Why Study at the SWC?

Our students receive a comprehensive introduction to theoretical and systems neuroscience, as well as intensive training in experimental techniques, including imaging, physiology, molecular, and behavioural methods in systems neuroscience.

Photo of two SWC students building a robot during boot camp

The Programme is taught by SWC faculty together with colleagues at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and other affiliated institutions, all experts in their respective fields.  Gatsby and SWC students overlap extensively during the Programme, building the foundations for long-lasting collaborations and friendships.

You will live and work in central London, with the highest concentration of neuroscience research in the world.

SWC students are fully funded and receive an annual stipend of £22,278, as well as funds to attend international courses or meetings. We also cover the cost of tuition fees for both home and international students.

The SWC PhD is your opportunity to receive world-class training as a neuroscientist and launch an exciting career in academia or industry. Apply  to join our pool of exceptional students from around the globe.

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Apply to the SWC PhD Programme

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Entry requirements

We are looking for candidates with a keen interest in neuroscience, coupled with an undergraduate degree in a relevant field (for example Neuroscience, Life Sciences, Physics, Maths or Computer Science) at a minimum of upper second-class UK Bachelor’s level or overseas equivalent.

We no longer accept applications for 2021, but applications for the September 2022 intake will be accepted from Monday 20 September to Monday 15 November. To find out more about the application process, please follow the “Applications” link at the top left of this page.

Contact us

For queries about the SWC PhD Programme or the application process, please contact us at SWC-PhDprogramme@ucl.ac.uk.

Programme Overview

The SWC PhD is a four-year programme. Below is a short overview of each year.

Photo of a simple robot, built by SWC students, hesitating between two balloons of different color

Year 1

The first year is centered around courses - Boot Camp, Systems Neuroscience and Theoretical Neuroscience, Experimental Neuroscience, Neural Data Modelling - and rotations.

Year 2

During the second year, students design a PhD project, select a supervisor and a thesis committee, and begin their research. They also assist with teaching the new first-year students.

Year 3

Third year students write a report and take a viva exam to upgrade from MPhil to PhD. Apart from this, the year is centered on research.

Year 4 and beyond

The last year, students complete their research and make a detailed plan for the time remaining until graduation. They write and submit their PhD thesis and sit a viva examination.

Across years

All Centre members are invited to participate in journal clubs and learning groups organised by students, post-docs and researchers. 

We also encourage students to take advantage of the wide range of transferable skills courses available through the UCL Doctoral School.


Syllabi for the first year courses Systems Neuroscience and Theoretical Neuroscience, Experimental Neuroscience, and Neural Data Modelling are below.

Photo of SWC PhD students, post-docs, and faculty observing an experiment

Systems Neuroscience and Theoretical Neuroscience

Module 1 - Systems Basics

Module Introduction All module organisers

Introduction to Theoretical Neuroscience: from Channels to Circuits Peter Latham

Voltage-Gated Channels Tiago Branco

Dendritic Integration Tiago Branco

Plasticity Troy Margrie

Module 2 - Sensory Systems

Introduction to Sensory Systems Tom Mrsic-Flogel

Perception as Signal Processing Maneesh Sahani

Perception as Inference Maneesh Sahani

Organisation of Cortical Circuits Tom Mrsic-Flogel

Abstract Representation in Sensory Systems Neil Burgess

Influence of Behaviour and Context on Sensory Processing Sonja Hofer

Module 3 - Social and Affective Systems

Module Introduction John O’Keefe

Implementation of Innate Circuits Yoh Isogai, Christina Mazuski, Lennart Oettl

Parental/Pup-Directed Behaviour Yoh Isogai

The Amygdala John O’Keefe

Defensive Behaviour Tiago Branco

Human Emotion Quentin Huys

Module 4 - Action Systems

Module Introduction Andrew Murray

Pattern Generation Peter Latham

Computational Control Maneesh Sahani

Cerebellum Tom Otis

Basal Ganglia Marcus Stephenson-Jones

Neocortex: Circuitry and Models Andrew Murray, Maneesh Sahani

Module 4 Q&A All module organisers

Module 5 - Cognitive Systems, Decision Making, and Learning

Decision-Making I: From Sensation to Action Sonja Hofer

Decision-Making II: Evidence Integration Peter Latham

Reinforcement Learning Theory Quentin Huys

Decision-making III: Learning How to Act Marcus Stephenson-Jones

Synaptic Plasticity and BCM Theory Claudia Clopath

Neuromodulation and State Changes Marcus Stephenson-Jones

Neural Correlates of Engrams and Learning Sonja Hofer

Working Memory and Cognitive Control Athena Akrami

Intelligence and Adaptive Behaviour Adam Kampff

Module 5 Q&A All module organisers


Athena AkramiGroup Leader, SWC, UCL

Tiago BrancoGroup Leader, SWC, UCL

Neil BurgessProfessor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, Space and Memory Group Leader, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL

Claudia ClopathReader in Computational Neuroscience, Department of Bioengineering, Faculty of Engineering, Imperial College

Sonja HoferAssociate Professor in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, SWC, UCL

Quentin HuysSenior Clinical Lecturer, Max Planck Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, UCL

Yoh IsogaiGroup Leader, SWC, UCL

Adam KampffGroup Leader, SWC, UCL

Peter LathamProfessor of Theoretical Neuroscience, Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL

Troy MargrieProfessor of Systems Neuroscience, Associate Director, SWC, UCL

Christina MazuskiResearch Fellow, SWC, UCL

Tom Mrsic-FlogelProfessor in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, Director, SWC, UCL

Andrew MurrayGroup Leader, SWC, UCL

Lennart OettlResearch Fellow, SWC, UCL

John O’KeefeProfessor of Cognitive Neuroscience, SWC, UCL

Tom OtisProfessor of Neuroscience, Chief Scientific Officer, SWC, UCL

Maneesh SahaniProfessor of Theoretical Neuroscience and Machine Learning, Director, Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL

Marcus Stephenson-JonesGroup Leader, SWC, UCL

Experimental Neuroscience

Photo of a SWC PhD student optimising an experiment in the Experimental Neuroscience course

Module 1 - Electrophysiology Fundamentals

Organisers: Tiago Branco, Troy Margrie

Teaching assistants: Oriol Pavon Arocas, Charly Rousseau, Vanessa Stempel, Chryssanthi Tsitoura, Mateo Velez-Fort

Module 2 - Optics and Imaging

Organisers: Sonja Hofer, Tom Mrsic-Flogel

Teaching assistants: Rob Campbell, Alex Fratzl, Francesca Greenstreet, Petr Znamenskii

Module 3 - Molecular Biology and Behaviour

Organisers: Yoh Isogai, John O’Keefe

Teaching assistants: Marius Bauza, Mathew Edwards, Christina Mazuski, Daniel Regester, Spencer Wilson

Module 4 - Optogenetics and Photometry

Organisers: Andrew Murray, Tom Otis

Teaching assistants: Emily Reader-Harris, Victoria Tung, Egzona Morina

Module 5 - From Computer Vision to Closed Loop Reinforcement

Organisers: Athena Akrami, Adam Kampff, Marcus Stephenson-Jones


Neural Data Analysis


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The SWC hosts a large number of events, some open to the larger community and some specific to Centre members. 

Open events

  • SWC Special Lectures
  • SWC Annual Symposium
  • SWC Seminar Series
  • SWC Emerging Neuroscientists Seminar Series

Internal events

  • Speed Science
  • Data Club
  • Journal Club
  • Tea Hour
  • Lunch with Seminar Speakers
  • PyClub
  • PyStarters
  • Data Analysis for the Rest of Us
SWC Special Lectures

The Centre annually invites a high profile speaker to hold a special lecture. Past invitees include Sir David Attenborough, Professor Frans de Waal, and Professor Daniel Dennett.

SWC Annual Student-Sponsored Symposium

At the beginning of each academic year, SWC and Gatsby students organize the SWC Annual Symposium. This consists of an afternoon of talks by invited speakers, followed by an evening dinner.

SWC Seminar Series

Each week sees an interesting seminar given by an internationally renowned speaker. Students have the opportunity to have lunch together with invited speakers in conjunction with the seminar.

Emerging Neuroscientists Seminar Series

This seminar series is an open competition for postdocs around the world to apply to present their work at the SWC. The aim of the series is to give exceptional early career neuroscientists an opportunity to visit London, present as part of the regular SWC seminar series and discuss their science with SWC faculty, postdocs and students. 

Speed Science

In this summer networking event, students or postdocs from each group in the building give a brief presentation on the work of their lab. Each presentation is followed by a Q&A and then further discussion over a barbeque on our rooftop terrace.

Data Club

Data Club takes place bi-weekly at lunch time and involves a member of one of our labs presenting experimental results and questions from an ongoing project.

Journal Club

Students at the Centre meet regularly to discuss important scientific papers.

Tea Hour

Taking place each Friday afternoon, the content of Tea Hour is varied and ranges from broad research talks to game nights and quizzes. Students determine the topic for at least every second Tea Hour.

PyClub and PyStarters

Initiated by post-docs and students, these learning forums are aimed at learning and sharing best practices in Python Programming between Centre members. PyClub caters to more experienced programmers and PyStarters to beginners.

Data Analysis for the Rest of Us

Like PyClub and PyStarters, the initiative for this learning group came from post-docs and students who wanted to deepen their proficiency in data analysis methods relevant to modern neuroscience. And like the former, it is also open to anyone in the building with a commitment to learn.

Support during your PhD

Doing a PhD is both exciting and challenging. To help students navigate through it all, the structure of the programme is designed to provide several sources of support, both informal and formal.

Fellow students form an inner circle for support and advice. The structure of the first year encourages students to make close connections with in-year peers from both the GCNU and the SWC programme. Together with GCNU students, SWC students have formed a PhD Student Association, which organises regular social events and meetings.

Photo of students from the Gatsby PhD programme, the Wellcome PhD programme in Neuroscience, and the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre Phd programme, socialising at an event.

The first year, through courses and events, also brings students into contact with a large majority of the Centre community. In addition to introducing students to the research going on in all the groups, this makes students feel at home and helps them start to build a network.

More formal sources of support include the PhD Programme Committee, the PhD Programme Coordinator, and our Human Resources staff. In the first year, students are encouraged to consult any of these support networks for questions related to career, academics, or pastoral care.

At the beginning of the second year, students assemble a thesis committee, which in addition to the main supervisor will have at least two more members. The thesis committee becomes an additional avenue for guidance and help.

For students wishing to discuss with someone outside of the institute, the UCL Doctoral School has a range of resources that can provide advice in many areas, from academic progress to mental health and wellbeing. To explore these services, this page is a good starting point.


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