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Wellcome Trust Quantitative and Biophysical Biology

Address fundamental questions that underpin human development and offer new insights into disease.


The Wellcome Trust PhD Programme in Quantitative and Biophysical Biology will equip you with the skills needed to address fundamental questions that underpin human development and offer new insights into disease.

Key features of the WTQBB

  • You will be trained in the major questions and experimental techniques in biology, and in the application of mathematical modelling and statistical analysis.
  • All PhD projects will require an integration of theory and experimentation, involving ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ work. You will be co-supervised by a wet-lab experimentalist and theoretically trained PI.
  • Undertake joint projects between supervisors that will forge interdisciplinary links are encouraged, with the overlap in research themes providing excellent scope for collaboration.
Student working


The programme is designed to develop key theoretical knowledge in mathematics, biophysics, computation and biology, as well as laboratory research and transferable skills. 

You will share an exciting cohort experience with students with similar backgrounds. Your cohort will be immersed in an exciting programme of student-led and self-directed learning under PI guidance, in addition to extensive laboratory placements. Here you will be trained in the major questions and experimental techniques in biology, and in the application of mathematical modelling and statistical analysis.

Our team of supervisors are drawn from world-leading academics in the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health. Importantly, all PhD projects will require an integration of theory and experimentation, involving ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ work. You will be co-supervised by a wet-lab experimentalist and theoretically trained PI.

The overall structure of the programme is based on two laboratory rotations in the first year followed by a three-year PhD project.


Year 1

Rotation projects

To ensure students obtain a broad training in contemporary research methods within the first year, you will choose two rotation projects. Students will decide on rotation projects after attending a Research Showcase, during which rotation projects will be described by co-supervisory teams, and students will have time to meet potential supervisors. All projects contain mathematical or computational elements and are jointly supervised.

This will ensure you gain experience in molecular biology, biochemistry and proteomics, cell biology and tissue culture, live cell imaging and microscopy, and genomic technologies, alongside relevant mathematical and computational approaches.

You will write up each rotation in the form of a research paper, which will be assessed by the supervisors. This will provide training in writing concisely and suitably for academic publication. Students also give an oral presentation on each rotation to the pool of supervisors and students from the cohort. This will enhance the ability of the students to communicate biological and theoretical ideas.

Skills workshops

You will embark on an innovative and exciting programme of workshops. These are centred around problem-based exploratory learning, but supplemented by access to relevant MSc courses and MMath/MPhys programmes to ensure all students have a broad and secure foundation in relevant mathematical and computational techniques (ordinary, stochastic and partial differential equations; dynamic probabilistic models; parameter estimation and inference; computational biology; omics data analysis; biological modelling).

A total of 12 intensive workshops will be overseen by supervisors from the programme and based around real research questions, therefore also informing choice for the final 3-year PhD placement.


Years 2-4

PhD project

Towards the end of the first year, students submit a detailed PhD proposal based on their intended research project that has been prepared under the guidance of their PhD supervisor. The major training during years 2-4 will relate to this PhD project. Projects are co-supervised, but can either be theory-led or experimental-led.

Students produce a literature review after 3 months, and an interim project write up at the end of the first year of the PhD project.

It is expected that students should complete their research work and submit their thesis within three years of embarking on their final PhD project.

Research papers

PhD theses can now be submitted in a shorter alternative format consisting of a series of research papers if wished. 



Towards the end of the first year, students begin to select their chosen research project. Here are some example titles that previous students have undertaken.


Global dynamics of mRNA accumulation during embryonic development -  Hilary Ashe and Magnus Rattray

Setting developmental signalling levels through a network of endocytic fluxes - Martin BaronTobias Galla, Mike White

Machine learning to support the study of cell fate decision and self-organisation in mammalian embryo - Berenika Plusa and Julia Handl

Regulation of gene expression by microRNAs: buffering transcriptional noise - Sam Griffiths-Jones and Matthew Ronshaugen

Establishment of Cell Fate Heterogeneity in Embryonic Development - Shane Herbert and Pawel Paszek

The role of circadian clock genes in osteoarthritis - Jean Marc Schwartz and Qing Jun Meng 

Cell Division and the Mechanical Tissue Environment - Oliver JensenSarah WoolnerAndrew HazelMark Muldoon

Towards a mathematical understanding of fibrosis - Karl Kadler and Oliver Jensen

Quantitative analysis of the biological systems that couple inflammation and cell fate - Mark Muldoon and Michael White

Asynchronous gene expression oscillations in a multicellular environment: what are the governing rules and does a global pattern emerge? - Nancy Papalopulu and Paul Glendinning

Molecular chaperone regulation in the cellular mechano-response - Joe Swift and Simon Hubbard

Modelling how cell type specific differences in force and adhesion can lead to pattern formation - Tom Waigh

The contribution of force to mitotic spindle pole fragmentation - Sarah WoolnerOliver JensenGareth W. Jones

Testing and refining a new model for filopodial dynamics - Andreas Prokop, Thomas Waigh, Andrew Hazel 


funder signing a contract

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 WTQBB 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 WTQBB.

Key dates

Previous applicants need not apply.

  • Applications open October 2018.
  • Applications close on 31 May 2019.
  • Interviews are likely to be held in mid-June 2019.
Genetic research in the labaratory


Our students progress beyond their PhDs into a variety of positions and areas.

Typical destinations include:

  • academic fellowships (MRC, Wellcome Trust, NIHR);
  • clinical training;
  • industrial research;
  • health services consultancy and policy;
  • medical writing;
  • teaching.

Undergraduate studentship scheme

This scheme is aimed at undergraduate students who are interested in embarking on PhD studies in the summer 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, 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

The deadline for applications is Friday, 18 January 2019.



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