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MPhil/PhD Human Geography and Urban Studies

Departmental website: lse.ac.uk/geographyAndEnvironment

Number of graduate students (full-time equivalent)
Research: 51

Number of faculty (full-time equivalent): 37

REF:  84 per cent of the Department's research was rated world-leading or internationally excellent.

Location: St Clement's

MPhil/PhD Human Geography and Urban Studies

This PhD offers training both in human geographic research and in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding/ responding to the challenges of an era of rapid urbanisation and urban re-development around the world. Cities and development are the main focus of work by both staff and students associated with this programme. But it also provides opportunities for research on topics and issues within human geography which are not specifically “urban” but which relate to other areas of expertise and interest of academic staff within the Cities and Development cluster.

The MPhil/PhD Human Geography and Urban Studies aims to: (i) provide advanced knowledge of the principles and conceptual foundations of human geographic and urban social science research, together with the research skills and methodological understanding needed to develop original research in the field; (ii) expose students to the most recent developments and debates in human geography and urban studies; (iii) prepare students for careers in research, academia, international organisations (eg, World Bank, OECD, UNEP, European Commission), urban planning, governance, the consultancy sector, infrastructure providers, and NGOs.

The Cities and Development cluster of the Department of Geography involves a concentration of researchers, with particular interests in how social, economic and political processes interact across a range of urban contexts in all continents, and in different conditions of development. Issues related to the urban economy are also strongly represented within the department's Economic Geography cluster. Research students on this programme are strongly encouraged to engage with the full range of urban research, teaching and scholarship within the LSE's wider urban research community.

Programme structure

The programme is offered in the following alternative formats:

Either 1 (MSc Human Geography and Urban Studies+ 3 (MPhil/PhD Human Geography and Urban Studies);

Or +3  (MPhil/PhD Human Geography and Urban Studies).

The 1+3 route – suitable for those individuals who do not hold a relevant postgraduate degree – is aimed at students graduating with an undergraduate degree in geography or similar social science subject. In the first year of the 1+3 route, core research and subject-specific training will be provided within the framework of the MSc Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research). Individuals who have already completed a graduate degree in a relevant subject can apply directly to the +3 path.

For further details of the programme structure and available courses please see the Programme Regulations

Progression and upgrade requirements

Students in the 1+3 programme will have to complete the MSc Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research) in Year 1 with a minimum classification of solid merit (65 per cent or above) overall and distinction (70 per cent or above) in the dissertation component in order to be able to progress to the MPhil/PhD programme. Under exceptional circumstances, students not meeting these requirements will be considered for progress (eg, on the basis of an outstanding dissertation not matched by a solid merit in the MSc programme overall; or on the basis of a narrowly missed distinction in the dissertation coupled with a remarkable performance in all other relevant courses).

Once students are in the MPhil/PhD part of their programme they will go through a First Year Progress Review taking place in the Summer Term of their first research year. This is Year 1 for students in the +3 programme and Year 2 for students in the 1+3 programme. For the First Year Progress Review, the student submits a written progress report containing an extensive and updated research proposal (typically including an introduction to the topic and motivation for the research; aims and objectives/research questions; contribution to knowledge; summary of methods to be used; and outline of the work to be done) and either a comprehensive literature review or a substantial draft of a chapter/paper as evidence of progress made during the year. Normally, there will be a progress review meeting between the student and the supervisors (main supervisor and review supervisor) to discuss the written material presented. The work has to reach an acceptable standard to enable the student to progress to the second year. There is provision for a second Supplementary Review, in cases where there are doubts as to whether progress has been sufficient to allow the student to enter the second year (third year of the 1+3 pathway). Progression to the second year (third year of the 1+3 pathway) is also dependent on students having passed all required examinations and obtained at least one merit, and having presented their work satisfactorily in the doctoral presentation workshops.

Research students are initially registered for an MPhil and have to be upgraded to PhD status. The upgrade from MPhil to PhD usually occurs during the second year of full-time registration. This is Year 2 for students in the +3 programme and Year 3 for students in the 1+3 programme. The exact timing depends on the student's progress. Students are required to submit a formal written upgrade report consisting of an extensive revised research proposal, two substantial draft papers/chapters, of which one can be a literature review, and a detailed plan for completion. The material is evaluated by an upgrading committee that will recommend transferral to PhD registration if the work is judged to be of sufficient quality and quantity. The upgrading committee is normally formed by the student's main supervisor, review supervisor and a third member of staff with relevant expertise. The upgrade is also dependent on students having completed all required training courses and having made a satisfactory research presentation in their doctoral presentation workshop.

In addition to these formal arrangements, each year during the Summer Term and throughout the course of their studies, all PhD students and their supervisors have to complete a yearly Progress Report Form, detailing progress made, problems arising and plan/timeline for completion. The forms are sent to the relevant Doctoral Programme Director for approval before students are able to re-register for the following session. If perceived lack of progress is identified, it can trigger a more formal annual review of progress in which the student is asked to produce specific written documents to be evaluated by a review panel. 

About the Department

Exercise and the 2014 Research Excellence Framework.The QS World University Rankings ranked the Department second in the world on the overall score in 2014-5. It has for many years been a recognised ESRC research training outlet (full-time and part-time). The Department is distinctive in that it concentrates on the social scientific aspects of geography and environmental studies, placing great emphasis on multidisciplinary teaching, and research and focuses strongly on policy relevant work.

Department research primarily takes place in three thematic clusters: Economic Geography and Regional Science; Environmental Economics and Policy; Cities and Development. The first two clusters are closely associated with two large externally-funded research centres: the ESRC Spatial Economics Research Centre (SERC) and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (incorporating the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy), respectively.

Departmental staff are also actively involved with the School's other interdisciplinary institutes and research centres (including the Centre for Economic Performance, The Inequalities Institute, The Grantham Centre, the various Area Studies Centres, Department of International Development, LSE London, Media@LSE, and the Gender Institute) and undertake collaborative research with colleagues in other disciplines.

The Department runs PhD programmes in human geography and urban studies, economic geography, environmental economics, and environmental policy and development. There is one research-orientated master's degree (Human Geography and Urban Studies Research) and a range of others focused on developing the ability to integrate theoretical developments with practical experience. Staff come from a wide range of subject backgrounds. Most of those involved in teaching graduate students have a wealth of experience in working for, or acting as advisers to, a range of international agencies and governments across the world. Furthermore, the Department hosts a holder of the prestigious European Investment Bank (EIB) - European Prize in Regional Science, several holders of the Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award, the August Lösch prize, the Geoffrey Hewings Award for Regional Science Research, two recipients of  Major Leverhulme Research Fellowships and three holders of the highly competitive Philip Leverhulme Prize Fellowships for researchers under 36.

About the Cities and Development cluster

The Cities and Development cluster is directly responsible for the management of the MPhil/PhD in Human Geography and Urban Studies. The cluster brings together a key group of staff in the Department of Geography & Environment with research interests and expertise in the fields of contemporary human geography, urban politics and policy, migration, and development. The cluster is interdisciplinary in nature and actively collaborates with specialists located in other LSE departments (notably Anthropology, Sociology, Social Policy, and Development Studies). Cluster members have also forged working relationships with academics and policy-makers elsewhere – not only in Europe and North America, but also in India, China, Korea, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Gambia, Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania, and in transnational organisations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the UK's Department for International Development (DfID).

Staff have attracted significant funding from the World Bank, DfID, EU, UNEP, UNDP, Nuffield Foundation, Leverhulme, and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to support work on: growth, poverty, and empowerment at the global scale; street children, urban violence, and economic restructuring in central and South America; urban politics and policy-making in post-apartheid South Africa; migration and migrant diasporas, and the changing position of women and youth in urban areas of the Global South. Cluster members provide a wealth of consultancy advice to agencies such as the World Bank, UN-HABITAT, the UNDP, UN-DESA, UNICEF, ILO, DfID, London governments and the British Parliament and Government (on issues including economic development, migration, social segregation, planning, urban bias, female-headed households, gender, development and globalisation, and labour market restructuring), while at the same time contributing to intellectual debates on transnationalism, the agrarian question, the feminisation of poverty, urban public space, and the meanings of development in the wake of the post-colonial turn. 

Opportunities for research and admissions criteria 

Research in the Department concentrates on the socio-economic aspects of geography and environmental studies, and places great emphasis on rigorous and multidisciplinary methods to address policy relevant questions.

The MPhil/PhD programme in Human Geography and Urban Studies aims for the highest international standard of training and competence. The intellectual climate benefits from a large number of highly motivated and international students, as well as close interaction with staff in the Department.

For admissions to the 1+3 PhD programme via the MSc Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research):

For applicants who are graduates from British Universities, an upper second class undergraduate honours degree in geography or similar social science subject. Applicants with qualifications from other countries will be expected to have a similar academic background. GRE/GMAT is not required. Applicants must meet the School's minimum English language requirement (7.0 in IELTS or 627/263 in TOEFL).

For admissions to the +3 PhD programme: 

A minimum of 65 per cent average mark in a relevant postgraduate degree, with a 70 per cent or higher in the dissertation component. Under exceptional circumstances, students not meeting these requirements will be considered (eg, on the basis of an outstanding dissertation not matched by a solid merit in the MSc programme overall; or on the basis of a narrowly missed 70 in the dissertation coupled with an excellent performance in all other relevant courses; or on the basis of an outstanding research proposal; see next). Students must also meet the School's minimum English language requirement.

All prospective students are expected to submit a three-page long (excluding references and appendix) research proposal, which will form part of their application package. Submitted proposals should briefly address: research questions and hypotheses; relevant literature and previous research in the field; potential contribution to knowledge; likely methods and approaches to be adopted; likely data and information sources to be used. An outline three-year research timetable must be included as an appendix. Note that we only accept PhD topics that are close to relevant staff interests, so we recommend prospective applicants to check our staff publications and current research agendas (our departmental web pages list key research topics).

Selection is based upon the quality of your research proposal, references, prior achievement, and the appropriateness of your research topic to the Department's research focus. While we normally interview prospective research students (in person or over the phone/Skype), your written proposal is of the utmost importance.

ESRC funded students will take the MSc Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research) as part of their 1+3 programme of study. Most elements of the MPhil/PhD graduate programme are completed in Year 1 of the +3 pathway or Year 2 of the 1+3 pathway. Students take core methodological, subject-specific and seminar courses in order to reach the leading edge of their chosen discipline and topic. Students can also select courses offered by other Department within the LSE, subject to the supervisor's and course manager's approval. In addition, throughout the programme, we offer a series of study skills workshops, research seminar series where graduates present their current research to staff and colleagues, and Departmental seminars where visiting speakers and staff present their work.

We emphasise supervisors and students working together on research design, strategy and methodology, and the timetable and plans for dissemination of the work. Students receive regular feedback on their work and progress is monitored by an annual review.

Taught programme

 MSc Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research)

Other research programmes

The Department also offers four other MPhil/PhD programmes:

More about research programmes in the Department



MPhil/PhD Human Geography and Urban Studies
Visiting Research Students

Application code: L8ZG, L8EG (VRS) (check availability)

Start date: 21 September 2017, January/April start for Visiting Research Students only 

Duration: 3-4 years (minimum 2), VRS up to 9 months (renewable)

Entry requirement: If entrolling for the +3 route, taught master's degree (including research methods training) in related disciplines with a minimum of 65 per cent average and at least 70 per cent in the dissertation. Applications for the 1+3 ESRC funded route must be made to the relevant MSc Progarmme.

English requirement: Research

GRE/GMAT requirement: None

Fee level: See Tuition fees

Financial support: LSE PhD studentships (see Financial support), ESRC funding (see ESRC)

Application deadline: 26 April 2017. However please note the funding deadlines: 9 January (LSE PhD Studentships & ESRC) and 26 April 2017 (LSE PhD Studentships). Selection for funding is based on receipt of an application for a place – including all ancillary documents