Translational Neuroscience - Frequently Asked Questions

Translational Neuroscience - Frequently Asked Questions


Do I need a neuroscience degree to be eligible for this programme?   

No. We recognize that students often take a variety of paths to reach their ultimate career destination so we are not rigid in our degree requirements. We currently have students that have joined us from backgrounds in biomedical sciences, psychology and linguistics. If you do not have a qualification in a biomedical science subject then you will probably need to do additional reading in order to fully participate in, and benefit from, the programme. You do need a good degree though - at least a 2i BSc(Hons) or equivalent.

I’m a qualified doctor, can I join the PhD programme?   

No, unless you are no longer clinically active and do not intend to return to clinical practice. The funder (The Wellcome Trust) does not allow us to admit clinically qualified students as they have separate funding schemes for clinical PhD students.

How many people apply for the programme?  

Over the first 3 recruitment rounds of this programme we have received applications from between 180 – 200 prospective PhD students each year. We admit between 6 and 7 students so most applicants will be unsuccessful. Several disappointed applicants have, however, gone on to successfully apply to other PhD programmes and projects in Edinburgh, so they still join our research community.

Are non-UK students allowed on this PhD programme?

We are able to accept students from around the world but our funding only covers the cost of tuition fees for UK and EU citizens (but, see question below). In our first 3 recruitment rounds (a total of 562 applications) 43% of applications were from UK citizens, 38% from EU citizens, and 19%  from non UK/non-EU citizens ('overseas').  Students who are subject to ‘overseas’ tuition fee rates need to locate additional top-up fees. The University of Edinburgh has a competitive scholarship scheme – the Edinburgh Global Research Scholarship – which you can apply for once you have received a formal offer of a place on the PhD programme. Your place on the course would therefore be dependent on the success of this additional application.

Where do your current students come from?

The Translational Neuroscience PhD programme is still fairly new so our current student population consists of only 3 cohorts - seven students currently in their first year, six students in second year, and six students in third year. These students come from 10 different countries: 47% are from the UK , 42% from EU countries and 11% are from overseas.  Also, 74% of our current students are female. We look forward to welcoming another eight students in September 2019. 

What will happen after the UK leaves the EU?

The tuition fee rate for students already enrolled on the Translational Neuroscience PhD programme (i.e. cohorts 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19) as well as those starting in 2019/20 will remain the same for the 4 years of their degree. Please keep an eye on the dedicated university web page for updated information.

I know what project I would like to work on for my PhD, is this the right programme for me?

The Translational Neuroscience programme is designed to appeal to students with an open mind about their future PhD project. You are exposed to a wide range of new ideas, technical approaches and research areas during year 1, which all feed into your PhD project development process. If you really know what you want to work on then you may prefer to start a PhD in that area straight away, in which case this programme may not be the right one for you.

What sort of things would I learn in year 1?

During year 1 you will undertake three 11 week mini-projects, one from each life-course area (Development; Adolescence/Adulthood; Old Age/Degeneration). Alongside these you will attend taught elements, roughly twice a week, focusing on human disease states, the mechanisms that underlie them and the technical approaches to studying them. You will also undertake clinic visits about once a month. All these elements are assessed through a variety of approaches including policy documents, public engagement event proposals, patient leaflets and podcasts.  

The taught sessions are bespoke for the Translational Neuroscience PhD programme and generally take the form of small discussion-based sessions delivered by basic, clinical and psychology researchers who are generally from our PhD supervisor pool. Sometimes the taught sessions in one block are also joined by a small number (2-3) students from one of our other PhD programme (e.g. SPRINT-MND/MS) which allows you to make new connections. Please note, we do not award an MSc at the end of year 1. This is, in part, because some of the taught credits are delivered in years 2 and 3.

I understand there are clinic visit opportunities, how does that fit into the programme?

The programme aims to ensure that you have a rounded perspective of the disease states you are studying, including understanding how the disease really affects humans and the role of the clinician in diagnosing and treating patients.  This opportunity is rarely offered to non-clinical PhD students and it is an important element in shaping your approach to translational research. Therefore, during year 1, and as part of your taught course, you will have roughly 8-9 sessions where you spend half a day at a clinic as an observer, or a patient will join your discussion session. These sessions are relevant to your block theme – so in block one (development) you may visit a paediatric epilepsy clinic and an autism clinic, in block 2 (adulthood) you may meet a patient with schizophrenia, in block 3 you may visit a dementia and a stroke clinic etc.

Can I design my own mini-projects?

During year 1 you will undertake 3 mini-projects, one from each life-course area. The process of choosing a mini-project is therefore rapid so there is not time to develop your own project. Instead, the supervisors will present the projects they are offering, although there are often several variations on what is available. With each mini-project we will encourage you to try new techniques and work in different types of research environments so that you develop a broader perspective of the experimental possibilities that exist. You are not required to select one of your mini-projects groups as the host for your PhD project, so you can afford to try things out.

How do I decide on my PhD project?

You will develop your own PhD project. You won’t be restricted to a project from a pre-defined list or have to pick one of your mini-projects to take forward as a full project. Instead, throughout year 1 you will be encouraged to think about what makes a good PhD project and, towards the end of the year, you will have the freedom to develop the hypothesis you wish to test. We have a large pool of PhD supervisors available - you will meet many of them at the taught sessions - and the directors will work with you to determine your supervisory team.  Your PhD project will have at least one clinical/human subject co-supervisor.

What happens after year 1?

In years 2 and 3 your primary focus will be your PhD project work. There will still be some taught work but it will be much less and it can be tailored to the requirements of the cohort. You will still undertake clinic visits.  In the disease area of your PhD project (which you will arrange yourself, with the help of your clinical PhD supervisor) and you will be asked to work up case studies on a patient for your course assessments for years 2 and 3. In year 4 you will focus on completing your research and writing up your PhD dissertation.

Are there any social activites available within the programme?

You will get to know your cohort very well as you will see each other every week during the year 1 taught sessions and you will maintain contact with them in years 2 & 3 for the continuing taught elements. We also have a variety of programme activities, many of which bring all students together:

  • Existing students take the new students our for the evening at the start, and the end, of year 1.
  • Your cohort will work together to deliver an outreach activity at the Midlothian Science festival at the start of year 2. This also involves working with students from the other Wellcome Trust PhD programmes at the university.
  • You will join the Edinburgh Neuroscience Autumn School for PhD students, meeting students from across the university with an interest in neuroscience
  • We have a whole-programme retreat to Firbush, our university field station in the Scottish Highlands, where you will get to try a variety of outdoor activities as well as participate in science discussions
  • We have an annual programme-wide Christmas Dinner for all students, directors and supervisors.

Do you PhD students get to publish papers?

Because the PhD programme is still very new our first coort of students has just started 3rd year (so 2nd year of their PhD project). None-the-less many of them have already published, including work from their rotation mini-projects in year 1. We also encourage submission to online pre-review platforms such as biorxiv so our students are promptly recognised for the work they have done. See our current student publications here.

Where do your PhD students go once they complete the programme?

This PhD programme is fairly new so we currently only have students in the first and second year of the programme (with a third cohort arriving in September 2018). The aim of the programme is to develop a generation of leaders in translational neuroscience research so we hope our graduates will end up in research roles but these may be in a variety of settings (e.g. universities, industry, NHS). As this programme develops, and our students graduate, we will be able to answer this question more fully!

What do your students think of the programme?

We asked our students what they thought - you can read their answers here

You can read the student run PhD pogramme blog here