MPhil in Biological Sciences (Crop Science) by advanced study

Faculty of Biology Cambridge University

Global food security sits at a nexus. Do we continue with unsustainable practices benefiting farmers in high and middle income countries, while small-holders barely produce enough to support themselves? Or can we find a new way for agriculture that delivers food in an equitable and sustainable manner?

Envisioning agriculture in 2050 needs to take into account the global population, the planets’ biodiversity, global climate change and the current inequities in the system. Our Masters of Philosophy in Crop Science degree will explore new ways of thinking about what agriculture should be in 2050 and how we might get to that point.

We will take a broad view of potential solutions, with an emphasis on practical, scientific approaches, from genetic engineering to regenerative agriculture. Together, this will provide our students with an integrated perspective on food security that spans plant biology, global ecology, conservation and economics.

Our aim is to train future leaders in crop science to take creative approaches to global food security. The integrated training the students will acquire will prepare students for multiple career paths, including competitive PhD positions and research-based positions in Agritech. The training in wide-ranging transferable skills, will be valuable for students pursuing careers in science policy and governance, social science, science communication, and non-research based positions in Agritech and international charitable bodies.

We intend that our student cohorts will continue into diverse spheres of research, policy, and science communication, with world-leading influence on the future development of global agriculture and crop science.

Course structure

The MPhil will begin with a taught component – featuring four interconnected and interdisciplinary thematic modules. Our teachers will be drawn from the vibrant research community within Cambridge, spanning the Department of Plant Sciences, Crop Science Centre, NIAB, the Sainsbury Laboratory and the Judge Business School, in addition to selected external contributors.

Each module will run for two weeks, with four interactive sessions per week:

  • The future of sustainable agriculture. We will examine the global system of agriculture, drawing on University expertise in ecology, economics and social science to deliver a high-level perspective of current and future modes of agriculture, and highlighting the challenge of sustainably adapting global agriculture to climate change.
  • Crop development, metabolism and physiology. We will develop an integrated understanding of plant function at the molecular, cellular, tissue and whole organism levels. We examine how this knowledge is relevant for crop yield and performance, and how this can be used to address challenges to food security.
  • Plant-biotic interactions. We will explore the spectrum of plant-microbe, plant-animal and plant-plant interactions, the key features that distinguish parasitic and symbiotic relationships, and examine the vital importance of these interactions for plant health and nutrition within agriculture.
  • Crop Improvement. We explore the organization and function of plant genomes and how this is relevant for crop breeding and engineering. We examine how quantitative genetics, genomics and gene editing can be combined to rapidly adapt crops to novel environmental conditions and safeguard food security. We explore how genetics can be combined with agronomy to enhance sustainable productivity.

Students will receive supervised training in literature synthesis and data analysis via an ‘Insights’ essay that addresses a hot topic in agriculture or crop science.

Students will perform an 8-month primary research project where they will work embedded in a research team investigating questions at the cutting-edge of crop science. This will prepare students for highly competitive PhD programmes and Agritech positions, in addition to diverse other career paths, including science policy and communication.

We will additionally provide Methods based workshops, on topics including statistics and bioinformatics, quantitative genetics, crop transformation, gene editing and grant writing. Students will participate in journal clubs and attend research seminars within the Department of Plant Sciences, Crop Science Centre and NIAB to develop critical thinking skills and learn about current research.

Research skills to be developed: Controlled experimental design and statistical analysis. Bioinformatics and programmatic approaches. Depending on the project, skills in molecular biology, genetics, genomics, tissue culture, transformation, gene-editing, plant-microorganism interactions, biochemistry, metabolomics and computer modelling will be acquired. Projects in a wide range of plant species and approaches will be available for students to select from.

Transferable skills: Project management, data presentation and seminar design and delivery, time management, conceptual thinking, analytical thinking, skills in scientific writing that enable complex concepts to be communicated in an engaging and illuminating way. Specific training on grant and research proposal writing will be delivered. A deep, integrated understanding of global agriculture will be acquired that can be applied in a range of career paths.


Our course is aimed at those who aspire to make major contributions to global agriculture in future years. Students should have obtained a strong degree in a relevant science subject from academic institutions in the UK or internationally.

We are committed to widening participation and inclusivity and welcome suitably trained applicants from all backgrounds and nationalities. Bursaries are available for support for selected students.

How to apply

Our Masters in Crop Science is run as part of a new MPhil in Biological Science program operated by the School of Biological Sciences. Candidates for admission should submit an application here.

The deadline for applications is 2023 has passed. Please check back here for updates on the next intake.

Apply here

Other courses

CTP programme for Sustainable Agricultural Innovation

An industry-wide consortium, led by producer organisation G’s Growers and involving the Crop Science Centre, has won a UKRI-BBSRC collaborative training partnership award (CTP) to provide a £3.6 million postgraduate training programme in sustainable agricultural innovation.

The CTP programme for Sustainable Agricultural Innovation (CTP-SAI) will ensure young scientists are ‘business aware’, opening up opportunities for careers across industry. Find out more about the available opportunities on the CTP website.

Find out more

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