It is our aim to develop in our students the skills required to submit a satisfactory PhD thesis at the end of their studentships. In order to achieve this, a student will have acquired the essential skills required to design and conduct experiments (including applying for ethics approval where necessary), to analyse results, and to communicate these both in writing and orally. These skills will include those that can be transferred successfully to their choice of academic or other career.
The PhD at the MRC CBU is achieved by supervised research and is under the jurisdiction of the Degree Committee for the Faculty of Biology. The provision of supervision and teaching is overseen by the Graduate School of Life Sciences. Within the MRC CBU, the internal Graduate Committee is responsible for all aspects of the running of the degrees. A suitable project falling within the interests of the supervisor, and sustainable within the limits imposed by the facilities available at the MRC CBU, is agreed by both student and supervisor, and endorsed by the Graduate Committee. Each graduate student has a primary Supervisor, who will supervise the main body of their research, and an Advisor who acts as a supplementary source of advice and support. We also have two pastoral tutors who offer personal support and counselling throughout a student’s time at the Unit.
Students attend a variety of Unit Seminars given by distinguished scientists and are also able to present their research by giving seminars, usually in their second year. They are able to draw from the MRC CBU’s panels of research volunteers, both normal and clinical, and enjoy the benefits of superb computing facilities and support staff, including a Graphics/Multimedia Officer.
The Cambridge Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences
MRC CBU students are full members of the Cambridge Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences, which has been jointly established by the Unit and the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry. This consists of a weekly series of theoretical seminars presented by senior researchers from the MRC CBU and from the University. Lectures will be held on Mondays 4-5.30pm in the West Wing Seminar Room at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge, CB2 7EF, or at the Psychology department on the Downing Site in Cambridge city centre. Seminars are held during Michaelmas and Lent terms only. These are compulsory for MRC CBU first year students, but anyone interested is also welcome to attend and we always welcome visitors from other university departments.
Details of the Seminar Programme will be updated regularly and any changes in the programme, as well as any other information of interest, will be communicated via e-mail – if you are interested in receiving these updates please e-mail the seminar administrator [email@example.com] to ensure that your name is on the “Camgrads+” mailing list.
All public talks are publicised on the University talks website, which also contains an archive of older lectures.
First year training programme
As an integral part of our newly extended four year MRC funded studentships we will be introducing a more structured first year training programme for all students. This will be divided into two streams for students specialising in: a) cognitive neuroscience; or b) clinical application. The two streams will share many lectures, seminars and training elements but there will also be some more specialised topics to cover depending on your research area and what is appropriate for completing your degree. This will be agreed with your supervisor on arrival.
Facilities and Linkages
The MRC CBU has excellent facilities for experimental behavioural studies involving normal populations and patients with brain damage, as well as institutional links with Addenbrooke’s hospital giving access to various types of patient populations, including stroke and progressive neural degenerative diseases. There is a 3 Tesla MRI scanner on the premises, as well as MEG and EEG facilities. Through its partnership with the University of Cambridge Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, the MRC CBU has excellent access to PET and additional fMRI (3 Tesla) facilities. The MRC CBU also offers state of the art computing facilities, supporting Unix, PC, and Mac platforms, and handling the large volumes of neuro-imaging data as well as extensive computational modelling. All students have their own networked desktop computer, with internet access through JANET.
The Unit’s close links with the University Department of Psychology and the Department of Psychiatry are strengthened through the Cambridge Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences, a joint programme of termly Seminars given by members of each Department and attended by all graduate students.
The MRC CBU is also an active member of the wider neuroscience community in Cambridge, supported by the Cambridge Neuroscience network.
Completion on time
The MRC CBU has adopted the following procedure, designed to ensure that students complete their research on time.
The primary goal of the student’s first year is to put them in a position to hit the ground running at the beginning of their second year, with a fully developed and agreed research plan for the last two years of their thesis, and, preferably, with a significant chunk of relevant research and training already completed. To this end, students and supervisors are encouraged to begin discussion of possible topics as soon as the student arrives, and to initiate exploratory research, skills training, literature surveys, etc., as soon as is practicable. If supervisors do not feel that satisfactory progress has been made towards agreeing and developing a possible topic within six months of the student arriving (usually March 1st of the first year), then they should allocate a topic within the broad area of interest stated on the student’s application. A student who objects to the proposed topic may approach the Graduate Studies Committee over a change in supervisor, but should be prepared to accept a proposal from the secondary supervisor.
Assessment will take place at the end of the first year, with the submission of a 5000 word report by 30th June. This will comprise a summary of the student’s progress over the previous months and is likely to include a literature review motivating the choice of research topic and an account of experimental and theoretical work completed. The report must also include a proposal outlining the research planned for the next two years’ work, directed towards the completion of a PhD in that period. The student will also be expected to submit an up-to-date Progress Log, outlining their participation in seminars, training courses, etc., over the first year. This is to meet University and Research Council requirements for graduate training.
The report is distributed to and evaluated by the student’s primary and secondary supervisor and by the Graduate tutors. A five way meeting is then held with the student. A recommendation would normally then be made to the Faculty Degree Committee that the student be registered for a PhD and to the MRC that the grant be continued for the remaining three years. These recommendations can only be made following the meeting with the Graduate Committee, and it is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that these occur on a reasonable time-scale – unless there are exceptional circumstances, we would expect the evaluation process to be completed by the end of July.
Around nine months before students are due to complete, a meeting will be held between student, supervisors, and representatives from the Graduate Committee to make sure things are on track for completion. Our aim is to reduce the stress of discovering, towards the end of the third year, that there is still too much to do and not enough time to do it. Students will be asked to bring two things to these meetings: an outline of the proposed thesis, with a plan for what is still needed and when it will be done; and a first part of the thesis itself, which could be literature review, methods sections, an experimental chapter, etc.
This is not in any way intended as an assessment, which in any case would not be suitable in a student’s third year. The thesis plan is intended to crystallise the remaining requirements in the minds of both student and supervisors. The written material is intended to ensure that the student has actually got some experience of what writing the thesis will be like. It constantly happens that students discover that writing is far more time-consuming than they had expected, and we think the best way to get a realistic expectation about this is to have some actual practical experience. To sum this up: our aim is to reduce stress, not to add to it!