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British Heart Foundation 4 year PhD

Our PhD programme provides tailored training for postgraduate students with an interest in cardiovascular sciences.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) PhD programme provides an innovative approach to doctoral training.

Six fully-funded studentships are available annually.

A unique first year

The first year of the programme differs from a traditional PhD. As one of our trainees you will experience several lab project rotations and taught modules.

This diverse first year is designed to provide you with a broad and varied research experience to help you choose the area you want to specialise in for the next three years of your PhD programme.

When you successfully complete the first year you will be awarded an MRes in Cardiovascular Sciences.

Broad, interdisciplinary approaches

The programme brings together principal investigators from across the University with world-leading expertise in the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms underpinning cardiovascular function in health and disease with translation to the clinic.

Our goal is to encourage you to take novel, interdisciplinary approaches to key research questions that enhance our understanding of cardiovascular health and disease.

We actively encourage students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds to apply for the programme. Projects are offered in a wide range of subject areas including functional physiology, cell signalling, human genetics, in vivo disease modelling, informatics, bioengineering, computer modelling, novel delivery mechanisms, omics approaches, structure-function mechanisms, regenerative medicine and imaging.

Our current BHF PhD students are active members of the research group, participating in seminars, keynote lectures, external conferences and public engagement activities.

More detail on the programme is available below. Enquiries about the programme should be emailed to the BHF PhD Programme Director, Dr Elizabeth Cartwright.


Programme structure

The BHF PhD programme will introduce you to a combination of taught and mini project research options designed to develop theoretical knowledge and practical training in a range of research methodologies and subject areas.

This ensures you develop an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to addressing key research questions.

It also enables you to make a well-informed selection of your final PhD project.

The PhD has two key components:

  • Year 1 is a foundation year leading to the award of an MRes in Cardiovascular Sciences
  • Years 2-4 comprise a three year PhD project

Year 1

The first year gives you the opportunity to develop skills in a wide range of experimental techniques and gain an appreciation of the major challenges of cardiovascular research.

It incorporates seminars, masterclasses, tutorials and three laboratory rotations.

To ensure broad training, you will select each of your mini projects from both groups of supervisors who have differing research interests and areas which employ different experimental techniques.

We also provide training in transferable scientific skills, such as effective publications, academic writing and ethics.

Research methods

The research methods course unit is an interactive blended learning unit which provides you with an introduction to key material required for the design, execution and interpretation of medical, scientific and clinically related research and the production of a high-quality dissertation.

The unit covers topics relating to critical analysis of scientific/medical research and literature; information management; study design; basic statistical analysis; ethics, fraud, plagiarism and medical and academic misconduct; presentation skills, scientific writing and publishing skills.


Our seminar unit introduces the principles of the cardiovascular system in health and disease with an emphasis on emerging technologies.

Delivered by lecture, the format is split with the first half providing background to the subject area and the second half introducing specific research questions and discussions around the various methodologies and techniques.

The focus is on three distinct areas:

  • Vascular science
  • Cardiac science
  • Bench-to-bedside translational research


The tutorials focus on developing skills in two key areas:

  • Critical evaluation – by providing the opportunity to discuss and evaluate selected research papers alongside fellow students and academics.
  • Communicating with different audiences – by hosting a debate with fellow students and academics and by presenting your research to a lay audience.

The tutorials allow you to develop discussion, debating and presentation skills, all essential for scientific and clinical researchers.

Research projects (mini projects)

All trainees carry out three independent research projects during the first year.

You will meet with our academic supervisors and discuss potential projects spanning different cardiovascular applications, techniques and approaches. With the guidance of a dedicated advisory team, you will select three projects through which you will 'rotate' in 12-week cycles.

This will provide you with an insight into different areas of cardiovascular science as well as equip you with a variety of practical skills.

Projects are offered in a wide range of subject areas including functional physiology, cell signalling, human genetics, in vivo disease modelling, informatics, bioengineering, computer modelling, novel delivery mechanisms, omics approaches, structure-function mechanisms, regenerative medicine and imaging.

You will be strongly encouraged to select projects which use different experimental techniques. The experiences of each placement will allow you to make a well-informed choice for your final PhD project (which is the focus of your final three years).

Mini projects undertaken by recent first year BHF PhD students include:

  • Atherosclerotic plaque development: the role of sphingolipids
  • A combined frailty index composed of phenotype and biochemical data correlates with loss of contractile function in a sheep model of heart failure
  • Functional characterisation of genetic variants associated with renal function and chronic kidney disease in genome-wide association studies
  • Using zebrafish to model intracerebral haemorrhage
  • Investigation of candidate genes found in GWAS regions associated with human Tetralogy of Fallot
  • INa and β-adrenergic response in rainbow trout
  • Role of PMCA4 in cardiac remodelling after myocardial infarction
  • Investigating the dyad structure and functional outcomes in an ovine model of heart failure and recovery from heart failure
  • Investigating the role of PRCP in mitochondrial processes in cardiomyocytes
  • Mechanisms of diabetic cardiomyopathy and nephropathy
  • Electrophysiological remodelling of the sinus node in humans and mice following long-term endurance training: a potential mechanism of training induced sinus bradycardia
  • Identifying common genetic variants in a cohort of Tetralogy of Fallot patients
  • The role of Apela and Apelin in diabetic retinopathy  
  • Myocardial infarction:  the effect of gender on outcome

Research project proposal and literature review

Once you have selected your final PhD project you will spend the final three months of Year 1 preparing a research project proposal detailing the key hypotheses, aims, objectives and research approaches to be taken during your PhD.

You will also prepare a comprehensive literature review of the project. This ensures that you appreciate and understand the current literature in your chosen field, have contributed to the design of the project and fully understand the experimental rationale and design.

The knowledge, experience and techniques obtained in this initial year will provide an ideal platform for you to perform cutting-edge research during your eventual PhD project.

Years 2–4

The final three years of the BHF PhD project focus on the project you have selected.

You will be strongly encouraged to have an input into the final project design and direction of your PhD.

PhD projects will be multidisciplinary and benefit from the experience of at least two academic supervisors who can bring their experience to bear on your project and support your career development.

Assessment and support

To support the development of our trainees, a combination of assessment methods are used including reports, critiques, publication style write ups and oral presentations.

You will be provided with mentoring support from the Programme Director and a personal academic adviser who acts as an independent tutor.

The adviser is invaluable in providing guidance on areas such as approaches to research, techniques, critical analysis, career development, etc. Both the Programme Director and the adviser will be directly involved in supporting you when you are selecting both your mini projects and final PhD project.

Our current trainees are also actively engaged in the wider support network, participating in the induction of new trainees, advising on project selection and providing an insight into the training experience.

Research methods

You will write an abstract to accompany a paper you are given. You will also write a short reflective piece on an ethical, research governance or data protection issue.


As part of a group of students you will choose two tutorials from a list provided. For each one the group will prepare a presentation and individually you will write a critique of the research paper. The assignments should summarise the major findings of the paper, critically evaluate these findings and put them into context given what is already known from the literature.

A third tutorial focuses on science communication and will include writing for a lay audience and debating.

Cardiovascular seminars

At the end of each seminar module (cardiac, vascular and bench-to-bedside) you will be given a title associated with each lecture. From each module you will choose one title and write a short assignment designed to help you further explore the topic.

Research placements (mini projects)

It will be important that you are able to communicate your research findings in writing. An essential skill is to be able to describe your work concisely to both an expert and the broader readership.

To develop these skills, you will write up each mini project in the form of a research paper. This is written in the format of a specified journal and you will learn how to structure reports and to keep to word and figure limits without reducing quality.

You will also deliver an oral presentation on each mini project, on which you will be given formative feedback.

PhD project (years 2-4)

The final PhD project follows the standard assessment processes of the University of Manchester with key academic milestones in place to support trainee progression.

These include literature reports, oral viva and eventual thesis examination.

All trainees undertake a training needs analysis at the start of their PhD project to establish any skills gaps and ensure suitable additional training is provided. This allows appropriate assessment and support to be integrated at every stage, which ensures you have every opportunity to excel.


Our trainees are based in the Manchester Bioscience Corridor, which comprises the Core Technology Facility (CTF), AV Hill and Smith Buildings.

This means you will be immersed in a thriving environment consisting of flexi-lab space, state-of-the-art equipment, conferencing facilities and dedicated write-up areas.

Funding and stipend

All entrants into this PhD programme receive prestigious funding through the British Heart Foundation to support their training.

Studentships cover the full MRes and PhD tuition fees at the home/EU rate, associated research expenses and an annual tax-free stipend (£19,919 based on current rates).

Exceptional candidates who qualify as international students will be considered, but must pay the extra overseas fees themselves. Evidence of available funds to cover the difference between overseas and home fees for the duration of the four year programme (~£16,000 per annum) must be provided by the application closing date.


  • Sabu Abraham, Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences
  • Stuart Allan, Professor of Neuroscience
  • Nick Ashton, Senior Lecturer in Physiology
  • Christoph Ballestrem, Senior Lecturer in Cell-Matrix Biology
  • Mark Boyett,  Professor of Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Ann Canfield, Professor of Vascular Cell Biology
  • Elizabeth Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences
  • Garth Cooper, Professor in Discovery and Experimental Medicine
  • Elizabeth Cottrell, BHF Intermediate Fellow
  • Katharine Dibb, Research Fellow / Lecturer in Cardiac Physiology
  • Halina Dobrzynski, Senior Lecturer in Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • David Eisner, BHF Professor of Cardiac Physiology
  • Gina Galli, Lecturer in Cardiac Physiology
  • Adam Greenstein, Senior Lecturer and BHF Intermediate Clinical Fellow
  • Tony Heagerty, Professor of Medicine
  • Kathryn Hentges, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Biology
  • Cathy Holt, Senior Lecturer in Vascular Biology
  • Martin Humphries, Professor of Cell-Matrix Biology
  • Karl Kadler, Professor of Biochemistry
  • Bernard Keavney, BHF Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Paul Kingston, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Ashraf Kitmitto, Reader in Cardiac Structural Biology
  • Kostas Kostarelos, Professor of Nanomedicine
  • Wei Liu, BHF Intermediate Fellow
  • Chris Miller, NIHR Clinical Lecturer
  • Mark Nelson, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine
  • William Newman, Professor of Translational Genomic Medicine
  • Anna Nicolaou, Professor of Biological Chemistry
  • Delvac Oceandy, Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences
  • Jacqueline Ohanian, Senior Lecturer in Vascular Biology
  • Adrian Parry-Jones, Senior Lecturer and NIHR Clinical Scientist
  • Emmanuel Pinteaux, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience
  • Alistair Revell, Senior Lecturer in Bio-engineering
  • Alberto Saiani, Reader in Molecular Materials and EPSRC Fellow
  • Mike Sherratt, Lecturer in Biomedicine
  • Holly Shiels, Senior Lecturer in Integrative Physiology
  • David Talavera, Lecturer in Genetics/Genomics
  • May Tassabehji, Reader in Medical Genetics
  • Maciej Tomaszewski, Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Andrew Trafford, Professor of Cardiac Pathophysiology, BHF Senior Research Fellow
  • Pippa Tyrell, Professor of Stroke Medicine
  • Tjeerd Van Staa, Professor of Health Informatics
  • Luigi Venetucci, Senior Lecturer in Cardiac Physiology
  • Joy (Xin) Wang, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Cardiology
  • Adrian Woolf, Chair in Paediatric Nephrology
  • Henggui Zhang, Professor of Biological Physics
  • Yin Zhang, Lecturer in Cardiac Electrophysiology


The BHF PhD has significant advantages over the traditional PhD structure.

  1. The four-year programme ensures that by the time you select your final project you will have gained a wider appreciation of the challenges and applications of cardiovascular research.
  2. By combining seminars, tutorials and mini-projects during the initial foundation year, you will be well equipped to make informed choices over the type of cardiovascular research you are most engaged with and wish to focus on during your PhD.
  3. The research placements are especially valuable as they allow you first-hand experience of cardiovascular science using different and varied approaches.
  4. Other advantages include:
  • seminars and tutorials allow you to gain a wider understanding of the key issues surrounding current cardiovascular research
  • tutorials provide critical analysis skills and the ability to appraise research papers
  • our mini projects allow 'taster' experience of a wide array of cardiovascular related research and techniques meaning you will be better equipped to succeed once you start your final PhD project
  • the option to select the final PhD after the foundation training means that you have a sound basis for making your selection and have already built up a strong relationship with your supervisory team
  • you will gain essential transferrable skills such as academic writing, publications, public engagement, etc, which directly support your career development.

How to apply

Applicants for the four-year programme should hold (or expect to obtain) a minimum upper-second class degree or equivalent in an associated biomedical/biological sciences subject.

Due to the nature of the funding, candidates must be UK/EU nationals.

Postgraduate Research programmes commencing in September 2017

We are pleased that the Department for Education has now confirmed that EU students applying for university places in England in 2017/18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants, and entitled to home fee status for the duration of their course, even past the point that the UK leaves the EU.

Therefore, students wishing to undertake a PGR programme will be assigned the ‘home’ fee status for the duration of their programme.

See: Funding support for EU students

Online application form

Deadline for applications (second round) is Friday, 28 April 2017, 5pm.

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents. These are:

  • A supporting statement. This should be a maximum of 1000 words summarising your motivation for PhD study and applying for the 4-year BHF programme, outlining any research experience and your career ambitions
  • Two references from people who have knowledge of your academic ability. References must be signed, dated and on headed paper. References should be accompanied by a Referee Report Form. Please ensure that your referees complete this form electronically and submit this with your application, or email it to
  • Certificates and transcripts from all your current/previous degrees
  • Official English Language transcript (IELTS or TOEFL), if applicable
  • Current Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Queries regarding the online application form can be sent to the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy Admissions Office.


Contact us

Enquiries about the programme should be emailed to the BHF PhD Programme Director.


Programme Director

Dr Elizabeth Cartwright

Application enquiries

All queries regarding the application process should be sent to the Doctoral Academy admissions team.


Alexandra Njegic, British Heart Foundation PhD student at The University of Manchester

"The programme has provided me with an excellent insight into the field of cardiovascular science and allowed me to tailor a PhD in which I have a genuine interest. In the first year you gain so much additional experience, meet new people and gain a broader knowledge in cardiovascular research."

Alexandra Njegic / British Heart Foundation PhD student