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Animal Behaviour (MSc) 2021 entry

This MSc programme provides an intellectual and practical overview of modern animal behaviour taught by leading researchers. It covers key topics such as cognition, behavioural ecology and biologging, as well as the latest techniques and research skills used to study these.

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Key information

Course type

Postgraduate, leading to a Master of Science (MSc)

Course dates

  • Start date: 6 September 2021
  • End date: 30 September 2022

Information about all programmes from previous years of entry can be found in the archive.

Course duration

One year full time

Entry requirements

  • A first or upper 2.1 (Honours) undergraduate degree in a biological science. Other science or mathematics degrees may be acceptable. If you studied your first degree outside the UK, see the international entry requirements.
  • Evidence of training in advanced mathematics and statistics (at least to UK school SQA Higher, GCE AS or A-Level, International Baccalaureate or equivalent).
  • Very good baseline IT skills including word-processing, spreadsheet use, email and internet.
  • English language proficiency. See English language tests and qualifications. If you require a visa to study, see visas information.

The qualifications listed are indicative minimum requirements for entry. Some academic Schools will ask applicants to achieve significantly higher marks than the minimum. Obtaining the listed entry requirements will not guarantee you a place, as the University considers all aspects of every application including, where applicable, the writing sample, personal statement, and supporting documents.

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Tuition fees

Home: £9,900
Overseas: £24,240

Application deadline

Friday 30 July 2021. Applicants should apply as early as possible to be eligible for certain scholarships and for international visa purposes.

Application requirements

For more guidance, see supporting documents and references for postgraduate taught programmes. 

Course information

The MSc in Animal Behaviour is a one-year taught programme run by the School of Biology. This programme has a distinct focus on the theoretical, experimental design-based, analytical and technical approaches underpinning modern animal behaviour research.


  • The programme is taught within the School of Biology’s Centre for Biological Diversity, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for animal behaviour research, including animal cognition, cultural evolution, biologging and the study of complex systems.
  • A core curriculum focused on training in valuable transferable skills is supplemented with a range of specialised options allowing students to explore topics of particular interest at an advanced level.
  • You might have the exciting opportunity to conduct fieldwork locally as part of a core module and further afield as part of optional field courses (extra cost applicable) in Antarctica (polar ecology) or Indonesia (scientific diving).
  • You will undertake a detailed independent research project within one of the School of Biology’s research groups. 
  • Student-led seminars and workshops are designed to support learning, enhance confidence and promote employability.

Teaching format

The course consists of two taught semesters and an independent research project culminating in a written dissertation and poster presentation. The research project takes place during the entire year with particular focus during the last three months from mid-May to mid-August. 

Semester 1 focuses on research skills. Students receive training in statistical analysis and data handling, experimental design and conducting animal behaviour research in the laboratory and in the field, including a residential field trip.

During Semester 2, you will select specialist optional modules in topical areas of research and also further develop your professional communication skills. The latter involves writing and peer reviewing scientific articles. It also involves outreach and presenting science to the public, including material to be exhibited in the University’s Bell Pettigrew Museum.

The modular curriculum is designed to be coherent, providing integrated, hands-on training that will provide a strong foundation for students wishing to further their studies (for example, PhD) or for those choosing to pursue research-focused careers.

Teaching takes the form of:

  • lectures
  • seminars
  • debates
  • workshops
  • tutorials.

Practicals involve lab and field work and computer-based data analysis.

Class sizes usually range from 5 to 30 students, depending on the module. There is a strong focus on small-group teaching so that students are individually supported and can ask for help when it is needed.  

Further particulars regarding curriculum development.


The modules in this programme have varying methods of delivery and assessment. For more details of each module, including weekly contact hours, teaching methods and assessment, please see the latest module catalogue which is for the 2020–2021 academic year; some elements may be subject to change for 2021 entry.

During Semester 1, students take two compulsory modules that provide sound training in essential skills for animal behaviour research.

  • Mathematical and Statistical Modelling for Biologists: applies mathematical ideas to questions in biology and introduces methods for fitting models to biological data mainly using R software.

  • Research Skills for Animal Behaviour: focuses on key skills including experimental design, biologging and telemetry, behaviour genetics, and applications to conservation biology.

In Semester 2, students take the following compulsory module: 

  • Communication Skills for Animal Behaviour Research: practices key communication skills for modern animal behaviour research, including writing for other scientists, peer review, communicating with the public and outreach.

You will also choose three of the following optional modules:

  • Predators and Prey: explore the diverse behaviours that shape the interactions between predators and their prey.
  • Cognition: develop an understanding of how animals perceive the world and how their cognitive abilities are shaped by selection.
  • Current Issues in Biologging: presents an introduction to the theory and practice of logging and relaying physical and biological data using animal-attached tags.
  • The Question of Culture in Animals: discuss the existence and extent of social learning and cultural transmission in non-humans.
  • Complex Systems in Animal Behaviour: examine animal behaviour from a complex systems’ perspective, where analyses range from captive housing of entire bird flocks, computer simulation, and use of robots to interact with the animals.
  • Scientific Diving: field course located in Indonesia (requires suitable diving qualifications and payment of expedition fee).
  • Predator Ecology in Polar Ecosystems: field course located in southern Argentina and Antarctica (requires payment of an expedition fee which covers all costs, including travel and accommodation). See the students' Antarctic expedition blog.

Optional modules are subject to change each year and require a minimum number of participants to be offered; some may only allow limited numbers of students (see the University’s position on curriculum development). 

Throughout the academic year, students complete a research project which will culminate in a written dissertation and presentation of a poster at the MSc student conference. Projects will be supervised by Biology staff but may be carried out with joint supervision from staff in other institutions. Students can choose from a range of projects suggested by supervisors and also take an active role in designing their own project plan.  

A broad range of research into animal behaviour, ecology and evolution takes places within the Centre for Biological Diversity, and projects will be offered within many of these areas. Below are examples of some of the different topics currently studied within the centre.

  • animal cognition in the wild
  • animal cultures
  • behaviour and speciation in insects
  • behaviour of groups and collective behaviour
  • behavioural ecology and conservation ecology of birds
  • complex biological systems
  • evolutionary developmental biology
  • fish behaviour and evolution
  • insect behavioural ecology and evolution
  • social learning.

If students choose not to complete the dissertation requirement for the MSc, there are exit awards available that allow suitably qualified candidates to receive a Postgraduate Diploma. By choosing an exit award, you will finish your degree at the end of the second semester of study and receive a PGDip instead of an MSc.

The modules listed here are indicative, and there is no guarantee they will run for 2021 entry. Take a look at the most up-to-date modules in the module catalogue.

Meet us online

If you're interested in studying at St Andrews, join us on a virtual visiting day or daily information session to find out about our courses, how to apply, and to meet current students. 

The next virtual visiting day will be in November 2021.

Virtual events

Join our Admissions team for one of our upcoming virtual events. During these events, you can find out more about studying at St Andrews and what it will do for your future.

Online information events


Recent Graduate Discount
The University of St Andrews offers a 10% discount in postgraduate tuition fees to students who are eligible to graduate or who have graduated from St Andrews within the last three academic years and are starting a postgraduate programme with the University of St Andrews.

Find out more about postgraduate scholarships

After the MSc

Research degrees

Many MSc graduates continue their education by enrolling in PhD programmes at St Andrews or elsewhere. PhD students at the School of Biology at St Andrews can undertake a research degree in their chosen subject area where research interests span the breadth of biological science.

PhD in Biology


This programme will provide a strong foundation for students wishing to further their studies (for example, MPhil or PhD) or those choosing to pursue careers in animal behaviour. 

The Careers Centre offers one-to-one advice to all students on a taught postgraduate course and, together with the Centre for Educational Enhancement and Development (CEED), offers a programme of events to assist students in building their employability skills.

"The teachers and lecturers are great – you get a lot of access to them, whether it be individually or in a small group, which has helped with discussions and keeping up to date with my studies. Studying here has made me feel competent and knowledgeable in my discipline, has furthered my presentation and writing skills and has given me great connections."

- Reykjavík, Iceland


General inquiries
Biology postgraduate taught secretaries (Katrina Gatherum and Louise Docherty)
Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 3441

Course organiser
Dr Mike Webster
Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 1690

Biology website

Centre for Biological Diversity website


Admission to the University of St Andrews is governed by our admissions policy.

Information about all programmes from previous years of entry can be found in the archive.

Curriculum development

As a research intensive institution, the University ensures that its teaching references the research interests of its staff, which may change from time to time. As a result, programmes are regularly reviewed with the aim of enhancing students' learning experience. Our approach to course revision is described online (PDF, 72 KB).

Tuition fees

The University will clarify compulsory fees and charges it requires any student to pay at the time of offer. The offer will also clarify conditions for any variation of fees. The University’s approach to fee setting is described online (PDF, 84 KB).

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