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.

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.

You will also create a research poster for the end-of-year Placement-Based Dissertation Showcase.

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 Health Policy
  • MSc International and European Politics (student-led placements only)
  • MSc International Development (on-campus & online)
  • 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 Work Placement Advisor (student-led placements)

Advertised placements

In December, the Work Placement Advisor, 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.

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 Work Placement Advisor 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 Work Placement Advisor in March for approval.

Covid-19 Impact on Placements

For the academic year 2020/21 research projects with UK and international partners will take place on an online basis only in the first instance.

It may be possible for projects to have an element of on-site research, however, this will be dependent on University guidance regarding placements and Covid-19 for Semester 2.

You should assume that placement-based dissertations, either sourced by SWAY or student-led will take place remotely.

Current University guidance (as of November 2020) may allow you to travel overseas for on-site placement-based dissertation projects, providing you meet several approval criteria.

Similarly, based on current University guidance, if you are residing outside of the UK, you may be able to conduct a field-based placement, either sourced by SWAY or student-led in your country of residence.

Permission to do so must be sought from the Work Placement Advisor two months prior to the start of the placement.

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 commissioned research paper will address a real need within the host organisation while improving the employability of our graduates. 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 research paper must not exceed 12,000-words and will use data collected during the placement. 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 main report.

What is the timeline?

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 can be submitted in 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 Work Placement Advisor in the Study and Work Away service


Placements advertised on a competitive basis


School selection panel meets

Late February

Successful students notified by the university


Formalisation of placement

May and June

Students on placement


Final report submitted to the host organisation, dissertation sent to university

Information for Prospective Students (2021/22 intake)


Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, placement-based dissertations were offered on a remote or in-person basis. In the current academic year (2020/21) placement projects are sourced on an online-only remote basis only.

Remote, online placements this year include partnerships with organisations based in:

  • Edinburgh
  • rest of the UK
  • India
  • Kenya
  • Peru
  • Zimbabwe

Remote placements

A remote placement still addresses a real research need for an organisation and provides you with an opportunity to gain valuable research experience in a professional context.

The nature of placement-based dissertations in the academic year 2021/22 will be dependent on the local and international situation with Covid-19, as well as organisational capacity.

Whilst we hope that some element of on-site research may be possible, you should be aware that placements may be offered on a remote-only basis in 2021/22.

Please note: if in-person placements do take place in 2021/22, funding, for example for international travel and in-country accommodation, will limited and you will need to meet these costs.

Contact the Work Placement Advisor

Our Work Placement Advisor is based in the Study and Work Away service (SWAY) in Edinburgh Global.

The Work Placement 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).


If you have any specific queries on placement-based dissertations please email the Work Placement Advisor:

Email the Work Placement Advisor

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