4-Year PhD Programme
We believe that a 4-year PhD programme provides the best training opportunities.
The application process for the 2023 intake of the Wellcome Sanger Institute 4-year PhD Programme is now closed. The closing date was Thursday 1st December 2022 (09:00 GMT). The PhD Interviews Day is Monday 23rd January 2023. If you have not heard from us by Monday 9th January 2023 you should assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview.
The 2023 intake will start the PhD Programme on the 1st October 2023.
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 at least once per year.
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 are 12 funded studentships available across all our research areas. Any students with their own external studentship funding are still expected to 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 the How to apply section below.
Please visit our potential supervisors page for information on Faculty members and their research areas.
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 postgraduate 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 Postgraduate 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.
The University of Cambridge has a vibrant and diverse international student community and welcomes talented students from around the world. There’s loads going on in the University, Colleges and city, and with students accounting for about a fifth of the city’s overall population, Cambridge is a great place to be a student. See the University’s Student Life pages for more information.
If you have questions about what it’s like to study at Cambridge as an international student, you can chat to an international student ambassador on Unibuddy, see https://www.postgraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/international/chat-our-students.
Our funded studentships provide full financial support, including University tuition fees, regardless of nationality. Visa and immigration health surcharge costs will be reimbursed for international students. Current tax-free stipends paid by the Wellcome Sanger Institute are shown below.
Financial support as of January 2023
|1st year||£22,976 p.a.|
|2nd year||£23,523 p.a.|
|3rd year||£24,070 p.a.|
|4th year||£24,617 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.
Postgraduate 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 at least once per year.
The thesis committee, which consists of the principal 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
- Graduate lecture series (approx 30 lectures by Sanger Faculty members)
- Computational skills
- Next generation sequencing
- Research integrity, reproducible research and ethics
- Presentation skills
- Scientific writing skills
- Communication and public engagement
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 Postgraduate School of Life Sciences and 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 £1500 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 a good 2:1 class degree or an equivalent overseas qualification.
If overseas applicants, who have not studied in the UK or EU, 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.
The application process for the 2023 intake is now closed. The closing date was Thursday 1st December 2022 (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 potential supervisors page 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 postgraduate 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 Thursday 8th December 2022 (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 interviews on Monday 23rd January 2023. We are planning for these to take place in person, and they will involve three interviews with individual Sanger Institute Faculty members and one panel interview with three Sanger Institute Faculty members. If shortlisted candidates are unavailable on the 23rd January, they can be interviewed via a series of videoconference interviews during the preceding two weeks.
If you have not heard from us by Monday 9th January 2023, you should assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview.
The studentships will be allocated on a competitive basis after the PhD interviews. 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. Visa and immigration health surcharge costs will be reimbursed for international students.
Any students with their own external studentship 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 any of the University of Cambridge’s funding opportunities you will need to submit an application to the University via the Applicant Portal before the relevant funding 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 was Thursday 1st December 2022 (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 2023.
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 good 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 Thursday 1st December 2022 (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 Thursday 8th December 2022 (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 Thursday 8th December 2022 (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 any of the University of Cambridge’s funding opportunities. 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 Institute PhD programme by submitting an online application does not cost anything. Applying for admission to the University of Cambridge is also free.
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 interviews be held and what will happen on the day?
A: The PhD interviews for the 2023 intake will take place on Monday 23rd January 2023 and are planned to take place in person. The shortlisted candidates will have three interviews with individual Sanger Institute Faculty members and one panel interview with three Sanger Institute Faculty members. If shortlisted candidates are unavailable on the 23rd January, they can be interviewed via a series of videoconference interviews during the preceding two weeks.
Q: Is the Interview Day for everyone who has applied or should I wait to be invited?
A: Participation in the PhD Interview 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 Monday 9th January 2023, you must assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview.
Below are some testimonials about life as a PhD student at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
Former 4-year PhD student (2017-21), 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 students 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 (2015-18), 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.
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 Engagement and Society Programme
- Developing an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy to further embed the principles of Equality & Diversity in the work and people of the Institute and monitoring the outcomes of this
Selection of PhD Students
The Institute’s PhD programmes aspire to be equally accessible to all applicants irrespective of gender, country of origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, age, disability or factors other than academic matters. 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 Kenya, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan and Turkey. 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 2020 we were awarded the Athena SWAN Silver award, having been one of the first research institutes to achieve the Bronze award in April 2014.
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, adoption or shared parental 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.