Animal Behaviour (MSc) 2023 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. 

Start date
September 2023
End date
September 2024
One year full time
School of Biology

Application deadline

Friday 28 July 2023.

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

“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

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.

Application requirements

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

English language proficiency

If English is not your first language, you may need to provide an English language test score to evidence your English language ability. See approved English language tests and scores for this course.

Course details

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 or Indonesia scientific diving in a tropical location. 
  • 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. 


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 2022-2023  academic year; some elements may be subject to change for 2023 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. 
  • Advanced Animal 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 at a tropical diving location (requires suitable diving qualifications and payment of expedition fee, offered only if international travel conditions allow).
  • Predator Ecology in Polar Ecosystems - Antarctica: theoretical and practical field course including a vessel-based trip to Antarctica (requires payment of an expedition fee, offered only if international travel conditions allow). 

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 2023 entry. Take a look at the most up-to-date modules in the module catalogue.


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 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.   




More information on tuition fees can be found on the postgraduate fees and funding page.

Funding and scholarships

The University of St Andrews is committed to attracting the very best students, regardless of financial circumstances. Find out more about the scholarships and postgraduate loans available.

All taught postgraduate scholarships

After your degree


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 as well as a programme of events to assist students in building their employability skills.

Further study

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. 

Postgraduate research

What to do next

Online information events

Join us for one of our information events where you can find out about different levels of study and specific courses we run. There are also sessions available for parents and college counsellors.

Postgraduate virtual days

We encourage all students who are thinking of applying to the University to attend one of our online visiting days.

Contact us

+44 (0)1334 46 3441
School of Biology
Biomedical Sciences Research Complex
North Haugh
St Andrews
KY16 9ST

School of Biology website