MSc in Animal Behaviour


Program Description

This MSc programme provides an intellectual and practical overview of modern animal behaviour research taught by leaders in their fields. It prepares students for conducting research into animal behaviour, covering key topics such as cognition, behavioural ecology and movement ecology, as well as the latest techniques used to study these.


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. Staff who teach this programme are renowned researchers in areas of animal cognition, cultural evolution, biologging and the study of complex behavioural systems.
  • A core curriculum focused on training invaluable transferable skills is supplemented with a range of specialised options allowing students to explore topics of particular interest at an advanced level.
  • You 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. Wherever possible, you will choose which laboratory you wish to complete your project in.
  • Student-led seminars and workshops are designed to support learning, enhance confidence and promote employability.

Teaching format

The course consists of two taught semesters followed by an independent research project culminating in a 15,000-word dissertation and poster presentation. The research project takes place during the entire year with a 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 fieldwork and computer-based data analysis.

Class sizes 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.  


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 2019–2020 academic year; some elements may be subject to change for 2020 entry.

Semester 1

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.

Semester 2

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.
  • Biologging for Animal Behaviour Research: learn how scientists are using cutting-edge technologies to understand animal movement, behaviour and physiology in different environments.
  • 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.


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.

Entry requirements

  • A first or upper 2.1 (Honours) undergraduate degree in 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 AS/A-level, Higher, 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. 

The qualifications listed are indicative of 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

  • CV
  • Completed Animal Behaviour MSc application form - 2020 entry (Word)
  • Two original signed academic references
  • Academic transcripts and degree certificates
  • Evidence of English language proficiency (required if English is not your first language).

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

Last updated Sep 2020

About the School

As a 600-year-old institution, it's no surprise that the University of St Andrews is known across the globe as a world leader in education. We are Scotland’s best university ranked by the Complete Uni ... Read More

As a 600-year-old institution, it's no surprise that the University of St Andrews is known across the globe as a world leader in education. We are Scotland’s best university ranked by the Complete University Guide 2019, and 2nd overall in the UK (Guardian Good University Guide 2019). Read less
Saint Andrews