The PhD Programme


Each year the Space Plasmas Group at MSSL seeks to admit postgraduate students to undertake research in the areas of space plasma physics, planetary physics and/or space weather.  This leads to the award of a PhD degree from the University of London. We expect that applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a good degree (first or upper second) in the Physical Sciences, or Mathematics (preferably Applied Mathematics).  Home or EU students may be financially supported by Postgraduate Studentships awarded by the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).  Eligibility criteria for these studentships can be found on the PPARC web site.


The MSSL group is dynamic, with a broad range of activities within the fields listed above.  It has a strong history of involvement in spacecraft missions, including the design and building of spacecraft instrumentation (see missions).  Hence PhD research would usually consist of analysis and interpretation of data from these and related instruments.  However, applications from students wishing to pursue more theoretical or modelling activities will also be considered. 

Research Topics

Specific research topics are chosen after discussion between the student and potential supervisors.  However, it is anticipated that unprecedented opportunities for PhD research will be available over the next few years as data from the ESA CLUSTER II mission (launch in summer 2000) and the CASSINI Jupiter fly-by (December 2000) become available.  In addition, the group continues activities associated with many existing missions (e.g. the International Solar Terrestrial Physics Programme, POLAR, WIND and GEOTAIL spacecraft).  Possible projects cover a wide range of topics of current interest, e.g., geomagnetic storms and substorms, wave-particle interactions, the magnetospheric cusps, cometary plasma physics, the magnetospheres of Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, magnetic reconnection, space weather, etc.  Further details of current research areas can be found under <research-link>

Life as a Research Student

We aim for our students to have successfully written up their PhD theses by the end of their 3rd year of study.  In order to help achieve this, students have a number of opportunities and a number of hurdles in addition to the regular interaction with their supervisor.  For example, prior to starting their PhD, students may attend a relevant PPARC-funded summer-school, and students are also likely to attend several other summer-schools during their time at MSSL.  In addition, during their 1st year, students may take courses in space and plasma physics taught as part of the UCL M.Sci. and M.Sc. programs, in order to broaden and strengthen their background knowledge.  However, students can expect that most of their time will be spent pursuing front-line, original research, under the guidance of a personal supervisor, almost from the moment they join the group.


Departmental regulations require that the student provides a short written report of their research activities at the end of their 1st and 2nd year of study.  These are then discussed in a viva which gives students experience of this process and allows them to discuss their work and get feedback from members of staff other than their supervisor.


The Space Plasmas Group holds weekly discussion groups in which students are required to take part.  These provide a forum in which current topics of interest are reviewed by members of the group.  We also hold working groups in which subsets of the group working in particular areas have the opportunity to discuss their current research activities with members of staff and those with similar interests.  There is opportunity for joint activity (seminars, etc.) with other groups at MSSL, such as the Solar Physics Group.  Students also attend the London Space Physics Seminars ~6 times per year.  Most of our students also attend and present their research at several UK meetings and at least one international conference during their PhD.

Although MSSL has a somewhat remote location, on-site accommodation is available to PhD students at nominal cost and priority is given to new students.  A wide variety of social activities amongst students and other members of the laboratory is promoted through the Holmbury House Social Club.  It is a short drive to the towns of Guildford, Dorking, Horsham or Cranleigh, and central London can be accessed within ~1 hour travel time.

Career Opportunities

There has been a good demand for our graduates due to the excellence of their training and the relevance of skills obtained for more non-academic careers. However, many of our recent graduates have chosen to undertake further research in the space sciences.

Contacting us

If you are interested in joining the MSSL Space Plasma Group to undertake postgraduate research leading to an MPhil or PhD degree please feel free to get in touch with us.  Contact Dr. Andrew Coates, Dr. Andrew Fazakerley or Dr. Chris Owen at the address below.  We would be happy to answer questions and help you with the application process.  In addition, visits to the Laboratory and/or the group can be arranged for interested persons.  Alternatively, for further information and application forms, e-mail


Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6NT, UK.


Phone: 01483 274111

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Latest update: June 4th, 2000 by Dr. Chris Owen (