MSc Degree and Postgraduate Diploma

Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants with University of Edinburgh

Why choose the programme in Edinburgh?

There are few dedicated training courses that equip future experts to address the problems of plant taxonomy using a methodology that satisfies current demands worldwide. With fewer universities offering undergraduate courses in plant systematics, it is important to fill a gap in knowledge transfer and in linking students with the world of plants.

While a diversity of approaches exists to provide teaching and training in plant systematics and classification, these often do not provide a good balance between academic and practical approaches. Where post-graduate courses are on offer, access to either teaching staff or well-documented collections is restricted by imperfect infrastructure (e.g. distance between teaching establishment and collections).

The Edinburgh MSc programme in the Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants, organised jointly by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh, has successfully delivered such training since 1992 by providing on site collections and expertise. It can accommodate up to 20 MSc students per year. The Edinburgh course can be distinguished from other similar courses by its strong plant-centered approach. The programme has been rated world class and the very best of its kind by a recent education review of the garden.

Programme Structure

Forming a bridge between traditional and modern approaches, this programme equips students with a wide knowledge of the diversity of plants, fungi and lichens, and their investigation, combined with instruction in the methods of pure and applied taxonomy.

The programme lasts 12 months and involves two terms of lectures, practicals, workshops and investigations, ending with examinations at the end of term (December) and during the first week of the summer term (April).

On the basis of these exams and other programme-work, students then either embark on a four-month research project to qualify for the MSc, or are awarded the Diploma.

Fieldwork is carried out during a 14-day field course in a tropical country in January. The field trip, together with supporting training, and a short practical exam qualifies students for the RBGE Certificate in Field Botany.

This field course is a unique opportunity for students to encounter a tropical flora and to get experience in the tropical plant families in a pragmatic way. In addition, a number of field excursions are organized in Scotland as part of the curriculum.

Most of the lectures and practicals take place at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Some teaching also takes place at the University science campus around three miles to the south.

The programme is continually reviewed. Full details on the programme and all the modules within each year can be found in the Applicant's Handbook.


Career opportunities

Since 1993 more than 300 students from 47 countries have completed the course. Students benefit from the broad range of ages and cultural diversity, becoming worldwide ambassadors for botany and plant conservation.

The majority of students find medium or long term employment in taxonomy, and many continue to PhD studies. Although the programme is not a guarantee for future employment, it has facilitated access to various jobs in the past - at research institutions, councils, conservation agencies etc.

Demand for taxonomic expertise arises from many professional fields, other than systematic research itself. These include among others:

  • survey and conservation work in threatened ecosystems
  • assessment of plant resources and genetic diversity
  • medical and pharmaceutical research and applications
  • ethnobotanical research
  • agricultural and ecosystem research
  • geology and soil sciences
  • landscape assessment and design
  • conservation policy
  • forensic science
  • basic research
  • management of institutes and curation of collections
  • university and college teaching

It is expected that the demand for qualified botanists will rise, as the increased pressures on the environment require urgent action.

How to apply?

Applicants should ideally have a university degree, or its equivalent, in a biological or environmental science. However, the course has accepted students from other disciplines as all applications will be considered for their relevance to the course. Relevant work experience is desirable. Evidence of proficiency in English must be provided if this is not the applicant's first language.

Applications must be submitted through the University's online application service, EUCLID. The application does not have to be completed in one session - you can save your progress and return to complete the application at another time.

Supporting Documents

Your application will require supporting information, with translations where applicable, including:

  • a curriculum vitae (CV) detailing your relevant professional experience, including email addresses of your previous employers
  • a transcript of your degree certificate, or an interim transcript if you are yet to graduate, which provides details of degree examinations passed and the marks and grades awarded transcripts of professional qualifications,
  • an academic reference on headed paper including both the referee's address and email address (the referee can also choose to send this separately to the University) an English language certificate from within the last two years, if applicable Personal statement.

The inclusion of a personal statement is highly recommended. You should aim to include the following information:

  • What is your motivation for undertaking this programme and what information can you provide in support of this?
  • What skills and experience do you have relevant to this programme, what contribution can you make?
  • How will this programme benefit your future career plans?

Further information and application forms can be obtained here.


Many students have to find their own sources of funding. Overseas students have obtained funding, amongst others, through funding opportunities linked to specific countries, the British Council, overseas development programmes, such as the Darwin Initiative, the Shell Centenary award, the Alban Programme for Latin American students and the Rotary Club. The University of Edinburgh also offers scholarships covering parts of the fees.

Please find a list of potential sources of funding here.

If you have any queries about funding, please contact Dr Louis Ronse de Craene at

Contact Us

Dr Louis Ronse de Craene, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Email:, Telephone +44 (0)131 248 2804, Fax +44 (0)131 248 2901

Prof. Andrew Hudson, Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Email:, Telephone +44 (0)131 651 3383, Fax +44 (0)131 650 5392

MSc in the biodiversity and taxonomy of plants at RBGE

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