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Biology

MPhil/PhD

Application options include:

Full-time Part-time
On campus

Course Overview

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 biology, you will become part of a rich research environment at Birkbeck and University College London. We are 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 2021 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:

  • Biology (organismal)
  • Biophysics
  • Cell biology
  • Chemical biology
  • Computational biology
  • Microbiology
  • Structural biology

Key information

Find another course:

Highlights

  • Entry Requirements Entry Requirements

    Entry Requirements

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

    English language 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.

    Visa and funding requirements

    If you are not from the UK and you do not already have residency here, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months' duration: Student visa
    • Courses of less than six months' duration: Standard Visitor visa

    International students who require a Student visa should apply for our full-time courses as these qualify for Student visa sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Student visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck's part-time courses (with the exception of some modules).

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

    Please also visit the international section of our website to find out more about relevant visa and funding requirements by country.

    Please note students receiving US Federal Aid are only able to apply for in-person, on-campus programmes which will have no elements of online study.

  • Fees Fees

    Fees

    Biology MPhil/PhD: 7 years part-time or 4 years full-time, on campus, starting in academic year 2023-24 or 2024-25

    Academic year 2023–24, starting October 2023, January 2024, April 2024

    Part-time home students: £2,500 per year
    Full-time home students: £4,712 per year
    Part-time international students: £7,165 per year
    Full-time international students: £14,175 per year

    Academic year 2024–25, starting October 2024, January 2025, April 2025

    To be confirmed

    Students are charged a tuition fee in each year of their course. Tuition fees for students continuing on their course in following years may be subject to annual inflationary increases. For more information, please see the College Fees Policy.

    If you’ve studied at Birkbeck before and successfully completed an award with us, take advantage of our Lifelong Learning Guarantee to gain a discount on the tuition fee of this course.

    Fees and finance

    PhD students resident in England can apply for government loans of over £26,000 to cover the cost of tuition fees, maintenance and other study-related costs.

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

    We offer a range of studentships and funding options to support your research.

    Discover the financial support available to you to help with your studies at Birkbeck.

    International scholarships

    We provide a range of scholarships for eligible international students, including our Global Future Scholarship. Discover if you are eligible for a scholarship.

  • Our research culture Our research culture

    Our research culture

    We have 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 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 learning resources and resources at the ISMB.

  • How to apply How to apply

    How to apply

    Follow these steps to apply to an MPhil/PhD research degree at Birkbeck:

    1. Check that you meet the entry requirements, including English language requirements, as described on this page. 

    2. Find a potential supervisor for your MPhil/PhD research. You can look at the Find a Supervisor area on this page for an overview, or search our Experts’ Database or browse our staff pages for more in-depth information. 

    3. Contact the academic member of staff - or the department they teach in - for an informal discussion about your research interests and to establish if they are willing and able to supervise your research. (Please note: finding a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission to the research degree, as this decision is made using your whole application.) Find out more about the supervisory relationship and how your supervisor will support your research.

    4. Draft a research proposal. This needs to demonstrate your knowledge of the field, the specific research questions you wish to pursue, and how your ideas will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding. Find out more about writing a research proposal.

    5. Apply directly to Birkbeck, using the online application link on this page. All research students are initially registered on an MPhil and then upgrade to a PhD after making sufficient progress.

    Find out more about the application process, writing a research proposal and the timeframe

    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 Term 1 (in late September or early October), or at the start of Term 2 (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.

    Apply for your course

    Apply for your course using the apply now button in the key information section.

  • Finding a supervisor Finding a supervisor

    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.

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

    Biology (Organismal)

    Biophysics

    Cell biology

    • Dr Brian Ho, PhD: molecular mechanisms and genetics of bacteria secretion systems and horizontal gene transfer; impact of microbial community structure on intercellular communication and competition.
    • 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.

    Chemical biology

    • Professor 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 Katherine C. Thompson, MA, DPhil: soft matter, neutron and X-ray reflection, spectroscopy, kinetics and computational biological chemistry.

    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 Katherine C. Thompson, MA, DPhil: soft matter; neutron and X-ray reflection; spectroscopy; kinetics and computational biological chemistry.

    Microbiology

    • Professor 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 Brian Ho, PhD: molecular mechanisms and genetics of bacteria secretion systems and horizontal gene transfer; impact of microbial community structure on intercellular communication and competition.
    • 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.
    • Professor Gabriel Waksman, PhD, FMedSci, FRS: structural and functional biology of bacterial secretion systems.

    Structural biology