Wellcome Trust 4-year Interdisciplinary PhD Programme

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This brief profile of the Wellcome Trust 4 Year PhD Programme in Structural, Computational and Chemical Biology is part of a series looking at Doctoral Training Programmes which offer funded PhD studentships at Birkbeck. Many thanks to Dr Cara Vaughan (Programme Co-Director) for answering the following questions.

How would you describe this Wellcome Trust 4 year PhD programme?

This is a fantastic interdisciplinary program that enables students to experience three distinct yet synergistic fields, that together can lead to the most exciting developments in biomedical research. These are structural, molecular, cellular biology and biophysics, computational biology and chemical biology.

Which departments at Birkbeck are taking part in this PhD programme?

The Department of Biological sciences, part of the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB). The department forms a part of a diverse and interdisciplinary environment across the PhD programme and the ISMB.

What strengths does Birkbeck bring to this Doctoral Training Programme?

Research in the Department of Biological Sciences is world-class, with strengths in structural and computational biology.

 conserved mechanisms of microtubule-stimulated ADP release
The conserved mechanisms of microtubule-stimulated ADP release (Professor Carolyn Moores’s lab)

How is the programme structured?

The first year involves rotation projects in 3 different labs, each specialising in one of the 3 disciplines within the program. In addition, students attend both foundation and advanced lectures to strengthen their understanding in these fields. At the end of their first year students choose the project that will be the focus of the remainder of their PhD and spend the remaining 3 years affiliated with that lab answering exciting questions at the forefront of biomedical research. Further information about the programme structure is available on the WT PhD Programme webpages.

What kinds of resources and facilities are available to students who are offered a place on the programme?

The ISMB is extremely well-equipped with world-class instrumentation and research facilities in all three disciplines.

Anthony Roberts lab image
The dynein–Lis1 interface (Dr Anthony Roberts’s lab)

How are PhD students supported during their postgraduate research and in preparing for their careers after the PhD?

Students are supervised by senior scientists who are recognised at an international level in their chosen field, both during rotations and during the PhD project itself. They are exposed to a highly interdisciplinary environment through which they gain experience of working in a dynamic and challenging way. In addition to opportunities to undertake taught programmes across a range of ISMB disciplines students also take part in WT PhD programme activities including literature clubs, and gain experience in presenting their data. Students can attend career days, where PhD-qualified scientists working in non-academic environments give talks and meet students and they can also access professional development opportunities within Birkbeck and UCL.

What are the advantages for students taking part in this Wellcome Trust PhD programme?

Exposure to and involvement in some of the best biomedical research in the UK and interdisciplinary training which is shaping the future of biomedical research. Profiles of some of our PhD students are available.

Are there any features of supervision within the Wellcome Trust programme that you would like to highlight?

In addition to every student having a thesis committee that meets at regular intervals throughout the 4 years, the student also meets the program director/co-director to ensure that the project is on track, to resolve any issues early on and to ensure that the student has the best possible outcome form their PhD.

Cryo-electron tomogram
Cryo-electron tomograms of a reconstituted COPII budding reaction (Dr Giulia Zanetti’s lab)

How can students find out about potential projects and supervisors at Birkbeck?

A list of potential supervisors and example projects are available on our ISMB WT PhD Programme website.

How would you describe your role within this Wellcome Trust PhD programme?

As co-director I work closely with the director, Finn Werner, and the administrative support staff to ensure the smooth running of the program. This includes everything from sifting through applications to the program, to interviewing students, to a more pastoral role for students in the later years of their PhD.

What background and experience would successful applicants be able to demonstrate if they are interested in joining the programme?

This is a highly competitive program and successful students are exceptional. They should have an excellent degree in one of the disciplines in the program, or a related discipline, and hands on experience of working in a lab in one or two of these areas covered within the program.

What do students need to do to apply?

Students must follow instructions for applicants carefully. Student need to complete an online Graduate Student application form from UCL and submit a single document with a current CV and a statement explaining why they are a suitable candidate. They also need to provide details of 2 referees. Full instructions for applicants are available here.

Are there any key dates to be aware of?

  • The deadline for applications is 5 January 2018
  • The interview dates are 25 and 26 January 2018

Author: ubcg56b

Graduate Research School Manager

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