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Graduate Admissions

Course closed:

Developmental Biology is no longer accepting new applications.

Developmental biology is a remarkably cross-disciplinary area of biomedical research that spans traditional departmental boundaries and many different technologies, such as molecular biology, genetics, cell biology, imaging and bioinformatics. This field is increasingly significant in the era of readily available genome sequences, because functional studies of development are essential to decipher the roles of many genes, and will be invaluable if we are to reap the benefits of this wealth of new information. A major challenge now is to find more powerful, systematic and quantitative ways of investigating how this genetic information is translated into morphogenetic instructions, and to analyse how these instructions generate and are modulated by the forces that shape tissues and organs. Our PhD programme embraces this challenge and offers a powerful opportunity to explore the mechanisms underlying key developmental processes.

The Wellcome Trust and University of Cambridge four-year PhD programme in Developmental Mechanisms has a "one plus three" structure: the first year is an integral "MPhil in Developmental Biology" after which students progress on to the PhD (years two to four of the programme). Around 45 developmental biology laboratories participate in the programme, across four University departments (Physiology, Development & Neuroscience [PDN], Biochemistry, Genetics, and Zoology) including members of these departments who are based at the Wellcome Trust and the Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute. Interdisciplinary projects at the interface between the physical sciences and developmental biology are encouraged, with co-supervisors available in the Departments of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Physics.

The MPhil (year one) is offered by the Faculty of Biology as a full-time period of research and introduces students to research skills and specialist knowledge in Developmental Biology.

Its main aims are:

  • to give students with relevant experience at first-degree level the opportunity to carry out focussed research in the discipline under close supervision; and
  • to give students the opportunity to acquire or develop skills and expertise relevant to their research interests. It includes a range of courses (see Teaching & Learning section) and three laboratory rotations. All candidates submit written work (three rotation reports, a review essay and a PhD proposal ["Critical Appraisal"]) for examination for the MPhil in Developmental Biology (course code BLPNM2) which can only be taken as an integral part of this programme.

After completing the MPhil, students undertake research for their PhD, and continue to participate in programme-related activities, eg an annual symposium. (Applicants wishing to do a standalone PhD or a one-year research course with a specific developmental biology laboratory in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience should follow the application procedures for their PhD and MPhil courses respectively. Contact potential supervisors in the first instance, sending your CV and the names of two referees.)

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the programme, students will have:

  • a comprehensive understanding of techniques, and a thorough knowledge of the literature, applicable to their own research;
  • demonstrated originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the field; and
  • shown abilities in the critical evaluation of current research and research techniques and methodologies.


Following successful completion of the MPhil degree, candidates move straight on to probationary PhD Status.


This course is advertised in the following departments:

Key Information

1+3 years full-time

Doctor of Philosophy
Master of Philosophy in the first instance

This course is advertised in multiple departments. Please see the Overview tab for more details.


Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 3, 2018
Application deadline
Jan. 3, 2019
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2019

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Graduate Funding Competition
Jan. 3, 2019
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 10, 2018

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