School of Social and Political Science

Taught MSc Placement-Based Dissertations



What is a Placement-Based Dissertation?

Putting learning into practice

If you are studying on one of our eligible MSc programmes, you can apply to complete an 8-10 week research project with an external organisation.  

During this placement, you will undertake a specific, short-term research assignment, which will then inform your MSc dissertation.

Placement-based dissertations provide excellent opportunities for you to think through theoretical ideas in real-world contexts.

You will also gain transferable skills through applied, practical experience with host organisations.  Host organisations may be based in Scotland, rest of the UK or internationally and include think tanks, charities, NGOs and community based groups.

What is the output of a placement-based dissertation?

There are two main elements to a placement-based dissertation:

  • a 12,000-word research paper
  • a 3,000-word project diary

Using data collected during the placement, and based on the research question posed by the organisation, the resulting research paper will be a substantial piece of academic work of 12,000 words.

The paper will be an extensive piece of academic writing; the exact format will be decided between the host organisation, yourself, and the university before the start of the placement.

You will also submit a 3,000-word project diary.

You are also expected to produce a secondary output for your host organisation which provides summary of your findings.

Time commitment

Undertaking a placement requires a significant time commitment. You should consider this before applying for a placement.

While on placement, organisations may ask you to complete additional tasks related to the research project. You will need to manage your time effectively to ensure you can complete all tasks allocated to you.

Eligible Degree Programmes

Eligible programmes

Students on the following programmes are eligible to apply for a Placement-Based Dissertation.

  • MSc Africa and International Development
  • MSc Comparative Public Policy
  • MSc Global Environment, Politics and Society
  • MSc Global Health Policy
  • MSc Global Mental Health and Society
  • MSc International and European Politics (student-led placements only)
  • MSc International Development (on-campus & online)
  • MSc Management of Bioeconomy, Innovation and Governance
  • MSc Medical Anthropology
  • MSc Public Policy
  • MSc Science and Technology in Society
  • MSc Social Research
  • MSc Sociology and Global Change

Student eligibility

To be considered for a placement, you must meet the eligibility criteria.

• achieve an average mark of at least 60% in the first semester.

• attend the research ethics and pre-placement information sessions

• provide evidence of suitability to work with vulnerable groups (if required)

Organising Your Placement

You can either:

  • choose from projects that have been organised by the University of Edinburgh (advertised-placements)

  • propose and arrange your own placement - following consultation with your Programme Director and the Placement Advisor (student-led placements)

Advertised placements

In December, the Placement Adviser, based in the Study and Work Away service (SWAY) will release a list of pre-arranged placements.

If you meet the entry criteria, you will be invited to apply to the project/s of your choice. A selection panel will meet in early February and confirm if you have been provisionally selected for a project.  Confirmation of the placement is dependent on a successful interview with the host organisation.

Note: applying for placements is competitive, and a project is not guaranteed for every student.

Student-led placements

You may choose to organise your own placement. If you do this, you will approach organisations in the first instance if there are no existing School links.  The Placement Adviser can provide support with this.

Input from Programme Directors will be necessary to confirm that the scope of the proposed research is suitable for a placement-based dissertation.

You will put submit your project proposals to the Placement Adviser by 1st March for approval.

Information for Host Organisations

What are the benefits of a placement-based dissertation?

For organisations, placement-based dissertations offer the opportunity to host a student with specialised knowledge in the field, who will contribute to a pre-arranged research project in line with organisational objectives.

These projects provide excellent opportunities for students to think through theoretical ideas in ‘real-world’ contexts and to gain transferable skills through applied, practical experience with host organisations.

The dissertation will address a real need within the host organisation while improving the employability of our graduates.   The student may collect primary data, analyse an existing dataset, or conduct a piece of desk-based research of relevance to the host organisation. Placements must be of mutual benefit to the host and the student.

As the project forms an integral part of the student’s degree, there is no requirement to provide any form of remuneration.

Students may be asked to undertake some limited work not directly related to their research but this must not detract from the agreed research project, nor take up significant time or resources.

Output: the research paper

The dissertation must not exceed 12,000-words and will be based on the student's research with the organisation. The format will be formally agreed via a Memorandum of Understanding signed by all parties.

Students will also submit a secondary output which summarises the findings of the research within the dissertation.

What is the timeline?

We welcome enquiries from organisations in Scotland, rest of the UK and internationally. For more information on the placement-based dissertation scheme or to discuss a potential project topic please email the Placement Adviser in the Study and Work Away service.

The following timeline pertains primarily to the advertised placement-based dissertations put forward by the organisation but is approximately the same for student-led placements.

Student-led projects need to be agreed by 1st March as students need not go through the application process.



September – November 

Project proposals constructed by host organisations in liaison with the University


Completed project proposal submitted to the Placement Adviser in the Study and Work Away service


Placements advertised on a competitive basis

Mid-January  Applications close


School selection panel meets

Late February

Successful students notified by the university


Formalisation of placement

May and June

Students on placement


Dissertation submitted to the University.  A copy is also sent to the host organisation along with the summary output.

Information for Prospective Students (2022/23 intake)

Location and mode of placement

Students on eligible MSc programmes should consult the PBD LEARN page.  Full details on how to access the LEARN site will be provided soon.  

Placements in the academic year 21/22 included partnerships with organisations based in:

  • Edinburgh
  • rest of the UK
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Kenya
  • Argentina
  • Zimbabwe

These include think tanks, charities, NGOs and community based groups. 

Placements will be able to be planned on either an in-person or digital basis.  However, students will be responsible for planning a back-up standard dissertation topic in case the placement can not take place.

Please note: for in-person placements part funding is available for travel and accommodation.  However, this will not cover the full cost and students should make sure they have sufficient funds available.

Contact the Placement Advisor

The Placements Advisor coordinates the placement-based dissertation activity and works closely with members of staff in the School of Social and Political Science, including the Student Development Office (SDO) and individual Programme Directors.


If you have any specific queries on placement-based dissertations, please email

Student category
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