How to apply
Applications are invited for research on any topic falling within the research interests of the staff at the Unit. Please visit the research pages to find out more.
Some key information about applying to undertake postgraduate study at the CBU
- All applications must be made online via the Postgraduate Admissions website
- An online application of £75 is set by the University, though this is waived for certain groups to widen participation
- To apply for a PhD, please select ‘PhD in Medical Sciences (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit)’
- To apply for an MPhil, select ‘MPhil in Medical Sciences (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit)’
If you have any further problems or questions or wish to make a preliminary enquiry please email grad-admin @ mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk (without the spaces)
Further details about submitting an application for postgraduate study at the CBU
All applications must be submitted online via the University of Cambridge, and you should do this via the Postgraduate Admissions website which has information on the various courses and qualifications you can apply for. Please ensure you are applying for the correct programme and have the appropriate prerequisites. The application fee is £75, which is also paid online.
We encourage you to make contact with a possible supervisor before applying. They welcome being approached by prospective students and will be happy to discuss their current research and possibilities for future projects. Contact details for individual researchers can be found on our Research or People pages.
Please note that there is no separate form or method for applying to the CBU specifically, or to be considered for MRC studentship funding. In your application you should name the MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit as the department you wish to be considered by; the University Board of Graduate Studies will then forward your application to us. Once you have submitted your initial application, please ensure you upload all your supporting information by the required date so that your application does not automatically expire. We ask all applicants to provide a 1-2 page research proposal detailing the topic they would like to cover in their PhD, plus a CV and two references. Please provide these electronically via the University application system (i.e. do not send items directly to the Unit by post or email, as we are not permitted to accept applications directly).
Full details of the application process are given on the Postgraduate Admissions website.
We prefer all CBU students to begin their course at the beginning of Michaelmas term in October, as we run various induction events and postgraduate training seminars for the first year students at the beginning of Michaelmas term. On rare occasions, we have permitted deferrals with a later start, but this cannot be guaranteed and is subject to discussion with the Unit.
In addition to being a member of the University and also the department (in this case, CBU), all Cambridge postgraduates will also be a member of a Cambridge College. Further information about selecting a college can be found below.
If you need any further information please contact grad-admin @ mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk (without the spaces).
Eligibility for admission to the University
Competition for admission to postgraduate programmes at the University of Cambridge is intense, and the CBU, ike all departments, requires its postgraduate entrants to have:
- at least a good 2.1 in an Honours degree or equivalent (eg CGPA 3.5/4.0) in a relevant subject
- two outstanding references from senior University staff at your most recent University
- fluency in the English language, as described here
These minimum entry requirements are set by the University, not the CBU, and therefore not negotiable. Further details of the University’s entrance requirements can be seen here.
We welcome applications from individuals wishing to undertake a part-time PhD (5-8 years). If you wish to consider this as an option, we recommend you contact your potential supervisor directly or email us at the above address before applying. We are accustomed to making appropriate adjustments to the timing of annual review meetings, expectations, and provision of training for part-time postgraduate students.
While we have had the occasional student undertaking a one year MPhil (by research, not taught), MPhil students are in the minority at the CBU, mainly due to our limited capacity for taking students and funding options. However, if you wish to discuss this option please contact your potential supervisor directly or email us before submitting an application, as this could save you making an application with an associated fee unnecessarily.
If we shortlist you following receipt of your application, you will be invited to an interview. We hold interviews either in mid December or early January and they may be in person or via Zoom. We aim to let you know whether we have offered you a place to embark on postgraduate study at the CBU within 1 to 2 weeks of your interview.
Funding a CBU PhD (or MPhil)
An important note about self-funding: Following much careful consideration, the CBU recently adopted a policy of not allowing prospective students to self-fund. The CBU now accepts only fully-funded students. This is motivated by the CBU’s commitment to the ideals of fairness, inclusivity, and equality of opportunity. However, it is also our experience that self-funding can place both student and supervisor under considerable strain with the potential to seriously impact wellbeing.
An offer of a place to undertake postgraduate training with us and being offered funding are independent processes. That is, successfully receiving an offer of a place unfortunately does not guarantee funding. To take up your place at the CBU, you will need to be successful awarded a minimum of 3 years of funding that covers university and college fees, as well as a maintenance stipend.
Relatedly, if we make you an offer of a place to study towards a PhD or MPhil, we will consider you for all funding schemes that are available to us and that you are eligible for. These include our MRC-funded studentships (see MRC eligibility details), which pay all university and college fees, plus maintenance stipend. MRC-funded studentships tend to run for four years, while other funding options may vary in duration (i.e. for 3, 3.5, 4, or on occasion, more than 4 years).
Assuming you have indicated in your application that you wish to be considered for the relevant funds, we will also nominate you for these funds as part of the University postgraduate funding competition. This includes Gates, ESRC, Cambridge Trust, Cambridge Colleges, and other funds. It is worth noting that in our experience, there are fewer sources of funding available for MPhil than for PhD degrees.
The upside is that across the University in 2020, 74% of new PhD students and 26% of new Masters students were awarded either full or partial. You can find out about a range of funding opportunities from across the collegiate University using the University’s Student Funding Search. For more information about funding sources outside the University, please see the External Funding Page.
Once we have nominated you for funding, decisions are out of our hands. You are not likely to hear about funding until March at the earliest, and possibly as late as June (or sometimes even July). As the University funding rounds are highly competitive, we always recommend that you seek out and apply for any additional funds that could support your PhD (e.g. funds from your home country’s government or a charity). In such instances, please let us know if there is anything we can do to assist with this process.
Applying via the MRC iCASE route
It is worth noting that the MRC iCASE provides another route to securing funding for a PhD. As this competition is run independently from the standard route described above, we recommend that any indiviual applying for an MRC iCASE award also applies through the standard route. With a start of October 2022, five Industrial MRC iCASE studentships will be available for doctoral study at Cambridge. These studentships allow postgraduate research students to receive high quality research training, while additionally benefitting from working closely with an industrial partner. These collaborations will provide MRC iCASE students with unique technical and transferable skills, as well as insight into how commercial science is conducted and into entrepreneurial opportunities. The way it works is that the industry partner specifies a research project they consider important and provides a placement for the student of at least 3 months on their premises. Projects for MRC iCASE studentships will be advertised in Oct 2021 and are fully-funded for four years with a stipend of £18,000 per annum. They include all course fees plus a research training support grant and can be based in either the School of Clinical Medicine or School of Biological Science. The deadline for applying via this route is the same as that for the standard route.
Membership of the University of Cambridge
Students at the CBU are registered as PhD candidates at the University of Cambridge and are required to fulfil the admissions requirements of the University. Information about fees, funding, the application process and more (including for overseas students) can be found on the Postgraduate Admissions page, where there are answers to many frequently asked questions and a Contact Form to facilitate inquiries to the Admissions Office. Students will initially be registered as ‘probationary’ PhD students (referred to in the Student Registry and in CamSIS as ‘Not at first registered’), and students are only fully registered for their PhD upon satisfactory completion of their first year of study, assessed via a first year review meeting typically held in June of the student’s first year.
You become a member of the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine which oversees the progress of your research and offers additional facilities and courses. While carrying out your research you are able to enjoy all the advantages of the University facilities and the collegiate system. There are substantial contacts with other experimental, clinical and neuroscience groups in the University of Cambridge, including the Departments of Psychology, Neurology, and Psychiatry, and the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre (WBIC) at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Our postgraduate program
To find out more about our postgraduate program and individuals who have been offered a place, please have a look here.
Choosing a Cambridge College
Cambridge colleges are where many students live – particularly undergraduates, but also postgraduates, especially in their first year. Each College has its own dining hall, library, chapel, choir, gardens, rowing team, and social events. The latter are often run by the MCR (Middle Combination Room), or ‘student body’ for postgraduate students. The CBU is also very sociable, but Cambridge colleges provide a special opportunity to meet a wide range of individuals with different backgrounds and from different subjects and disciplines. You will need to make College selections at the time of making your application. We highly recommend this page for general information about Cambridge college experiences. We have also surveyed CBU postgraduate students about their own personal experiences of the different Cambridge colleges.
Of the 31 colleges, our postgraduates are members of the following: Clare, Clare Hall, Corpus Christi, Darwin, Downing, Fitzwilliam, Gonville and Caius, Homerton, Hughes Hall, Jesus, King’s, Magdalene, Murray Edwards, Newnham, Pembroke, Queens’, St Catherine’s, St Edmund’s, St John’s, Trinity, Trinity Hall, and Wolfson.
In a recent survey, our postgraduates asked the following questions:
• Can you provide a summary of your experience at your college?
• Does your college provide any sort of 4th year funding (for students who have 3 years of funding for their PhD, or write up funding?
• Please indicate other types of funding your college offers
• Does your college provide accommodation for family/partners/students with children?
• Does your college provide a nursery or other childcare facilities?
• Can you say anything else about your college experience and/or available support and funding.
While we hope the summary of our students’ responses below will give you an indication of what the different colleges are like, ultimately, your choice of college will depend on the things that are most important to you. Some of the things you might consider could be how traditional, liberal, relaxed, old or beautiful a college is, whether a college is for postgraduates or women only, whether a college is wealthy (and how generous it can be with its funds), where a college is located (is it central, or a bit further out of town? though even the furthest colleges are always within a 15-20 minute cycle ride to the Unit and town), how good a college’s rowing team is, whether a college has accommodation for graduate students (and indeed, whether that accommodation is in the main college grounds, or more remote, and whether there is accommodation for postgraduate students – amongst many other things.
But first, a few notes:
• ‘Hardship’ funding is typically offered to help with unexpected challenges rather than with things that would ordinarily be covered by a studentship stipend.
• If there is no indication that a particular college has e.g. accommodation for students with children, this does not necessarily mean that college doesn’t have such accommodation but that the individuals completing the survey may not have known.
• Some of our students have 4 years of funding when beginning their PhD, whereas others have 3. Where there is mention of 4th year funding below, this is because respondents were asked to comment on whether their college has any funds towards a 4th year in students with 3 years of funding.
• The details below may change.
Clare: happy to be a member, older college and so some quaint and antiquated rules, but very welcoming and supportive/reasonable administration nonetheless. Funding: not sure about 4th year funding but there is hardship funding, as well as funding for academic/professional development/conferences, book supplies, laptop costs, international exchange rates, language courses, and disability support. Accommodation: Yes, including for students with partners. Childcare: no.
Clare Hall: friendly, accessible, egalitarian/open to student views, organises social events that facilitate student-fellow interaction. Funding: no 4th year funding, but hardship funding and funding for academic/professional development/conferences and book supplies, laptop costs etc are available. Accommodation: available for approximately half of students, as well as for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
Corpus Christi: big, nice campus in West Cambridge and nice accommodation. Funding: up to 2 additional terms of funding for a 4th year for at least some students, as well as hardship funding. Accommodation: available for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
Darwin: great experience, atmosphere, and bar, fabulous students, excellent community. Funding: not one of the wealthier colleges, funding limited – no funding towards a 4th year but some hardship funding up to £300 and some funding for academic/conference/professional development. Accommodation: yes, including for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
Fitzwilliam: very relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere with wide variety of events organised for postgraduates, including those with young families. Not one of the wealthier Cambridge colleges, and so communal facilities modest. Housing fine and comparable to other colleges. Funding: funding occasionally granted for first term of the 4th year or subject-specific awards that could be used towards a 4th year, as well as modest hardship funding. Accommodation: available for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
Homerton: very fond of Homerton, homely surroundings, friendly staff and MCR, one of the largest postgraduate communities, beautiful old buildings but also great/modern and relatively inexpensive accommodation with ensuite facilities. Further from town than other colleges (which also has benefits) but close to the train station and CBU (5 minute cycle. Funding: none for a 4th year, but hardship funding, funding for academic/professional development/conferences, disability support funds, and travel grants are available, as is academic excellence and subject-specific funding, and funding for language courses. Accommodation: typically guaranteed for students in all PhD years, modern and relatively inexpensive accommodation with ensuites; also available for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
Hughes Hall: very nice and comfortable college with good support and community spirit and helpful and responsive staff. Students are either postgraduate or mature undergraduate students. Accommodation varies and done by lottery, but most is good, well furnished, renovated. College cat named Charlie, small gym, table tennis, close to dynamic Mill Road, Parker’s Piece, and several gyms. Funding: not sure about 4th year funding, but does have hardship funding, academic/professional development/conference funding, academic excellence funding, varsity sport support, and thesis binding support. Accommodation: not sure. Childcare: no.
King’s: central location, and nice, helpful and receptive staff. Funding: subject-specific funds that can be used towards a 4th year, as well as hardship funding and non-academic funds that can be used for e.g. outreach projects and public engagement. Accommodation: available for students with partners. Childcare: no.
Murray Edwards: relatively new women’s college, lovely community with very relaxed feel (can walk on grass, for instance, and encouraged to pick flowers/vegetables). Home to Europe’s largest art collection by women artists which is displayed around college. Further from town (5 minutes) and the CBU (15 minutes) than some other colleges, optional but free weekly formal halls for postgraduate students, pay as you go optional dining at other times and on other days though postgraduates pay £80 per term ‘overhead’ fee, even if not living in college accommodation. Funding: less wealthy than other colleges so no funding for 4th year though there are some small travel grants, hardship funds, and funds for academic/professional development/conferences, parental leave/child support, and academic needs (i.e. books, laptops etc). Childcare: no.
Pembroke: beautiful college, very friendly atmosphere among postgraduate students, food usually good, can live in college in first year, and accommodation is guaranteed in subsequent years but not always highest quality. Funding: usnure about 4th year funding, though there is hardship funding, academic/professional development/conference funding, academic excellence funding, and some other awards. Accommodation: available for students with partners. Childcare: no.
Robinson: good location for CBU, less wealthy than many colleges. Funding: has some funds that can be used towards a 4th year though usually for just a month, as well as hardship, academic/professional development/conference funding, and language course funding. Accommodation: available for students with partners. Childcare: no.
St Catherine’s: small, fairly friendly college with helpful staff and supportive Graduate Tutors. Funding: not one of the wealthier colleges and so not sure about 4th year funding, but hardship funding and funding for academic/professional development/conferences are available, as well as funding for language courses. Accommodation: available for students with partners. Childcare: no.
St Edmund’s: diverse and mature college, supportive tutorial office, open to suggestions, involved with student body. Funding: not one of the wealthier colleges but might be possible to obtain some limited funding towards the 1st term of the 4th year; also hardship funding and funding for academic/professional development/conferences and language courses available. Accommodation: available, including for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
St John’s: absolutely lovely, very supportive, good-sized college. Funding: available for first term of 4th year, as well as subject-specific awards that can be used toward 4th year funding, as well as hardship funding, academic/professional development/conference funding, parental leave/child support funds, book supplies/laptop funds, academic excellence funding, international exchange funds, language course funding – as well as a termly allowance for buying equipment or paying for conferences. Accommodation: available for students with partners and with children. Childcare: no.
Trinity Hall: limited experience of Trinity Hall due to living out of college and not being very involved in college activities, but have enjoyed formal dinners and rowing team very welcome and great way to meet other college members. Funding: limited knowledge of Trinity Hall funding, and so not sure about 4th year funding, but does offer hardship funding, academic/professional development/conference funding, academic excellence funding, and language course funding. Accommodation: may be more limited than other colleges. Childcare: no.
Last but not least, for a more informal sense of what it is like to be a postgraduate at the CBU, we recommend our student testimonials