4-Year PhD Programme
The application process for the 2020 intake of the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s 4-year PhD Programme is now closed. The application closing date was: Tuesday 3rd December 2019 (09:00 GMT). Interviews will take place at the PhD Open Day on the 27th January 2020. If you have not heard from us by the 10th January 2020, you should assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview.
We believe that a 4-year PhD programme provides the best training opportunities.
Students apply to the programme rather than to specific Faculty members, and spend the first eight months of the programme undertaking three rotation projects in different research groups. This ensures exposure to different disciplines in genomics, and allows the students to gain a better overall picture of the scientific nature of the Institute and the different technologies that are available. In particular, all students are required to carry out at least one informatics rotation and one experimental laboratory rotation. This helps students to develop wide ranging skills both at the bench and in data analysis. Students are required to write a short report or prepare a poster, and make a presentation to the group, at the end of each project. Selection of the final PhD project laboratory is by mutual consent between the student and supervisor and takes place during the third rotation period.
Monitoring of each student’s progress is achieved through the submission of a project report or the preparation of a poster for each rotation, their first year report, their third year thesis plan and by thesis committee meetings which take place every 6 months.
During their PhD, students 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.
Students offered one of our 4-year PhD programme funded studentships will obtain full financial support, including University tuition fees, regardless of nationality. There will be 12 funded studentships available across all our research areas. Since Sanger Institute studentships are extremely competitive, we also encourage you to seek your own funding. Any students with their own funding should still apply to the 4-year PhD Programme in the usual way.
For information on how to make an application to our 4-year PhD Programme please go to How to apply.
University of Cambridge affiliation
Students at the Wellcome Sanger Institute are awarded a University of Cambridge PhD degree.
The Wellcome 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.
Once a student has been selected for our 4-year PhD programme they have to apply for admission to the University.
Our funded studentships provide full financial support, including University tuition fees, regardless of nationality. Current tax-free stipends paid by the Wellcome Sanger Institute are shown below.
Financial support as of October 2019
|1st year||£19,919 p.a.|
|2nd year||£21,542 p.a.|
|3rd year||£23,298 p.a.|
|4th year||£23,997 p.a.|
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 regularly, together with support from dedicated administrative personnel. Monitoring of each student’s progress is achieved through the submission of a project report/poster for each rotation, their first year report, their third year thesis plan 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 additional 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 4-year time frame of the award. At this point each student must give a formal Sanger Institute seminar.
Students on our 4-year PhD Programme are expected to attend training courses in transferable and general research skills such as:
- Health and safety training
- Graduate lecture series (approx 30 lectures by Sanger Faculty members)
- Basic Unix
- Python programming
- Bioinformatics courses and workshops
- Next generation sequencing
- Research integrity, reproducible research and ethics workshops
- Presentation skills
- Scientific writing skills
- 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 students have the opportunity to present their work regularly to their group. Approximately half way through their research, students have to present their work at a PhD Student Presentations Day. 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.
How to apply
You have to apply to the programme rather than to specific Faculty members.
If you have any questions about the application process, please look at the FAQs below. If you need further assistance, contact the Graduate Programme Office. Please note that the Graduate Programme Office is unable to comment on whether you are a suitable candidate for our 4-year PhD programme.
Candidates are expected to hold, or be about to achieve, a 1st or 2:1 class degree or an equivalent overseas qualification.
If overseas (non-UK, non-EU) applicants, who have not studied in an EU country, have GRE scores, they should include them in their application, as the results from this standardised test enable us to more easily compare applicants from different countries.
Competence in English
If your first language is not English you will need to meet the University of Cambridge’s English language requirements, although you do not have to fulfil this requirement before submitting your online application to the Wellcome Sanger Institute. However, if you are offered a place on our programme, you will need to fulfil this requirement before you can be admitted to the University of Cambridge.
You need to complete the Wellcome Sanger Institute on-line application form.
Closing date for applications for the 2020 intake: Tuesday 3rd December 2019 (09:00 GMT)
When completing the on-line application form you will need to:
- Provide details of your academic qualifications
- Outline any relevant work experience (max 200 words)
- Choose 3 Faculty members whose research area interests you (see our Faculty and Group pages for information on Faculty members and their research areas)
- Outline your research interests and indicate how these fit with the research interests of the Sanger Institute (max 200 words)
- Write a personal statement on your research experience, research interests and career goals, explaining why you wish to pursue graduate training at the Sanger Institute (max 400 words)
- Provide details of two academic referees (one of these can be the supervisor of an industrial or research placement)
- Upload your University transcript(s) (and GRE scores if available) as a PDF file
You should request and receive your transcript(s) from your institution (in a form that can be embedded in a document) before you begin your application so that you have them ready to upload. If you are currently studying you should upload a transcript with the marks you have obtained so far.
Once you have completed the first page of the application form, a URL with a unique identifier will be generated, which you should bookmark. If you want to continue the application process at a later time you can use this URL to return to your incomplete form.
Once you have submitted your completed application form:
- You will receive a confirmation email
- Your chosen referees will receive an email asking them to submit an online reference for you
Please ensure that you have provided the correct institutional email address for your referees and that they have agreed to provide a reference for you. Once a referee has submitted their reference:
- Your referee will receive a confirmation email
- You will receive a confirmation email
It is your responsibility to ensure your referees have submitted their reference by Tuesday 10th December 2019 (09:00 GMT) at the latest.
The final deadline for the receipt of references is only one week after the application deadline. Therefore, please do not leave your application until the last minute as this does not leave much time for your referees to respond.
Please note that without references your application will not be processed.
If you are unable to upload your transcript(s), please contact the Graduate Programme Office and include your URL/unique identifier in the email.
Should you have any difficulties in submitting your online application, or you do not receive an email confirming that your submission has been successful, please contact the Graduate Programme Office and include your URL/unique identifier in the email.
Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend our PhD Open Day on Monday 27th January 2020 at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, where they will have three interviews with individual Sanger Institute Faculty members and one panel interview with three Sanger Institute Faculty members. If overseas applicants are unable to attend the PhD Open Day, they can be interviewed via a series of Skype or telephone interviews (during the two weeks before the Open Day).
If you have not heard from us by Friday 10th January 2020 you should assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview.
The studentships will be allocated on a competitive basis after the PhD Open Day. All students who are offered a funded studentship on our 4-year PhD programme will obtain full financial support, including University tuition fees, regardless of nationality.
Sanger studentships are extremely competitive, and we encourage you to seek your own funding. Any students with their own funding should still apply to our 4-year PhD Programme via the online application form.
Once a student has been selected for the 4-year PhD programme they have to apply for admission to the University of Cambridge using the University’s online Applicant Portal. A student cannot take up our award unless they are also successful in securing admission to the University.
Please note that if you wish to be considered for the University of Cambridge’s funding competitions you will need to submit an application to the University via the Applicant Portal before the relevant deadline, in addition to making an application to our 4-Year PhD Programme.
It is hoped that the following questions and answers will help with any general queries you may have. For more specific questions, please contact the Graduate Programme Office.
Q: When is the application closing date?
A: The closing date for PhD applications is Tuesday 3rd December 2019 (09:00 GMT).
Q: How many funded PhD studentships are available?
A: There are 12 funded PhD studentships available.
Q: If I am accepted for the PhD programme when am I to start?
A: The next student intake will start 1st October 2020.
Q: I have a 2:2 class degree enhanced with a Masters degree, am I still eligible for a Sanger Institute studentship?
A: No you are not eligible for a Sanger Institute studentship. The minimum academic requirement is a 2:1 class degree or an equivalent overseas qualification for your first degree. You can check the equivalency of your overseas qualification here.
Q: What do I need to do to apply to the Sanger Institute PhD programme?
A: You need to:
- Complete the on-line application form and upload your University transcript(s) as a PDF file by Tuesday 3rd December 2019 (09:00 GMT)
- Ensure your two academic referees (one of these can be the supervisor of an industrial or research placement) complete their online reference by Tuesday 10th December 2019 (09:00 GMT)
Q: What is a University transcript?
A: A University transcript is an official list of all the courses you have taken (or are currently taking) during a programme of study, with the result you obtained, and sometimes the credit value of each course. If you have completed your study, the transcript should also show your final award (usually as a class or CGPA). Transcripts must be obtained from the degree awarding institution.
Q: If I have GRE scores, where should they be sent?
A: Please enter your scores in the online application form and upload a copy of your certificate together with your transcripts as a PDF file.
Q: How do my referees submit their reference?
A: Once you have submitted your online application form, your referees will receive an email explaining how they can submit an online reference for you. They must do this by Tuesday 10th December 2019 (09:00 GMT).
Please note that without references your application will not be processed.
Q: I did not receive an email confirming that submission of my application had been successful?
A: There must have been a problem with the submission of your application, please contact the Graduate Programme Office and include your URL/unique identifier in the email.
Q: Should I also apply to the University of Cambridge when applying for the Sanger Institute’s PhD programme?
A: No, not at this stage, unless you want to be considered for the University of Cambridge funding competitions . However, if you gain a place on our Programme, you will then need to apply for admission to the University of Cambridge using the online Applicant Portal
Q: Is there an application fee for the Sanger Institute PhD programme?
A: No, applying to the Sanger PhD programme by submitting an online application does not cost anything. However, applying for admission to the University of Cambridge costs £65.
Q: I have my own funding. Does this guarantee a place in your PhD programme?
A: No. We look for academic excellence and all applicants have to go through the same selection procedure.
Q: When will the PhD Open Day be held and what will happen on the day?
A: The PhD Open Day for the 2020 intake will take place at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, on Monday 27th January 2020. The shortlisted candidates will have three interviews with individual Sanger Institute Faculty members and one panel interview with three Sanger Institute Faculty members. You should assume that the Open Day will last all day. If overseas shortlisted candidates are unable to attend the PhD Open Day, they can be interviewed via a series of Skype or telephone interviews (during the two weeks before the Open Day).
Q: Is the Open Day for everyone who has applied or should I wait to be invited to attend?
A: Attendance at the PhD Open Day is by invitation only, hence it is important to give a valid email address so that we can contact you, should you be shortlisted for interview. If you do not receive an invitation by Friday 10th January 2020, you must assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview.
Q: If I am invited to the PhD Open Day will my travel expenses be reimbursed?
A: We will reimburse reasonable travel costs, up to a maximum of £750. For travel costs above this amount you will need to seek prior approval before booking any flights. Accommodation may also be arranged by agreement for candidates travelling long distances.
Below are some testimonials about life as a PhD student at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
Current 4-year PhD student, Jannat Ijaz, wrote:
The facilities at the Sanger Institute are unprecedented: from the computational methods that are developed here, to the variety of sequencing platforms available, to the wide range of research aims that are present. The greatest thing about the Sanger is, in my opinion, the support that is available: not only from a group leader but also from Post-Doctoral Fellows and fellow PhD students. Whenever a research problem is faced, there is always someone who has enough time and expertise to sit down and talk through your problems with you. This makes the daunting prospect of completing a PhD a lot easier.
The ethos at Sanger of sharing data creates a great environment. The vast amount of data that is constantly being generated coupled with the money available for research means that the projects that are available are exciting but also malleable to your own research interests.
As a student coming in with limited research experience, I found the rotation year particularly useful. While challenging, it gave me an opportunity to discover different supervision methods, trial different potential PhD projects and learn a variety of computational and wet lab skills. All of the groups that I worked in were welcoming and were environments which I could see myself working in for the next 3 and a half years. Most importantly, it allowed me to focus my research interests in order to make the correct decision about what I wanted to study for rest of my PhD.
Sanger actively encourages student to have a life outside of research which is made easier since all PhD students are affiliated with Cambridge University and therefore also a Cambridge college. This provides another layer of support from University of Cambridge tutors. Aside from this, it also provides a social group outside the research group so you get to meet a wide range of people from different fields.
If you’re interested in genomics, Sanger is an outstanding place to work.
Former MBPhD student, Henry Lee-Six, wrote:
I had a fantastic three years at the Sanger. I found the atmosphere in the Institute to be one of enthusiasm and curiosity. The most important thing for me was that I was working on biological questions that I thought were really exciting. I had brilliant mentorship and the resources (principally sequencing and computational power that are just not available to my friends doing PhDs elsewhere) to be able to answer them. I had help with ethics, IT, and admin, so that I could spend the vast majority of my time actually thinking about the science.
As an MB/PhD student, three things were slightly different to the four-year programme: I missed the year of rotations; I had to attend occasional clinical teaching; and I needed to finish my thesis within 3 years. All three were possible because the Graduate Programme Office and my supervisors were flexible and supportive.
All in all, I had a wonderful and productive time, thanks to being in an environment that was rich in ideas, resources, and positivity.
Experiences of PhD students after training at the Sanger Institute
The Institute continually assesses the value its students gain from its training programme. In November 2012 we invited everyone who had been a member of our PhD programme from its beginnings in 1993 to 2012, and all our Postdoctoral Fellows who had left since November 2010, to tell us about their subsequent work experiences and to give any advice they wanted to pass on to future trainees.
We received an overwhelming response, out of the 78 former PhD students and 25 Postdoctoral Fellows, 82 (80%) gave us their views.
Almost every former PhD and Postdoctoral Fellow (96 per cent) are employed in full-time, part-time, self-employed or freelance work. The majority of whom (70 per cent) were continuing to pursue their scientific interests in academic research and/or academic teaching.
Academia was the first employment destination for two thirds of former PhD students, the majority working in Postdoctoral Researcher posts.
The majority of those in academia had fixed-term contracts (71 per cent), and roughly a third were for three years. In terms of the research they were conducting, three quarters were working in the same or a similar area to the research they were carrying out at the Institute.
Almost half of all the former PhD students still in academia had remained in the UK (47 per cent). Twenty former PhD students had left the country to pursue academic careers in Australia (3), Canada (3), Europe (3), Singapore (1), Taiwan (2) and the USA (8).
In terms of gender, a greater proportion of women remained in academia after they finished their PhD than men: 71 per cent (24) of female PhDs and 59 per cent (34) of male PhDs.
In total, 25 former Sanger Institute PhD students (34 per cent, 20) or Postdoctoral Fellows (22 per cent, 5) are working outside academia. Most are working in science-related areas such as in the Biotechnology/pharmaceutical industry, medicine and healthcare, science administration and policy and science communication.
The reasons the former students and fellows give for moving away from academia include: ‘career prospects in science being very difficult’, ‘availability of suitable jobs’, ‘job stability’, ‘no permanent contracts’ and ‘better pay’.
Of those who left academia, men are more likely to leave academia than women, with only 7 out of the 25 being women (6 PhDs and 1 PDF). Also, almost half of those who move away from academia say that they are not considering a return to academic research at a later stage or that it would not be very likely.
Advice on starting an academic career
The Institute’s former PhDs had a range of advice for fellow researchers just starting their careers in academic research. The key messages were:
- focus on your interests
- have a passion for the research you are doing
- develop transferable skills
- try to publish at an earlier stage in your PhD
- collaborate as much as possible.
They also highlighted the importance of being open-minded, flexible, enthusiastic, and proactive, and considering alternative careers at an early stage.
Equality and diversity
The Wellcome 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 Connecting Science 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 tuition fees along with a generous stipend/salary. Indeed many of our students come from low and middle income countries such as Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, The Gambia, Mexico, China, Vietnam 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.
Equality in Science
The Sanger Institute and its campus neighbour, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), run an active Equality 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. The programme is also looking at issues affecting marginalised groups such as LGBT+, BME and disabled scientists.
In April 2014, we became one of the first research institutes to achieve the Athena SWAN Bronze award.
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.