Student life

Below are some recent testimonials about life as a PhD student at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

A former 4-year PhD student, Jennifer Yen:

I think what sets the Sanger Institute apart from many other institutions is the type of opportunities and resources available to the PhD students. The Sanger Institute produces vast amounts of data, so there is plenty of opportunity to be involved in the technology of data generation, or in the exploration and analysis of this data. Whatever you decide, one thing is almost for certain: there is no shortage of funding for your project. As a student, this means that you have a lot of creative freedom in shaping the directions of your PhD project, including choosing the methods, training and travel you may want to pursue.

BBQ with students from the European Bioinformatics Institute.

BBQ with students from the European Bioinformatics Institute. [Markus Brosch, Sanger Institute]


In your first year, the rotation system is a great way to become familiar with the different research groups at the Sanger Institute before making a decision about your PhD. Along with taking courses and seminars, the rotations are fantastic training opportunities where you can strengthen or broaden your research skills and interests. You can train in a new field, learn new techniques, and meet people from different areas. Generally, it is a good time for exploration.

One thing that you will notice about being at the Sanger Institute, apart from the wonderful science, is that life isn't only about the research. Staff and students enjoy a life outside the Institute. For most students, this means living in Cambridge, being involved in College or club activities, and often taking advantage of the easy access we have to London and to the rest of Europe. Depending on your interests then, there is always something to do! The students here all seem quite efficient and accomplished both inside and outside the lab.

Finally, you might find that the Institute's distance from Cambridge, about a thirty minute drive, can seem hard to begin with. There is a free bus shuttle to the Institute though, and many students get cars. Once you get used to the commute, you will appreciate the scientific freedom that the Sanger Institute has to offer: world-class facilities, impressive resources and an outstanding reputation in genomics research. As a Sanger student, your job will simply be to work hard; think broad and to be creative.

A former 4-year PhD student, George Vernikos:

Students having fun.

Students having fun. [Markus Brosch, Sanger Institute]


I joined the Sanger Institute in 2004. Before that, I was member of the Biophysics and Bioinformatics Group at the University of Athens where I undertook my undergraduate Diploma research. It was during this period when my first standalone software, GeneViTo became available to academia. Prior to my registration at the University of Athens I was studying Mechatronics in the Applied Mechanics Laboratory, at the Technical University of Crete, Greece.

During my first six months at the Sanger Institute I undertook three interesting rotation projects, two of which were published. My rotation projects were supervised by Stephan Beck, Richard Durbin and Gavin Wright, Julian Parkhill.

At the end of the six months, I commenced my PhD research in the group of Pathogen Informatics under the supervision of Julian Parkhill on a project focused on horizontal gene transfer and microbial genome fluidity. At the end of my first PhD year, my second standalone software, Alien_Hunter went public.

Julian was an excellent and most importantly discreet teacher that set the basis for an overall very productive PhD research with a submission date six months ahead of schedule.

So far I have published 12 papers (two reviews) in peer reviewed journals and a book chapter and I have been invited to peer-review manuscripts in Bioinformatics and Nucleic Acid Research. I had the chance to supervise a PhD student and I was a member of the Executive Committee for the first Sanger-Cambridge PhD Symposium. As a student at the University of Cambridge I was also a Cambridge European Trust Fellow and a member of the Cambridge University Canoe Club.

I am currently working as a senior software engineer in a private owned company, Qualco SA, located in Athens. In addition I work as an external collaborator at the University of Athens, in the department of computer science, giving lectures on microbial evolution for an MSc course in Bioinformatics.

Now, looking back at the Sanger PhD 4-year program I can attest that this Institute provides a unique opportunity to learn from the elite, in an excellent and motivating environment that sets the basis for a high-standard career path.

Where next?

We have 148 graduate student alumni to date, of whom 18 hold faculty positions around the world, at least a further 79 are working as scientists or post-doctoral researchers in academia or in industry, and 11 are working as clinicians. Our graduates are to be found in many top research establishments such as Harvard, Berkeley, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Caltech, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, LSHTM, Imperial College and the Gurdon Institute, and companies such as Illumina, GSK, Novartis, Syngenta and Astra Zeneca.

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