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.
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.
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 exiting career in academia or industry. Apply to join our pool of exceptional students from around the globe.
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, Medicine, Psychology, Physics, Maths or Computer Science) at a minimum of upper second-class UK Bachelor’s level or overseas equivalent.
How to apply
Applications for 2019 are now closed; applications for 2020 open in September 2019. Please sign up for our PhD alert to receive updates.
To apply, visit UCL's applications page, select the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre as the department, and click the 'Apply now' button corresponding to the programme code RRDSWCSING01 and the upcoming academic year.
Please complete the online application form and upload:
- A current CV;
- Transcripts or qualification certificates and, if available, GRE scores;
- A 1,000 word essay focusing on what you see as a key, unanswered question in neuroscience. Please discuss why you are interested in this question, how you would approach its solution, and what impact finding a solution would have for our understanding of the brain.
Please ensure your given referees are able to provide a reference by the deadline.
We will use the email address given in your application for correspondence so make sure that you will still have access to it at the start of the next academic year.
- Your 1000-word essay can be uploaded under ‘personal statement’.
- The 1000-word essay serves as both personal statement and research statement. It is not necessary to upload a separate research statement.
- You may include illustrations in your essay if it adds clarity.
- Literature references are not included in the 1000-word cap.
- You do not need name a supervisor on the application form - students in the Programme select a supervisor at the end of the first year.
- A degree in medicine or psychology can be a suitable background if you fulfill our other criteria.
- We accept these English language certifications as evidence of adequate English proficiency.
- Neither the GRE nor the GMAT is a prerequisite.
For queries about the SWC PhD Programme or the application process, please contact us at SWC-PhDprogramme@ucl.ac.uk.
If you would like to be kept up to date with our application opening and closing dates please sign up to our PhD alert.
The SWC PhD is a four-year programme. Below is a short overview of each year.
The first year is centered around courses - Boot Camp, Systems Neuroscience and Theoretical Neuroscience, Experimental Neuroscience, Neural Data Modelling - and rotations.
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.
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.
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.
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 Akrami, Group Leader, SWC, UCL
Tiago Branco, Group Leader, SWC, UCL
Neil Burgess, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, Space and Memory Group Leader, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL
Claudia Clopath, Reader in Computational Neuroscience, Department of Bioengineering, Faculty of Engineering, Imperial College
Sonja Hofer, Associate Professor in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, SWC, UCL
Quentin Huys, Senior Clinical Lecturer, Max Planck Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, UCL
Yoh Isogai, Group Leader, SWC, UCL
Adam Kampff, Group Leader, SWC, UCL
Peter Latham, Professor of Theoretical Neuroscience, Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL
Troy Margrie, Professor of Systems Neuroscience, Associate Director, SWC, UCL
Christina Mazuski, Research Fellow, SWC, UCL
Tom Mrsic-Flogel, Professor in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, Director, SWC, UCL
Andrew Murray, Group Leader, SWC, UCL
Lennart Oettl, Research Fellow, SWC, UCL
John O’Keefe, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, SWC, UCL
Tom Otis, Professor of Neuroscience, Chief Scientific Officer, SWC, UCL
Maneesh Sahani, Professor of Theoretical Neuroscience and Machine Learning, Director, Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL
Marcus Stephenson-Jones, Group Leader, SWC, UCL
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
The SWC hosts a large number of events, some open to the larger community and some specific to Centre members.
- SWC Special Lectures
- SWC Annual Symposium
- SWC Seminar Series
- SWC Emerging Neuroscientists Seminar Series
- Speed Science
- Data Club
- Journal Club
- Tea Hour
- Lunch with Seminar Speakers
- 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
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.
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 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.
Students at the Centre meet regularly to discuss important scientific papers.
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.
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.
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.