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Graduate School of Life Sciences

An inspiring educational experience in a unique environment

Studying at Cambridge


Research Degrees

PhD Programmes

The PhD Degree is the principal research degree offered in Life Sciences and the majority of our students are registered for this degree. All our departments and University Partner Institutions offer the PhD by full-time study and most also welcome applications for the part-time degree.

Information on degree programmes offered by Departments and Institutions can be found here. Also, consult our research database for details of our research themes and principal investigators

PhD students undertake a period of supervised research and write and submit a thesis for examination. Students also attend relevant lectures and seminars and participate in skills development activities. Students are provisionally registered for the first year of study and are assessed at the end of their first year for transfer to full registration.

Integrated 1+3 PhD Programmes

The 1+3 PhD Programmes have a 'Masters + PhD' structure; the Masters year aims to deliver research experience and training to prepare students for PhD research in a topic related to the course theme.

Several departments contribute projects and teaching to the course to give students a wide range of opportunities and experience. The first year of a 1+3 programme normally involves:

  • rotation between laboratories of two or three contributing supervisors to gain experience of different aspects of the theme and working environments;
  • attendance at lectures and seminars, training in research methods and transferable skills;
  • developing a doctoral research proposal.

The masters training offered as part of these programmes cannot be applied for separately for a stand-alone one-year degree.

These programmes are available by full-time study only and entrance is offered in October only.

Fully-funded places are limited in number and competition for these can be intense.

1+3 courses are offered in the following areas:

A variant on the above 1+3 pattern is offered in the following four-year programmes:

MPhil by Research

The MPhil programmes offer one year of full-time research (or two years part-time research) followed by submission and examination of a research thesis. Taught MPhils are also available. MPhils by Research are available in almost all Departments and University Partner Institutions in the Graduate School. Details which Departments and Institutions offer MPhil degrees can be found on the Departments webpage. Details of eligibility and availability can be found on the relevant Department or Institution website.

There are no taught elements in MPhils examined by thesis, but all candidates are expected to take part in the Graduate School's skills training programme.

The MPhil by thesis is most commonly taken as a stand-alone research degree by candidates with only one year of funding or who can fit two years of part-time study into their professional training or employment. If this course is taken as part of a route to the PhD a further three years of study and funding are required as well as satisfactory performance in the MPhil. The PhD project may draw on the topic of the MPhil, but the same work cannot be presented for both degrees.

MPhil students can also apply to upgrade to a PhD degree.

Doctor of Medicine

The MD degree is a doctorate awarded to clinicians who have undertaken an extended period of scientific research. It provides an opportunity for doctors to receive recognition of research achievement within an approved academic programme.

The MD programme, on a par academically with the PhD, spans a maximum of six years, allowing candidates to undertake their research alongside clinical or other responsibilities, at the end of which their dissertation is examined by viva. Those candidates working in Cambridge will be assigned a University supervisor and become registered students of the University and members of a College. Those candidates intending to work at an institution outside Cambridge must already hold a Cambridge degree and must apply to take the MD by Special Regulations. Further information can be found here.

PhD by Special Regulations

The PhD may be awarded under the Special Regulations for published works submitted as part of a coherent corpus of research and examined in an oral, in the same way as for a PhD by the standard route. The candidate does not register as a student, nor have to observe the usual residence and attendance requirements that apply to students, nor pay the usual student fee.

The application is initially scrutinised by an assessor to judge whether or not the submission is suitable for examination; an examination fee is charged, part of which is refunded if the examination concludes at this preliminary stage.

This option is open only to graduates who are

  • either of not less than six years' standing from graduating from their first degree of the University of Cambridge
  • or of not less than six years' standing from graduating from their first degree of some other university and have been admitted to some office in the University, or to a Headship or a Fellowship of a College, and have been admitted to the degree of Master of Arts under Statute B, III, 6 or to a degree of the University by incorporation.

Full details of the PhD by the Special Regulations and how to apply are found on the Board of Graduate Studies' website.

Welcome to the Graduate School of Life Sciences

We are the largest centre for research and professional training in the Life Sciences in the UK, offering a very special experience to a community of around 2000 graduate students across departments within the School of the Biological Sciences, School of Clinical Medicine and eleven University Partner Institutes in the Cambridge area.

Every year some of the world's brightest and most determined students are attracted by the opportunity to carry out research projects with renowned scientists in a vibrant, multidisciplinary environment at one of the world's most respected research-led universities.

The School co-ordinates funding opportunities within the Life Sciences for their postgraduate education, as well as ensuring students receive the highest quality supervision and training.