Clinical PhD Programme

Clinical PhD Programme

Clinical PhD fellowships are available for medically qualified applicants who exhibit academic excellence and the potential to pursue a career in academic medicine.

The application process for the 2018 intake of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's Clinical PhD Programme is now open. The application closing date is: Monday 13th November 2017. Interviews will be held the week commencing 11th December 2017.

Overview

Campus photoWellcome Library

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Clinical PhD programme is a 3-year programme, run in partnership with the Cambridge Wellcome Trust PhD Programme for Clinicians. The University of East Anglia is also a partner in the programme.

Ten fellowships are available each year, two of which are funded by the Institute. To be eligible to apply for the two Sanger Institute fellowships you must be medically qualified (individuals qualified in veterinary medicine can apply for the remaining fellowships). Although veterinary graduates are not eligible for a Sanger Institute fellowship, they can undertake research at the Sanger Institute supervised either solely or jointly by a faculty member, whilst supported by another fellowship from the programme. The two Sanger Institute fellowships are open to overseas applicants, and if successful you will be required to obtain General Medical Council registration. It is anticipated that most applicants will have already commenced their specialist training, but this is not essential. The most important criteria we are looking for are academic excellence and the potential to pursue a career in academic medicine. Salaries are maintained in accordance with recognised UK clinical academic scales.

Before starting their PhD, successful applicants are offered up to 3 months funding to enable them to meet potential supervisors from the Sanger Institute and the departments/institutes of the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia, and undertake one or more mini-projects within their broad area of interest. This allows them to make an informed choice of PhD project and supervisor.

For more information about opportunities at the Sanger Institute, please see examples of potential PhD projects.

Those clinicians that choose to carry out their PhD at the Sanger Institute are expected to attend training courses in transferable and general research skills, participate in the students' journal club, present their work regularly and attend seminars. They also have to present their work annually at a Summer Symposium held jointly with the other students on the Cambridge Wellcome Trust PhD Programme for Clinicians. In addition, the Director of the Programme arranges 'clinical' mentoring for the students. All Sanger Institute clinicians on the programme hold honorary contracts at Addenbrooke's Hospital in order to maintain their clinical links.

The progress of our clinical PhD students is monitored by assessment of their first year report and by thesis committee meetings, which take place every six months. Also within the first few months of their PhD, in common with the other students on the Cambridge Wellcome Trust PhD Programme for Clinicians, our clinical students have to prepare a research proposal for their project in the form of a 'Project Grant Application'. This is discussed with a panel of leading academics connected with the programme, before being submitted to the Wellcome Trust.

For information on how to make an application to our clinical PhD Programme please go to How to apply.

To see what some of our former clinical PhD students have achieved during their time at the Institute, and since, please go to Case studies.

University of Cambridge affiliation

King's CollegeMarkus Brosch

Students at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute are awarded a University of Cambridge PhD degree.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute was granted affiliation with the University of Cambridge as a 'University Partner Institution' in 1995. All graduate students at the Institute are registered with the University and are members of a Cambridge College. This allows our students to take an active part in the University's academic and social life and brings many benefits such as access to events/courses run by University departments and the Graduate School of Life Sciences, and access to University facilities such as the library and the careers service.

University of Cambridge logo

Potential PhD projects

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is at the forefront of experimental, computational and translational genomic research. Our Faculty members use large-scale genomic tools to investigate important global health problems such as cancer, malaria, diabetes and infectious disease. Please visit our Faculty pages for information on Faculty members and their research areas.

Examples of potential PhD projects include:

  • Exploring synthetic lethality for cancer drug discovery - Dr David Adams
  • Humans as a model organism: Using in-vivo perturbation studies to identify genomic regulators of the immune response - Dr Carl Anderson
  • Using next generation sequencing to understand the relationship between gut microbiota and inflammatory bowel disease risk - Drs Jeff Barrett and Carl Anderson
  • Mapping the cellular consequences of human regulatory variation using induced pluripotent stem cells - Dan Gaffney
  • Functional and metagenomic analysis of human intestinal microbiome during health and irritable bowel syndrome (or cancer immunotherapy) - Dr Trevor Lawley
  • Using B-cell receptor sequencing to understand the immune response to malaria and prioritise new vaccine targets - Dr Julian Rayner
  • Using next generation sequencing to understand drug resistance and global reach of Plasmodium vivax malaria - Dr Julian Rayner/Prof Dominic Kwiatkowski
  • Using single cell genomics to investigate malaria transmission in Africa - Dr Mara Lawniczak
  • Cellular genomics models to understand a novel variant regulating HIV in African populations - Dr Manj Sandhu
  • Development of a globally diverse induced pluripotent stem cell panel to understand population specific genetic variation - Dr Manj Sandhu
  • Deciphering immunity using single cell genomics - Dr Sarah Teichmann
  • Gene flow and antimicrobial resistance in the genus Vibrio - Prof Nick Thomson

Supervision and monitoring

Each student has a PhD supervisor from within the Institute's Faculty who provides day-to-day supervision of their research. They also benefit from a co-supervisor (external adviser), selected from the University of Cambridge, who works in a similar or complementary discipline and meets regularly with the student.

Graduate students at the Institute are monitored and managed by the Committee of Graduate Studies, which meets monthly, together with support from dedicated administrative personnel. Monitoring of each student's progress is achieved through their first year report and thesis committee meetings which take place every six months.

The thesis committee, which consists of the primary supervisor, the co-supervisor (external adviser) and one or two Sanger Institute Faculty members, primarily serves as a scientific advisory board for the student throughout their PhD work. Its function is to offer comments, advice and support to the student in order to ensure that the thesis can be completed in an appropriate time frame and with the best possible output. In addition to the student's own research group, the thesis committee provides an independent forum for scientific discussion.

Students are expected to complete their research and submit their thesis within the three-year time frame of the award. At this point each student must give a formal Sanger Institute seminar.

Training opportunities

eSCAMPS 2015 committeeSanger Institute
eSCAMPS 2015 committee

Students on the Clinical PhD Programme are encouraged to attend training courses in transferable and general research skills such as:

  • Health and safety training
  • Graduate lecture series (approx 40 lectures by Sanger Faculty members)
  • Basic Unix
  • Python programming
  • Bioinformatics courses and workshops
  • Next generation sequencing
  • Basic and applied statistics
  • Research integrity and ethics workshops
  • Presentation skills
  • Scientific writing skills
  • Using LaTeX
  • Communication and public engagement workshop

A wide range of courses are also run on site for which students are eligible. As members of the University of Cambridge, students have access to lecture courses run by University departments, courses run by the Graduate School of Life Sciences and to University facilities such as the library and the careers service. There is also an excellent library on site at the Institute.

There is a fortnightly journal club which all students, except those in their final year, are expected to attend, and students are expected to participate in the programme of journal clubs and research talks within their own research division.

There is a very active academic seminar programme on site. Also students have the opportunity to meet and have informal discussions over lunch with speakers in our Distinguished Lecture Series. In addition, relevant seminar programmes within the University are widely advertised, and students are encouraged to attend.

All clinical PhD students have the opportunity to present their work regularly to their group. They also have to present their work annually at a Summer Symposium held jointly with the other students on the Cambridge Wellcome Trust PhD Programme for Clinicians. In the final year, once students have submitted their thesis, they are required to present their work at a Sanger Institute seminar. In addition, students are encouraged to present their work at both national and international scientific meetings, and we provide up to £1000 per year to enable them to attend such meetings.

Students at the Institute are encouraged to organise their own events such as the EBI-Sanger Cambridge PhD Symposium (eSCAMPS). This meeting brings together students from the whole Cambridge area and gives them the opportunity to present their work to their peers and listen to a number of world renowned keynote speakers. Organising such a meeting (liaising with speakers, seeking sponsorship, managing logistical arrangements etc) allows the students involved to develop their networking, communication and management skills.

eSCAMPS logo

How to apply

For more information about the programme and details on how to apply go to: Cambridge Wellcome Trust PhD Programme for Clinicians.

In brief, applications must be made via the University of Cambridge Graduate Admissions on-line applicant portal.

Applicants are shortlisted and interviewed by a selection panel consisting of the Programme Director, Deputy Director, a Director of another Wellcome Trust PhD Programme for Clinicians, the Sanger Institute's Director of Graduate Studies, representatives from the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine and a selection of 'theme leads' for the programme.

The application process for the 2018 intake is open and the closing date is Monday 13th November 2017. Interviews will be held the week commencing 11th December 2017.

Case studies

Some of our former clinical PhD students:

Former clinical PhD student
Serena Nik Zainal (2009 intake)

PhD project: 'Exploring mutational signatures in twenty-one breast cancers', supervised by Professor Mike Stratton.
PhD publications: 19 publications, including two first author Cell papers and three additional first author/joint first author papers
Awards/prizes: Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellowship in 2012, Wellcome-Beit Prize Fellowship in 2013, CRUK Future Leaders in Cancer Research Prize in 2014, CRUK Pioneer Award 2016.
Current position: CRUK Advanced Clinician Scientist, Department of Medical Genetics, University of Cambridge & Honorary Consultant in Clinical Genetics, East Anglian Medical Genetics Service.

Former clinical PhD student
Vanessa Wong (2010 intake)

PhD project: 'Salmonella Typhi: a global perspective based on genomics', supervised by Professor Gordon Dougan.
PhD publications: Nine publications, including one first author Nature Genetics paper and four additional first author publications.
Awards/prizes: Furness Prize for Science Communication, Royal College of Pathologists in 2011, Oswald Morton Essay Prize, Pharmaceutical Medicine and Research Section, Royal Society of Medicine in 2012, Gold Medal Research Award, Royal College of Pathologists in 2015, Winner of Young Investigator Award, 2016 Spring Meeting, Academy of Medical Sciences.
Current position: Academic Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge.

Former clinical PhD student
Sam Behjati (2011 intake)

PhD project: 'Massively parallel sequencing of benign and malignant human tumours', supervised by Professor Mike Stratton and Dr Peter Campbell.
PhD publications: 14 publications, including three first/joint first author Nature Genetics papers, one first author Nature paper and two additional joint first author papers.
Awards/prizes: Conquer Cancer Foundation ASCO Merit Award in 2014, Donald Paterson prize, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in 2015, St. Baldrick’s Foundation Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award in 2016.
Current position: Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow, Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge.

Tom McKerrell (2012 intake)
Former clinical PhD student

PhD project: ''A Study of Myeloid Malignancies and their Pre-Clinical Evolution' supervised by Dr George Vassiliou. Major findings include the identification of age-related clonal haemopoiesis driven by leukaemia-associated mutations in healthy individuals.
PhD publications: Six publications, including four first author publications.
Awards/prizes: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Early Career Innovation Award 2014.
Current position: NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Haematology, University of Cambridge.

Equality and diversity

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute values the diversity of its employees, students, visitors and collaborators. The diversity of our workforce is of critical importance in drawing together the broad range of skills and experience we depend on to conduct world class science and support biomedical discovery.

We therefore believe that it is in the best interests of the Institute and those that benefit from its work to attract, retain and develop a diverse pool of talent and to provide a working environment that encourages and supports excellent performance from all who work here. We aim to achieve this by:

  • Providing equality of opportunity in recruitment, selection, training, promotion and career management
  • The elimination of unlawful discrimination
  • The promotion of diversity and equality
  • Stimulating interest in scientific careers through our Communication and Public Engagement Programme
  • Developing an Action Plan to provide a framework for further embedding the principles of Equality & Diversity into the work and people of the Institute and monitoring the outcome of this work
Selection of PhD Students

The Institute's PhD programmes aspire to be equally accessible to all applicants irrespective of age, gender or country of origin. Applications are welcomed from candidates worldwide and will be considered exclusively on merit. To reduce financial and geographic barriers to admission, we provide payment of all University fees along with a generous stipend/salary. Indeed many of our students come from low and middle income countries such as Malawi, Uganda, India, China, Colombia, Mexico and Malaysia. Also, our typical annual intake of students is roughly half male, half female.

Wherever practical the Institute will adopt a flexible approach to prevent any disadvantage that could arise for prospective PhD students from career and/or study gaps that may be due to maternity, paternity, adoption and other caring responsibilities or periods of illness or disability.

Sex in Science
Sex in Science logo

The Sanger Institute and its campus neighbour, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), run an active Sex in Science Programme aimed at highlighting and addressing issues affecting the gender imbalance that occurs in the senior ranks of science. This includes consideration of work-life balance issues that affect both male and female scientists and a regular Careers Day for everyone on campus with a chance to speak with funders and learn about a range of scientific careers.

In April 2014, we became one of the first research institutes to achieve the Athena SWAN Bronze award.

Athena SWAN logo
Balancing PhD studies with family life

We recognise that for some PhD students, there will be a need to allow time and flexibility to deal with caring responsibilities (e.g. for children and/or relatives) and we want to provide a PhD programme that is supportive of these needs, whilst not compromising on giving you an excellent start to your scientific career. This includes provisions to pause studies for maternity, paternity or adoption leave, access to our onsite nursery facilities and a flexible approach to work.

Since Sanger Institute PhD students are registered at the University of Cambridge, they are also able to access childcare services provided by the University.

If you have any queries about balancing PhD studies with family life, please contact the Graduate Programme Office.