Supervisors: Dr Charlotte Burn and Dr Troy Gibson

Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences 

Project Details

In this full- or part-time MRes, you will aim to help identify the handling methods that are best for pet and laboratory rat welfare. Previous questionnaire data revealed that at least eight different handling methods are used to lift laboratory rats. Lifting by the tail was associated with reports of stress-related behavior, and the most commonly used method, ‘shoulder saddle’, showed no significant improvement over tail-lifting, unlike some other methods. This MRes extends that research to also incorporate restraint methods, which are used for rat health examinations and scientific purposes, but which can be stressful for rats. The project comprises two parts: analyzing existing questionnaire data and a behavioral comparison of lifting or restraint methods. 

The questionnaire data will be statistically analysed to describe commonly used restraint methods for rats, reasons for usage, and characteristics of handlers who use different methods. You will be supported to use generalized linear models and content analysis of free text responses to analyse the data, shaping recommendations and future research directions. 

You will then conduct a behavioral study to compare handling methods in laboratory rats. You will compare the most commonly used methods, evaluating rat behavior and stress-related porphyrin secretion (non-invasively) during and after handling. The prediction is that methods causing poorer welfare will lead to more stress-related behaviors and increased porphyrin secretion. You will help communicate the findings to both animal research and veterinary communities to encourage the adoption of the best handling methods for rat welfare.  

During the MRes, you will join the RVC’s Animal Welfare Science and Ethics (AWSE) team, where we lead animal behaviour, welfare and ethics research and teaching that covers diverse animal species and sectors. This is primarily an in-person MRes, so you will be based at our Hawkshead campus, and at times be required to work in London, especially for the behavioural study. The MRes can be done either full time or part time (100%, 80% or 50% FTE). 


  1. Burn, C. C., Camacho, T., & Hockenhull, J. (2023). Lifting laboratory rats: A survey of methods, handlers’ reasons and concerns, and rat behavioural responses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 268, 106077. 

  2. Cloutier, S., Panksepp, J., & Newberry, R. C. (2012). Playful handling by caretakers reduces fear of humans in the laboratory rat. Applied animal behaviour science, 140(3-4), 161-171. 

  3. Henderson, L. J., Smulders, T. V., & Roughan, J. V. (2020). Identifying obstacles preventing the uptake of tunnel handling methods for laboratory mice: An international thematic survey. PLoS One, 15(4), e0231454. 

  4. Stuart, S. A., & Robinson, E. S. (2015). Reducing the stress of drug administration: implications for the 3Rs. Scientific reports, 5(1), 14288. 



  • Must meet our standard MRes entry requirements.
  • A Bachelor’s degree in Animal Welfare Science, Veterinary Medicine, Biology, Psychology, or a related field 
  • Experience in research including collecting, analysing and reporting original data (e.g. for an undergraduate science project) 
  • Willingness and aptitude for learning new practical and analytical techniques 
  • Commitment to ethical considerations in animal research, including compliance with relevant regulations and guidelines 
  • Ability to work independently, as well as in a team with a diversity of viewpoints 


  • Demonstrable knowledge of the 3Rs in animal research, especially Refinement 
  • Experience handling rodents or other small animals 
  • Experience of quantitative statistical modelling and/or qualitative data analysis 
  • Demonstrable knowledge of animal welfare assessment and/or human behaviour change 
  • Excellence in written and/or oral communication, e.g. publication or award 

This can be taken full-time or part-time (12months FTE) project commencing in October 2024, based at RVC's Hawkshead campus. This project involves working with laboratory animals. 


Partially funded: The lab will be covering the project costs, with the MRes student expected to meet the course fees and their living expenses. Funding to cover the fees is currently being sought, but this cannot be guaranteed, so applicants may request an update before application or interview.  

International applicants are welcome to apply but must be able to fund the difference between "Home" and "Overseas" tuition fees. Please note that EU/EEA and Swiss national students may no longer be eligible for the “Home” rate of tuition fees, dependent on personal circumstances (including immigration status and residence history in the UK) and UK government rules which are currently being developed. For up-to-date information on fees for EU/EEA and Swiss national students following Brexit please see our fees and funding page. 

How to Apply

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply.

Deadline: 1pm UK time, Friday 5th April

We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Charlotte Burn (

Interview date and location: TBC

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