Biology (MPhil / PhD)

Year of entry

2017

Start date

October 2017, January 2018 or April 2018

Status

Fully Approved

Duration

Up to four years full-time or seven years part-time

Attendance

Regular meetings with your supervisor(s)

Other entry years for this course

2018

An MPhil/PhD is an advanced postgraduate research degree that requires original research and the submission of a substantial dissertation of 60,000 to 100,000 words. At Birkbeck, you are initially registered on an MPhil and you upgrade to a PhD after satisfactory progress in the first year or two. You need to find a suitable academic supervisor at Birkbeck, who can offer the requisite expertise to guide and support you through your research. Find out more about undertaking a research degree at Birkbeck.

As a PhD student in the Department of Biological Sciences, you will become part of a rich research environment at Birkbeck and University College London. The department is also part of a multidisciplinary centre for world-class research, the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB), which seeks to integrate techniques from the chemical and physical sciences to provide insight into the molecular basis of biological processes.

In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), in a joint submission with UCL, Biological Sciences at Birkbeck were ranked 11th in the UK, with a research environment supporting world-leading and internationally excellent research. Our academic staff have many years of experience in teaching both part-time and full-time research students and offer internationally recognised expertise in the following key areas of research:

  • structural biology
  • microbiology
  • computational biology
  • chemical biology
  • cell biology
  • biophysics
  • biology (organismal).
Read more

Highlights

Book an open evening Order a prospectus Contact us
  • Entry Requirements We welcome a wide range of qualifications, from the UK and abroad, and we will also consider your non-academic achievements.

    Entry requirements

    Candidates must usually achieve a minimum upper-second class (2:1) UK honours degree (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject.

    International entry requirements

    If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, our usual requirement is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests.

    If you don't meet the minimum IELTS requirement, we offer pre-sessional English courses, foundation programmes and language support services to help you improve your English language skills and get your place at Birkbeck.

    Visit the International section of our website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

  • Fees We are committed to doing everything we can to help you finance your studies.

    Fees

    Part-time home/EU students: £ 2226 pa
    Full-time home/EU students: £ 4195 pa
    Part-time overseas students: £ 6050 pa
    Full-time overseas students: £ 11995 pa

    Fees and finance

    Flexible finance: pay your fees in monthly instalments at no extra cost. Enrol early to spread your costs and reduce your monthly payments.

    Fees discounts: If you are a member of a union that is recognised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), you may apply for a 10% discount off your tuition fees.

    As part of the Institute for Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) the Department of Biological Sciences attracts funding for PhD studentships that ensure researchers of the highest standard can pursue their research with us. Each year we invite applications for fully funded PhD studentships provided by the BBSRC, MRC, Wellcome Trust and others. Please note that applicants for studentships must be able to satisfy specific eligibility requirements in relation to qualifications and residency. Information about funded PhD opportunities within the department is available on the Department of Biological Sciences website.

    Find out more about other research funding opportunities at Birkbeck (including the School of Science).

  • Our Research Culture Birkbeck is a world-leading research university with a vibrant, interdisciplinary research culture and a welcoming, supportive community of researchers.

    Our Research Culture

    Our department has excellent computing facilities and infrastructure, including large clusters supported by three full-time computer management staff. Through the ISMB staff, students are able to access a still wider range of equipment on the UCL campus, including protein nanoelectrospray, mass spectrometry and protein NMR.

    Training and methodology

    Studying for a PhD will provide you with opportunities to make your own research discoveries within the research-intensive environment of the ISMB. You will receive guidance from your project supervisor, from the PhD Graduate Committee, and from other members of the academic staff as you carry out your research and your progress is assessed.

    PhD students are assessed throughout their studies and are required to meet specific assessment milestones, which include written reports, oral and poster presentations, essays and vivas. The assessment process ensures that you will have the opportunity to develop your eventual thesis, and that guidance and improvement can be provided to you throughout your studies. Once submitted, assessment of the thesis includes an oral viva.

    Please note that laboratory-based research usually requires a full-time commitment. Part-time research is not feasible for many laboratory-based projects. Where appropriate, part-time students may carry out some of their research at their place of work.

    We provide a wide range of courses catering specifically for the training needs of research students. This training includes a formal programme of lectures on graduate studies (Science in the Real World), transferable skills and modern techniques.

    We run lecture courses which are especially relevant to PhD students in particular research areas (including a series on the Principles and Practice of Structural Biology and an advanced lecture series). You are also encouraged to attend any appropriate lectures from our departmental MSc programmes and distance learning courses, subject to approval by your supervisor. Depending on your chosen supervisor and research project you may have the opportunity to attend and contribute to research laboratory group meetings, or to attend external conferences.

    PhD student experience

    Activities that will further enhance your scientific experience include: a biennial retreat; a biennial symposium; an annual graduate symposium; weekly 'Friday Wrap' meetings where postdocs and senior PhD students present their latest work; and a series of joint ISMB seminars that take place throughout term-time. There are other seminar opportunities in the numerous surrounding research institutes, and skills training opportunities including careers days.

    Read more about our vibrant research culture.

    ISMB joint PhD programmes

    Students on the ISMB joint PhD programmes attend courses during their first year, which provide the opportunity for them to broaden theoretical and practical knowledge in structural, computational and chemical biology. They also carry out interdisciplinary laboratory rotations in structural, computational and chemical biology, and gain research expertise in participating departments outside Birkbeck.

    Find out more about our departmental resources and resources at the ISMB.

  • How to apply Once you've found the course that's right for you, here's what to do next to get your place at Birkbeck.

    How to apply

    You apply directly to Birkbeck for this course, using the online application link. Our guidelines for prospective PhD applicants provide an overview of the PhD application process and answer some frequently asked questions. Applicants with any queries should contact the PhD administrator in the first instance.

    You should consider the research interests of the department’s academic staff. On your application form, you should include the names of members of the academic staff and their projects that you are most interested in.

    PhD admissions are considered by the PhD Graduate Committee, which is made up of four members of academic staff.

    Application deadlines and interviews

    If you have secured your own PhD funding, you can apply at any time during the year. PhD students usually begin their studies at the beginning of the Autumn Term (in late September or early October), or at the start of the Spring Term (in January).

    Applications for the interdisciplinary Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) PhD studentships must be received by the deadlines specified each year (see the ISMB website for more information).

    The closing dates for any additional PhD studentships available will be stated along with the details advertised.

  • Finding a supervisor Finding the right supervisor for your research is important: we offer supervision in over 40 subject areas and in interdisciplinary combinations.

    Finding a supervisor

    A critical factor when applying for postgraduate study in biological sciences is the correlation between the applicant’s intellectual and research interests and those of one or more potential supervisors within the department.

    Find out more about the research interests of our academic staff:

    Structural biology

    Microbiology

    • Dr Sanjib Bhakta, BSc, MSc, PhD, DPhil: structure, function, inhibition and regulation of key enzymes in different metabolic pathways to validate novel therapeutic targets in mycobacteria; understanding molecular mechanisms of persistence and drug resistance in M. tuberculosis; developing high throughput methods and models for evaluating antimycobacterials and repurposing drugs for new anti-TB treatment.
    • Dr Filipe Cabreiro, MSc, PhD: metabolic disease and metabolism in mammalian and nematode model organisms; host-microbe interactions; ageing.
    • Professor Nicholas Keep, BA, MA, PhD: protein crystallography; proteins implicated in muscular dystrophy; bacterial resuscitation, particularly tuberculosis.
    • Dr Philip Lowden, BA, PhD: chemistry, genetics and enzymology of natural product biosynthesis in bacteria and fungi; medicinal chemistry of Huntington's Disease; chemical studies of post-translational protein modifications.
    • Dr Andrew Osborne, BSc, PhD: the molecular mechanism of protein export by the malaria parasite.
    • Dr Vitor Pinheiro, MA, MSci, PhD: synthetic biology; directed evolution; synthetic nucleic acids (XNA); DNA polymerases; genetic orthogonality; tRNA synthetases; semantic orthogonality; rewriting the natural genetic code; metabolism engineering; novel bioactive compounds.
    • Dr Renos Savva, BSc, PhD: virus-host interactions: protein-protein and protein-nucleic acid; recombinant methods development and structural molecular biology.
    • Professor Gabriel Waksman, PhD, FMedSci, FRS: structural and functional biology of bacterial secretion systems.

    Computational biology

    • Dr Paul M. King, BA, DPhil: computer simulation; computer-aided drug design.
    • Dr Irilenia Nobeli, BSc, MSc, PhD: analysis of human and bacterial transcriptomes using next-generation sequencing data; computational studies of regulatory RNAs; bioinformatics, chemoinformatics and molecular simulations applied to molecular recognition and drug design.
    • Dr Adrian Shepherd, BA, MSc, PhD: immunoinformatics: vaccine design, virus-host interactions, immune responses to protein therapeutics; biomedical text mining.
    • Dr Katherine C. Thompson, MA, DPhil: soft matter; neutron and X-ray reflection; spectroscopy; kinetics and computational biological chemistry.
    • Dr Maya Topf, BSc, MSc, DPhil: development of modelling and simulation approaches for structural and functional characterisation of macromolecular assemblies; applications to viral and bacterial complexes;  modelling of membrane proteins; protein interaction networks.
    • Dr Mark A. Williams, BSc, PhDprotein-ligand interactions and dynamics by NMR; microcalorimetry; molecular simulation approaches to biomolecular thermodynamics.

    Chemical biology

    • Dr Sanjib Bhakta, BSc, MSc, PhD, DPhil: structure, function, inhibition and regulation of key enzymes in different metabolic pathways to validate novel therapeutic targets in mycobacteria; understanding molecular mechanisms of persistence and drug resistance in M. tuberculosiamas; developing high throughput methods and models for evaluating antimycobacterials and repurposing drugs for new anti-TB treatment.
    • Dr Paul M. King, BA, DPhil: computer simulation; computer-aided drug design.
    • Dr Philip Lowden, BA, PhD: chemistry, genetics and enzymology of natural product biosynthesis in bacteria and fungi; medicinal chemistry of Huntington's Disease; chemical studies of post-translational protein modifications.
    • Dr Amandine Marechal, MSc, PhD: reaction mechanism of enzyme catalysis with emphasis on mitochondrial electron transfer chains and protonmotive cytochrome c oxidase; FTIR spectroscopy.
    • Professor Neil Q. McDonald, BSc, PhD: molecular mechanisms controlling growth factor-mediated signalling pathways.
    • Dr Marianne Odlyha, BA, BSc, MSc, PhD: environmental research for assessment of indoor conditions surrounding cultural materials and damage assessment of (macro to nanoscale) biomaterials.
    • Dr Vitor Pinheiro, MA, MSci, PhD: synthetic biology; directed evolution; synthetic nucleic acids (XNA); DNA polymerases; genetic orthogonality; tRNA synthetases; semantic orthogonality; rewriting the natural genetic code; metabolism engineering; novel bioactive compounds.
    • Dr Jonathan M. Slater, BSc, PhD, CChem, MRSC: electrochemistry, including sensors and sensor arrays; microfabrication and capillary electrophoresis.
    • Dr Katherine C. Thompson, MA, DPhil: soft matter, neutron and X-ray reflection, spectroscopy, kinetics and computational biological chemistry.
    • Dr Salvador Tomas, BSc, PhD: intermolecular interactions and applications towards molecular nano-engineering; molecular phenomena at lipid bilayars and implications in cellular regulation; design of nano- and micro-compartmentalised systems as a tool for drug development; studies on the origin of life; design of minimal artificial cells.

    Cell biology

    • Dr Emmanuel Boucrot, BSc, PhD: dissecting molecular mechanisms of intracellular membrane trafficking during cell regeneration, cell migration and bacterial infection, and understanding their perturbations during ageing and some cancers.
    • Dr Andrew Osborne, BSc, PhD: the molecular mechanism of protein export by the malaria parasite.
    • Dr Richard C. Rayne, BSc, PhD: physiology of insects: neurobiology (peptidergic signalling) and immunology (cell-mediated defences).
    • Professor Helen R. Saibil, BSc, PhD, FMedSci, FRS: molecular chaperones, protein folding, misfolding and disaggregation of aggregates; membrane pore-forming proteins; 3-dimensional electron microscopy of molecular and cellular structures.

    Biophysics

    • Dr Tracey Barrett, BSc, DPhil: protein crystallography; eukaryotic and bacterial DNA repair mechanisms; eukaryotic homologous recombination targets; NK-kB signalling.
    • Dr Alan Lowe, MBiochem, PhD: biophysics; single-molecule biophysics; super-resolution optical microscopy; live-cell imaging; nucleocytoplasmic transport.
    • Dr Amandine Marechal, MSc, PhD: reaction mechanism of enzyme catalysis with emphasis on mitochondrial electron transfer chains and protonmotive cytochrome c oxidase; FTIR spectroscopy.
    • Dr Carolyn A. Moores, BA, PhD: structure and function of the cytoskeleton; electron microscopy.
    • Dr Marianne Odlyha, BA, BSc, MSc, PhD: environmental research for assessment of indoor conditions surrounding cultural materials and damage assessment of (macro to nanoscale) biomaterials.
    • Professor Elena Orlova, BSc, MRes, PhD: structural electron microscopy; portal proteins; ion channels; proteins involved in control of chromosomal replication.
    • Dr Anthony Roberts, BSc, PhD: mechanisms by which molecules are spatially organised within living cells. A main focus is on dynein, a large but poorly understood motor protein that uses ATP hydrolysis to transport cellular components and signals along microtubules.
    • Dr Konstantinos Thalassinos, BSc, MRes, PhD: biological mass spectrometry; ion mobility mass spectrometry; protein dynamics; mass spectrometry software development.
    • Dr Salvador Tomas, BSc, PhD: intermolecular interactions and applications towards molecular nano-engineering; molecular phenomena at lipid bilayars and implications in cellular regulation; design of nano- and micro-compartmentalised systems as a tool for drug development; studies on the origin of life; design of minimal artificial cells.
    • Professor Bonnie A. Wallace, BS, MPhil, PhD, DSc: membrane proteins; intrinsically disordered proteins, ion channels, circular dichroism spectroscopy and bioinformatics.
    • Dr Mark A. Williams, BSc, PhD: protein-ligand interactions and dynamics by NMR; microcalorimetry; molecular simulation approaches to biomolecular thermodynamics.
    • Dr Giulia Zanetti, PhD: structural biology of membrane trafficking and coat protein complexes; cryo-EM and cryo-tomography.

    Biology (organismal)

Visit the Department of Biological Sciences