The course comprises a series of week-long compulsory modules covering the fundamental concepts and applications of ecology, evolution and conservation:
- Introduction to ecology, evolution and conservation, including hands-on involvement in a series of research case-studies
- Conservation and management, including visits and discussion workshops on case studies of conservation in action with professionals from conservation bodies
- Evolutionary analysis, covering state-of-the-art approaches to solving evolutionary problems
- Ecology and ecosystems, applying ecological principles and methods covered in earlier elements to complex systems and real ecosystems
- Statistical computing, focusing on analytical skills essential for a career in modern whole-organism biology
You also undertake a 20-week research project.
Year One: All modules are compulsory Term one: All students attend induction days, followed by five one-week modules on core topics in Ecology and Evolution: Plant Community Ecology, Population Dynamics and Modelling, and Global Change Biology I, II and III. The rest of the first term includes three weeks from the Evolutionary Analysis modules (Practical Molecular Ecology, Phylogenetics and Microevolution and Micropaleontology) and two weeks from the Conservation and Management modules (Conservation and Sustainable Use and Demography & Management). Seven afternoons during the term are devoted to a habitat management exercise using the habitats at Silwood Park. Projects suggested by College staff or solicited from external Research Institutes and Companies are advertised to students in the MSc project book. Students are also encouraged to approach staff with their own ideas and are advised to start discussing possible research projects with appropriate academic staff as soon as possible. Term Two: The term begins with an computer-based essay exam examining the first 9 weeks of term 1. The Evolutionary Analysis block then continues with Speciation and the Evolution of Biodiversity and Genomes, Selfish Elements & Conflict. A week is then dedicated to launching individual miniprojects, with group discussions to evaluate ideas and research seminars on a range of topics. The next three weeks comprise Statistical Computing course parallel with other Masters courses at Silwood Park. The taught course concludes with two modules on Ecology & Ecosystems: Forest Ecology and Microbial Ecology. The final week is devoted to completion of mini-projects and groupbased feedback on statistical analyses. Other activities in term two include a workshop on Environmental Impact Assessment and conservation workshops with external visitors. Projects are chosen by the end of Term at the latest and background reading begins. There is a two week reading period at the end of term, followed by two computer-based written exams: one 2-hour exam on data interpretation and one 3-hour exam examining the taught material from the last week of term 1 and from term 2. Term Three: Projects start at the beginning of Term 3, following background reading over the vacation. The projects are conducted at Imperial College or, in part or in whole, at external research institutions or agencies in the UK or overseas. Where the projects are external, a member of Imperial College academic staff is assigned to advise and to monitor student progress. Project assessment is based on a written dissertation in the form of a scientific paper and a viva with two members of the department. All students also have a viva on their project and other aspects of the course with the External Examiner, prior to the MSc Examination Board meeting in late September. The course contributes 90 ECTS; 45 for the taught course (assessed by coursework and examinations) and 45 for the research project (assessed by the dissertation). Different models for the part-time course are available, agreed in discussion with the course director.
Each MSc student completes a 22 week research project drawn broadly from ecology, evolution and conservation. Students choose their projects in discussion with potential supervisors depending on their interests and on which practical skills they wish to learn. Students can be based in a lab or the field at Silwood, in other organisations in the UK, or abroad.