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Wellcome Trust Dynamics of Cellular Regulatory Networks

This 4-year PhD programme examines the activity of cellular networks during development and disease.

The Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD programme in Dynamics of Cellular Regulatory Networks (WTDCRN) offers studentships for postgraduate researchers undertaking PhDs in molecular, cellular and developmental biology projects. 

Key features of the programme

As a WTDCRN student you will benefit from:

  • Undertaking three projects in rotation during your first year, which helps inform your choice of PhD project.
  • Training in cutting-edge genomics, imaging and bioinformatics.
  • Having access to excellent on-site core facilities to support your research.
  • Having a broad scope for research topics across four major themes.
  • Unique opportunities to lead activities for undergraduates on our summer school scheme.
  • Multiple activities that foster a friendly, supportive environment for all Wellcome Trust students.
Image: vials of blood


The focus of this PhD training programme is deciphering the regulatory dynamics that control the activity of cellular networks during development and disease.

Core programme structure 

The programme has three core elements: three rotation projects, skills and technology training, and your final PhD project.

Year 1

  • Skills workshops
  • Practical courses in key technologies
  • Project rotations (3 projects)
  • PhD research project proposal

Year 2–4

  • Final PhD research project


Rotation projects

You will undertake three research projects, chosen from different training areas. This ensures you gain broad training in contemporary research methods within your first year.

Each project lasts a total of 15 weeks and is completed under the supervision of one or more of the supervisors on the programme.

Training areas

Supervisors are grouped into six core training areas, reflecting critical cutting-edge approaches:

  • cell biological;
  • computational;
  • dynamic imaging;
  • genomics and transcriptomics;
  • molecular and proteomic;
  • organismal.

Research week

Our supervisors present an overview of their research in the second week of the programme. This provides an excellent introduction to the areas of research you will choose from and, just as importantly, allows you to meet potential supervisors.

PhD proposal

Towards the end of your first year you will submit a detailed PhD proposal based on your intended research project. You will prepare this under the guidance of your PhD supervisor(s). You will then defend your proposal before the Wellcome Trust Graduate Committee. 

The rotation projects will have helped you choose the best PhD project for you by giving you experience of different topics and supervisors.

Final PhD project

You’ll begin your final PhD project in the second year. You’ll write a literature review in January, and a continuation report by July. These checkpoints will keep you on schedule to successfully deliver your thesis.

"I chose Manchester for the variety and quality of research. This University especially has a diverse range of developmental biology research, which I’m particularly passionate about."

Parnian Doostdar / WTDCRN PhD student

Projects and supervisors

You will be able to choose from a great breadth of possible projects, with over 30 supervisors and research areas available across four core themes.

Four research themes

The programme consists of four interlinked themes. These form a logical progression in understanding the synthesis, function and outputs of cellular networks during development and disease states.

The themes are:

  • Cellular dynamics and proteostasis
  • Cellular mechanisms of disease
  • Dynamic signalling systems
  • Global gene regulatory networks

You will choose your supervisor and final project from these themes. Projects that cross themes are welcomed.

Get your research published

This programme enables you to undertake innovative research projects and generate high-quality publications.

Students on the WTDCRN programme have a high rate of publications compared to those on other programmes, achieving an average of 2.5 publications per student. This is a great way to kick-start a research career.

See the list below for recent examples of our students' published papers.

Engaging with the scientific community

You will be encouraged to participate in the broader scientific community and will have regular opportunities to participate in international conferences.

You will receive funds to cover research costs and the cost of attendance at scientific meetings.


Image: pipetting in a tube.


Our doctoral students progress beyond their PhDs into a variety of positions and areas. They benefit from our commitment to developing wider skills and experience, and the breadth and quality of research they are engaged with. This, along with the strength of the final PhD projects, ensures they are in high demand.

73% of our Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD funded students who have completed their studies have gone on to postdoctoral research work. Destinations have included Harvard University, Stanford University, Imperial College, UCL, NIMR and the Crick Institute; and academic fellowships have included MRC, Wellcome Trust, NIHR.

The remainder undertake science-related employment, such as medical writing, science education, science funding, and clinical science.

Typical career destinations include: 

  • clinical training;
  • industrial research;
  • health services consultancy and policy;
  • teaching;
  • science writing.
Image: scientist in a lab


The programme is supported by the Wellcome Trust, which provides a generous stipend starting at approximately £20,000 per year – and covers UK/EU student tuition fees. Awards are available for five students each year.

The studentships are available to students from all nationalities, however students from outside the EU are required to pay the difference in the home/EU and overseas fee level. This is currently around £14,000 per year.

We may be able to offer international candidates financial support towards the additional cost of their tuition fees, therefore making a full award to cover all fees and stipend. These awards are made on a case-by-case basis to exceptional international applicants at the discretion of the management board.

Wellcome Trust funding is available only for projects as part of this programme, and is not available for self-funded projects such as those that appear in our project finder.


Making an application

We take a maximum of five students per year onto the programme, which begins at the end of September. We are looking for candidates who demonstrate academic excellence and high motivation for research.

You must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the overseas equivalent, in a relevant subject area.

If you wish to be considered for an WTDCRN PhD studentship and meet our eligibility criteria, you must complete a single online application.

Full details on eligibility and residence criteria are available on the How to apply page.

Please follow our instructions on how to apply for a WTDCRN.

Key dates

Information on our 2020 programmes will be updated in due course.

Image: Students socialising

Student support and community

We have a number of different ways of offering support to applicants and our cohort of WT PhD students.

If you have any questions regarding the Wellcome Trust 4 year PhD programme, our student ambassadors can give you help and guidance. They’re here to help you during the application stage, answer questions and offer advice about life in Manchester, accommodation and more. They’re also involved in interview days by showing potential applicants around the Faculty.

You can make direct contact with any of our current student ambassadors.


Support from the Doctoral Academy

Our Doctoral Academy represents early career researchers and will further support your development. Opportunities to share research ideas and advice are available on a national level as well as within Manchester.

We also have a graduate society you can join, which is led by students, offering both academic and social events to further support interaction and a sense of community.

A supportive research community

Peer support is an important part of PhD life as it can feel isolated to work on a focused and individual project. The nature of our lab teams and the close-knit WTDCRN student cohort will provide you with an immediate network and sense of community.

The WTDCRN students are an active cohort and social and academic events, including a programme of seminars and workshops, are frequently organised. 

Our summer school for undergraduates also provides a unique and enjoyable opportunity for our WT students.

Image: Genetic research in the labaratory

Summer school for undergraduates

This scheme is aimed at undergraduate students who are interested in the summer before embarking on PhD studies following their graduation.

Students will undertake an eight-week molecular and cell biology themed research project, between July and September. In addition, summer students will benefit from interactions with third year PhD students on the Wellcome Trust PhD programme, who will give tutorials and talks about their research. To be eligible for a placement you should:

  • be registered for a basic science degree (including mathematics and engineering);
  • have Home/EU status;
  • be expected to obtain a First or Upper Second class honours degree.

We aim to recruit 6 students each year, with preference given to undergraduate students who have just completed the penultimate year of their studies. Students will be awarded a stipend of approximately £180/week.

To apply, you will need to send a transcript of your marks to date and send a copy of your CV along with a covering letter outlining why you are interested in the scheme and what your research interests are to

Applications for 2019 entry are now closed. 

This page will be updated in due course.


Contact us

Queries regarding the application process can be sent to the Doctoral Academy Admissions Office.

Please contact the Doctoral Academy.


Tel: +44 (0)161 275 5608