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MSc Applied Petroleum Geoscience

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    Key information

    Mode of delivery
    Start date
    September, January


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    The Applied Petroleum Geoscience MSc is a unique degree in subsurface geoscience and exploration at Heriot-Watt University. The degree mainly focuses on exploration petroleum geoscience, but it is closely linked with other MSc degrees and research groups in petroleum engineering and reservoir geology at the GeoEnergy Engineering, Heriot-Watt University. The degree is also applicable to non-petroleum subsurface geoscience subjects, such as CO2 storage and groundwater flow.

    Degree content

    The Applied Petroleum Geoscience degree provides participants with a thorough training in aspects of subsurface geology, geophysics and geo-engineering, relating to the exploration, appraisal and development of subsurface resources. Although the degree mainly concentrates on exploration for hydrocarbon resources, and delineation of hydrocarbon reservoirs in the subsurface, the skills gained in this subject are applicable to all subsurface geoscience areas, including groundwater exploration, waste disposal or CO2 sequestration.

    The degree is deliberately intensive, typically consisting of working a full 5 days per week of lectures and practical work, including labs or tutorial exercises designed to teach practical skills in addition to learning theory. Project work, both as groups and individually, forms part of the assessment for the degree.

    Two fieldtrips are a permanent part of the course, the second as part of the Wessex Basin Team Project which aims to integrate basin scale and reservoir scale exploration tasks, similar to those that students will encounter working in Oil and Gas employment. Other fieldtrips and visits to local core viewing facilities (hosted in the neighbouring British Geological Survey facilities) will be arranged on a more ad hoc basis.

    Our students

    Students on the Applied Petroleum Geoscience degree come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Our online students come to us from all parts of the world, in the last few years the students in all three MSc degrees within the GeoEnergy Engineering have come from over 30 different nations. To read about what our students think about studying online visit the Meet our students pages.

    Our current students have formed a student chapter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), which offers talks and other events throughout the year.

    Degree duration

    3 - 8 years.

    Industry links

    Students on the Applied Petroleum Geoscience MSc will benefit from the excellent links with industry and research activities by the staff at the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering. The Institute has an industry based Strategic Advisory Board who monitors activities in the wider context of the needs of the industry, and in addition some classes and also extra tutorial sessions are conducted by both retired and active staff from a variety of petroleum companies.

    Course content

    Year 1

    The course consists of a variety of geosciences and engineering courses addressing the concepts of petroleum exploration and appraisal. There are 8 taught courses, a team project and an individual project. The taught courses are worth 150 hours of work each, the projects are each worth 300 hours.

    Degree structure

    • Formation Evaluation
    • Applied Petroleum Geophysics
    • Geomechanics and Flow Mechanics
    • Operations, Appraisal and Development
    • Petroleum Basins
    • Play and Prospect Evaluation
    • Petroleum Systems
    • Reservoir Sedimentology
    • Individual Project
    • Field Exploration Project

    Detailed degree guide

    Understanding, Knowledge and Cognitive Skills

    The programme gives the opportunity to develop skills in:

    • Fundamental concepts, principles and theories of the relevant Geosciences and Engineering disciplines (also PG Cert)
    • Analytical tools and principles involved in all aspects of subsurface exploration and evaluation (also PG Cert, limited to principles and geophysics)
    • Use and application of leading computer software tools used in static modelling of basins and reservoirs
    • Use geological knowledge, seismic, geological statistics, modelling and other techniques to assess a range of complex geological and engineering information to characterise a reservoir or basin system and determine the optimal exploration and exploitation of the subsurface (also PG Cert)
    • Integrate multi-disciplinary geoscience and engineering principles in order to adopt a holistic approach to problem-solving (also PG Cert)
    • Analyse imperfect and incomplete datasets to assess and characterise reservoirs and basins and design appropriate exploration and development scenarios (also PG Cert, except excluding basins)
    • Improve understanding of basin analysis and reservoir geology and its impact on flow, using actual core and outcrop studies. (PG Cert only Reservoir geology)

    Scholarship, Enquiry and Research (Research Informed Learning)

    The students are expected to read more deeply into the subjects by independent reading around subjects and by referencing materials provided in classes, tutorials, field work reports and laboratory exercises. This is important in developing study plans, developing research plans and deciding research methods. Students are given multiple opportunities to develop research skills, including internal assessment in taught courses as well as an independent research project.

    Approaches to Teaching and Learning

    Course notes are provided for some courses, however for other courses students are expected to take notes and are provided with PowerPoint slide packs. All lecture sessions are reinforced by tutorials or classroom exercises. Coursework is then further used to extend the concepts learned in lectures and notes and to demonstrate the use of problem solving skills by the students. Course notes come with model exams and answers, as well as recommended reading lists or suggestions for further reading. All courses have a VLE page, on which notes, PowerPoints, reading lists, past exams, model answers, exercises and assessment are routinely posted for all courses.

    Assessment Policies

    Assessment is based on a combination of examination, project, and coursework. The project work is assessed on written and oral presentations. In the Group Project, part of the assessment is by peer review.

    Fees and funding

    Tuition fees

    Tuition fees
    Status Per course [footnote 1] Dissertation/Project [footnote 1]
    UK / EU / Overseas GBP1315 GBP1220
    1. The tuition fees listed are for courses starting between September 2023 and August 2024. Fees normally increase annually. Find out more about our tuition fees.

    Additional fee information

    This degree consists of 8 courses (modules) and the option to complete 2 research projects (MSc only) to receive an accreditation from the accrediting body. For the MSc in Applied Petroleum Geoscience, the Exploration Project will include a 2 week full time residential field course, which will be charged for separately.

    Financial support

    Tuition fee loans are available to Scottish distance learning students on some taught postgraduate courses. Find out more from the Students Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)

    Scholarships and bursaries

    We aim to encourage well-qualified, ambitious students to study with us and we offer a wide variety of scholarships and bursaries to achieve this. Each year, hundreds of students enhance their educational experience through a variety of Heriot-Watt and externally funded scholarships, including opportunities funded by the University's generous alumni community, based all over the world.

    View our full range of postgraduate scholarships.

    Scholarship funding

    Industrial sponsorship

    Many of our past students have gained funding from industry sources, both those companies involved in oil exploration and production in their home countries or larger international companies that offer scholarship programs. For example:

    Nigerian Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF)
    Bolahak, Kazakhstan
    Commonwealth Scholarships
    Chevening scholarships

    There are also a number of Industrial sponsorships available every year to UK and EU students. All eligible applicants (generally EU/UK students) automatically have their CVs or applications sent to participating petroleum companies, who offer a limited number of sponsorships each year to our students. The number of sponsorships offered will vary depending on the companies' needs and situations, and the quality of the student applicants. Scholarship awards are given out after an interview event that takes place during the summer before the course starts.

    Entry requirements

    For MSc level entry, students must hold:

    A good honours or BSc degree in a relevant Geoscience discipline such as Geology or Geophysics from a UK or Overseas University. We look specifically for proven ability in basic geology or petroleum geology courses, as well as credits in maths courses. Parts of the courses listed above require higher or university level mathematics backgrounds.

    In addition to the academic qualifications, motivation, industrial experience and personality are taken into consideration.

    Recognition of Prior Learning

    We are committed to providing study opportunities to applicants who have a wide range of prior experiences through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). For more information on RPL, please contact the Online Admissions Team (egis-idl-apps@hw.ac.uk) ahead of application. We can only consider requests for RPL at the time of application to a course of study.

    English language requirements

    If your first language is not English, or your first degree was not taught in English, we'll need to see evidence of your English language ability. The minimum requirement for English language is IELTS 6.5 or equivalent. We offer a range of English language courses to help you meet the English language requirement prior to starting your masters course:

    • 20 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.0 with no skill lower than 4.5)
    • 14 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.0 with minimum of 5.0 in writing and no skill lower than 4.5)
    • 10 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with no skill lower than 5.0)
    • 6 weeks English (for IELTS 5.5 with no skill lower than 5.5)


    Past students on the Applied Petroleum Geoscience MSc have gone into further research (PhD degrees in the UK and overseas). Others have gone on to work in geoscience departments of major Oil and Gas companies as well as industry service organisations, contractors and small local companies. Companies who have employed our past students include Shell and Petroceltic here in the UK, and a number of other companies worldwide including Tullow, GNPC, and Total.

    Why Heriot-Watt?

    Flexibility and affordability

    Study at a time and pace that suits you, and even while you work. HW Online offers pay-as-you-study courses and fees inclusive of exams and study materials, meaning you can focus on success, not extra costs.

    Your career

    Employers around the world actively seek out our graduates because they are work-ready. All our degrees are career-focused and relevant to the needs of industry. Around 95% of our students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating.

    Online events

    We host online events throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to speak to our academic teaching staff, meet students, find out what it is like to study using our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and discover how to enrol.

    Lifelong connections

    Upon completing your studies you will automatically join the UK's oldest alumni association The Watt Club, with 147k members worldwide.

    We are accredited by the following organisations

    At Heriot-Watt University we develop degrees that are relevant for the world of work. We work with Professional bodies and Institutes to gain appropriate Accreditations and Professional Memberships for your industry. Find out below how this degree aligns to industry.

    Energy Institute logo

    Energy Institute (EI)

    MSc Renewable Energy Engineering is accredited by the Energy Institute as 'Further Learning' for a Chartered Engineer.

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