School of Social and Political Science

MSc Social Research

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Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines for this programme. See 'how to apply' below for the application deadlines.

Research in the social sciences

This degree will provide students with an understanding of the key issues in approaches to, and techniques of, research in the social sciences.

The MSc in Social Research will offer you the intellectual and applied skills to conduct social research that aims to solve complex policy and governance problems in contemporary societies. 

The programme is structured so that irrespective of academic background and aspirations, it allows students to customise their degree to combine in-depth research skills with substantive teaching, according to preferred areas of study and future career plans. 

Social Research with Quantitative Methods pathways

Within this programme we offer a specialist pathway - Social Research with Quantitative Methods.

You can join this pathway subject to an assessment of prior training (determined during welcome week).

Closely linked to Edinburgh Q-Step Centre, you will undertake training in advanced social statistics and data science, always including hands-on opportunities to tackle social research questions using data from a variety of sources.


This programme can be taken either as a free-standing degree, or during the first year of doctoral study.

Whatever your subject or methodological background, the MSc in Social Research is a flexible and comprehensive qualification that will make you a sought-after researcher combining strong quantitative and qualitative research skills with the theoretical training to contribute to important social research questions.

  • Do you want to improve people’s lives through your research and evidence? 
  • Would you like to work for government or an international organisation involved in social research? 
  • Perhaps you would like to undertake further study and need a firm methodological foundation on which to proceed? 
  • Or you already work as an analyst and wish to formalise your skills on a part or full-time basis? 

Courses and options

All candidates will take six semester-length courses (or their equivalent). These normally consist of 3 compulsory courses and three further courses selected from advanced research methods and/or a range of substantive courses from across the social sciences.

Compulsory and optional courses

Candidates will be required to show that their optional courses reflect an appropriate breadth of interest. With the agreement of the degree convener, students may substitute one of their optional courses with one taken from the doctoral programme of any subject area within the School of Social and Political Studies and potentially further Schools within the University.


The dissertation represents a chance to get to grips with a topic of the student's own choosing, supervised by an appropriate member of academic staff.

Previous dissertation topics have included:

  • The Political Participation and Mobilisation of Refugees in Glasgow
  • The Greek-Muslims of Rhodes: Aspects of their co-existence with the Greeks
  • What Happens After 'Hello'? A Study of the Long-Term Effect of Contact(s) and Meeting(s) Between Adult Adoptees and their Birth Relatives

Candidates who reach a satisfactory standard in the taught courses may proceed from the diploma to an MSc, by undertaking the dissertation, defined as supervised project on an approved topic, and by submitting their dissertation of approximately 15,000 words by the date in August specified.

There is a dual dissertation option. Students have the option of either:

  • the standard dissertation
  • a dissertation carried out in a workplace for that specific purpose

Placement-based dissertation

The aim of the placement-based dissertation is to provide students with the opportunity to work on their dissertation within the context of a workplace of their choosing, which could be within a public sector, a voluntary, a charitable or a private organisation, subject to the approval of the Programme Director. 

Career opportunities

The MSc in Social Research has high employability rates. Our graduates have strong quantitative skills to undertake data analysis and strong research methods training in qualitative methods

They go on to work in:

  • national and international organisations
  • civil service
  • voluntary sector
  • commercial research sector
  • policy development, analysis and evaluation
  • further academic study (PhDs)
How to apply

Application Deadlines

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines.

We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline when we will offer a proportion of the places available to applicants selected through a competitive process.

Please ensure that you have submitted all supporting documentation and paid the application fee before the deadline for the round you wish to be considered in.

Deadlines for applicants applying to study in 2024-2025:

Round Application deadline Places awarded by
1 1st November 2023 21st December 2023
2 8th January 2024 14th March 2024
3 18th March 2024 28th May 2024
4 3rd June 2024 31st July 2024


Fees and costs

Award Title Duration Study mode  
MSc   1 Year Full-time Tuition fees
MSc   2 Years Part-time Tuition fees
PgCert (ICL)   Up to 2 Years Part-time Intermittent Study Tuition fees
Reading recommendations

If you're looking for recommended reading before you arrive in Edinburgh, we suggest the following:

  • Alastalo, M. (2008). 'The History of Social Research Methods'. In Alasuutari, P., Bickam, L. & Brannan, J. (Eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Social Research Methods. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Chilisa, Bagele. (2020). Indigenous Research Methodologies (Second edition). Los Angeles: SAGE.
  • Gilbert, N., & Stoneman, P. (2016). Researching Social Life. London: SAGE.
  • Vries, RD. (2018). Critical Statistics: Seeing Beyond the Headlines. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Other info
Quantitative methods

Social Research with Quantitative Methods is a new pathway open to students on our MSc Social Research subject to an assessment of prior training. 

The rise of Big Data and the increasing linkages that are being made between social, administrative and biomedical datasets make this an exciting time to study quantitative social science.

You will complete training in advanced social statistics and data science always including hands-on opportunities to tackle social research questions using data from a variety of sources.

You will be embedded within the wider research environment of quantitative social science within Edinburgh Q-Step Centre, one of the largest collection of quantitative social scientists in the UK, and will be welcome to attend our thriving seminar series. 

If the quantitative methods pathway is of interest, note this in your application to the Social Research MSc and ensure you include details of your previous quantitative methods training in the information you provide.

Economic and Social Research Council

The University of Edinburgh is the hub for a Scotland-wide Doctoral Training Centre - the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science​ - which is funded and accredited by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

This provides world-class postgraduate research and training in the social sciences across a wide range of disciplines, known as pathways.

The Scottish Doctoral Training Centre offers, on average, 65 fully-funded ESRC studentships available for (UK and EU) students commencing their postgraduate studies each year. 

The MSc Social Research Methods is accredited for ESRC funding as part of a four-year award.

What our students say

Daniel Button, MSc Social Research 2012-2013:

"While working towards my undergraduate degree in Politics and Philosophy and undertaking a number of research internships, I started to develop a keen interest in social issues and an appreciation of the power of social research as a tool for change.  Because of this interest, I decided upon a career in applied social research, and sin the autumn of 2012 I began to study for an MSc in Social Research at the University of Edinburgh in order to gain the necessary skills for employment in this field.

"The first term of the MSc enabled me to develop a firm grounding in a range of core research skills: from the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data, to the design of research, to the analysis of quantitative data.  In the second term, I was given the chance to build upon these skills, and I choose to pursue the quantitative route by taking modules in survey data and methods and inferential statistics.  Throughout the two taught terms I was also encouraged to develop an area of substantive interest, for which I choose childhood and children’s rights.

"I feel that the first two terms gave me both an essential core understanding of a range of social research methods, as well as more specialist skills in my areas of choice.  What made the MSc most worthwhile, however, was the opportunity to write a placement based dissertation. For this, I decided to write about the causes of child poverty in Scotland via a placement at the Scottish Centre for Social Research, where I worked on both the Growing Up in Scotland Survey and the Scottish Health Survey.  The placement based dissertation provided a great opportunity to put my new skills to the test in a real world setting.

"Since completing my MSc, I have secured a research position with the Scottish Government."

Yvonne Gannon, MSc Social Research part-time 2012-2014:

"I decided to undertake a two year pert-time MSc in Social Research to help me in my new role as Research and Information Officer in The Department of Health and Social Care at the City of Edinburgh Council.

"My first year has proved enjoyable and extremely interesting.  The lectures, seminars, class meetings and coursework have helped provide me with extensive, transferrable skills in carrying out research in my workplace.  I have built up new skills in quantitative analysis which is useful as I work with large amounts of secondary data.  I have also built up valuable skills and experience in conducting research using a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods.

"I’m looking forward to utilising my new skills in my chosen research topic for my dissertation in my second year.  I trust my research will be designed to meet the needs of various actors across Health and Social Care."