part-time over a two-year period, and will work with you to find flexible ways to meet your time commitments. A typical solution would consist of doing the taught coursework in the first year (Oct-Dec), which will consist of 3-5 day weeks.

Part time students will have double-time to complete coursework assessments compared to fulltime students. You would then do field work for your thesis project timed to end at the start of Feb the following year, complete the taught field course in that same month, and then write up at 50% time for a September hand in.

For full details about the course please visit the MRes Tropical Forest Ecology prospectus page.