IGFS is home to a rich, postgraduate culture and PhD numbers have tripled in the past seven years. There is a strong emphasis on creating the kind of research culture which attracts talented students, for example through cohort-based doctoral training programmes such as the FoodBioSystems DTP (UKRI-BBSRC) or the Quadrat DTP (UKRI-NERC), ensuring we are training the next generation of food-systems and sustainability leaders. Postgraduate research is usually carried out through the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and options can be fully explored on the SBS PhD Research page.
We have a vibrant community of postgraduate students from a number of countries including China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, Chile, Mexico, Brazil as well as from across Europe, the UK and Ireland. We support full and part time students, some studying at a distance in their home country and our numbers are growing year on year.
Students can avail of facilities, training, networking, social and wellbeing opportunities offered by IGFS, SBS and the University's Graduate School, including participating in a lively IGFS & SBS Seminar Series.
The below map shows the reach of our international PGR community currently, but new students and nationalities are joining all the time.
PhD title: The use of social media in public health: mass communication and behaviour change
Current job: Research Fellow, IGFS & Centre for Public Health (SMDBS)
What does your role entail?
I am in my third year of working as a PostDoc researcher and I’m currently working on two projects. The first is a safefood-funded project, looking at snacking in children, on an all-Ireland basis. It’s very much an unresearched topic, so there's a lot of mining of UK and Irish databases for evidence.
The second is an MRC-funded project called CONNECTS-Food, which aims to co-create with stakeholders an implementation intervention to support schools in adopting a whole-school approach to food, across the UK. They’re both fascinating projects and dovetail quite well so I’m very luck
How supported do you feel working at Queen’s?
There’s a lovely sociability to working within IGFS which I really love – it’s a very collegiate and supportive environment. It’s easy to get to know the more senior researchers and there are lots of networking opportunities and fun things like the Christmas party. The new Biological Sciences building has been a real plus, in that sense. Behind the scenes, you know your supervisors and other senior researchers are really looking out for you and mentoring you, helping you find research projects, etc.
Of course, there are downsides – it’s financially insecure and some PostDocs are jumping from a two-month contract here to a three-month contract there, and Brexit and Covid has just made it a whole lot worse. That’s the same in any UK university right now. But it’s still a great learning experience. You can really develop your skills – not just your research ability but other skills like stakeholder engagement, promotion in the media, networking, etc. These are transferable skills for any career.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m keeping an open mind. Academia is an obvious option and I already do some PhD supervision and teaching. I am also working towards a PGCHET qualification which is a great thing to have on the CV. I was very lucky that in my first research project as a PostDoc (an EITFood-funded, two-year project called We Value Food) there were funds available for the PGCHET – that’s not always the case.
But I’m also drawn to the policy side of things and would consider working in a regulatory organisation like the Public Health Agency or the Food Standards Agency. Or there are industry jobs where you can still be involved in research, so I wouldn’t rule that out either.
Having research experience and a PhD is always going to be a bonus whether you’re aiming for an academic career or working outside the university. I would definitely encourage anyone thinking of a PhD as it’s great to have your own specialist area of knowledge for a few years – you never get that opportunity again. But I would equally say to someone considering a PhD: Don’t undertake it unless you really are passionate about the subject. There will be hurdles to overcome and I think that deep commitment is necessary to drive you on.
PhD title: The role of higher-protein forages and homegrown protein sources within NI dairy production systems
Current job: Ruminant Nutritionist, Fane Valley Feeds
What was your PhD about?
It was about researching alternative proteins for animal feed that would be more sustainable, such as red clover, which takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfers it into the soil, thus reducing the need for artificial fertiliser. Or using broad beans, which are a native crop, to replace soya, which is flown in from South America and has a very high carbon footprint. At the time I was doing my PhD, from 2014-2017, no-one had really looked these kinds of ideas in detail and I got a lot of interest from farmers and industry. In fact, DAERA is now running a pilot scheme with farmers which directly leads on from the research.
What does your job involve?
It’s about supporting and maintaining the Fane Valley Feeds customer base as well as conducting some research and looking out for new ingredients that would be a USP for the company and running trials for those different products.
Does your postgraduate research help you in your industry role, do you think?
The PhD provided me with the foundation for discipline including time-management and organisational skills, which are easily transferable to my industry career. It has also gave me deeper understanding of the science than I would have had from merely my BSc degree in Ag Tech. In terms of lab techniques and methodologies and the rigour of evidence-gathering and statistics, you definitely have a fuller knowledge of the science end of things after a PhD – which definitely helps when you’re talking to people about new additives and ingredients.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering a PhD in this area?
I think it’s another string to your bow, even if you decide to work in industry. For the reasons outlined above, a PhD can give you more confidence and a deeper knowledge on which to draw, even if you’re in quite a practical role. On the other hand, you always have the option of returning to research at a later point, which is a good thing to have in your back pocket. So, it definitely opens up more doors.
Plus, I really enjoyed my PhD. I had a great supervisor in Dr Katerina Theodoridou, she was very supportive and I got to meet lots of new people. It was a great experience and I’m really glad to have had the opportunity.
Meet some of our current PhD researchers
PhD title: Anaerobic digestate biochar and soil health: a combined laboratory and field experiment ecosystem-based approach: testing impacts on the sustainability of grassland production
Click on image to read about Harry's research
PhD title: Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for Sustainable and Healthy Lifestyles
Click on image to read about Leona's research
What can Queen's offer students?
The Graduate School provides an exclusive postgraduate hub that values the needs of our PGR students. Based in the beautifully restored and remodelled Victorian Lynn library, this fully-accessible space has modern, hi-tech meeting and group study rooms, a silent study area and social spaces creating a vibrant hub for knowledge exchange and collaboration.
Part of the elite Russell Group – the UK's Ivy League – Queen's is the 9th oldest university in the UK with a worldwide reputation for teaching and research excellence. A PG degree from Queen's can help you stand out. Our strong links with industry mean you will also benefit from a global network that spans 120 countries.
We are a world-class international university built on teaching excellence, leading-edge research, innovation, collaboration and engagement. Our Strategy 2030 vision is to further enhance our impact by strengthening our research position and working with industry to broaden our translational impact and innovation, ensuring we deliver high-quality, world-leading research, which addresses local and global challenges.
Find out more about the rich postgraduate culture across Queen's University as a whole, from life in Belfast to financial support for studying to tips for prospective domestic and international students.