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Posted on 14 Jun '18

PhD Experiences: Working Within a DTP

If you’re looking at different PhD funding methods, you’ve probably come across some interesting acronyms like DTP (Doctoral Training Programme) and CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training). But do you understand what they will actually offer?

In a nutshell, DTPs allow you to undertake integrated training focussed on research priority areas in your field.

As a Chemistry and Molecular Biology student, I’m part of the White Rose DTP, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). My experiences might not translate to every DTP, but hopefully they’ll give you an insight into the benefits of doctoral training.

Induction day

The induction day – this was where I would meet my fellow colleagues.

The students came from the three universities that made up the White Rose consortium. The idea behind the consortium is to give us greater access to equipment, along with more opportunities for collaborations. To start these relationships, we had the induction day at Fera in York, a spectacular science facility.

The coach journey there was a little odd. Every continuing student was sat with their friends; new students were sat by themselves looking nervous and then there was me, somewhere in between. The day began with a general talk about the training we would receive and how many students the BBSRC funds.

After an introduction to the programme, we moved on to a series of exercises designed to help us get to know each other better. First there was ‘project dating’ (essentially speed dating for your brain), then some team building tasks that really brought out my group’s competitive side. I made some very good friends and the day as a whole was very fun, with the superb buffet lunch capping everything off.


Coming from a Chemistry background, I really felt like I had no idea what I was doing for the Biology section of my project and was worried to even get in the lab. However, in the first three months we had several training days to help with this.

The training was very broad, although the initial day was quite intense with detailed Biology and Biotechnology work. It involved plenty of phrases I’d never heard of, but I did feel like I learned a lot. The next training day was stats – this was a tough one, so they followed it up with a quiz and drinks.

If you work within a DTP you’ll probably find the training days informative and sociable; they make for a good break in your research.

Molecules to market

‘Molecules to Market’ was effectively a business proposal type event – a common module in the sciences.

The day had the traditional Dragons Den format; we designed a molecule/biotechnology kit and pitched it to a panel of experts. The product had to help with a current problem, so we chose to make a deodorant that would protect the human microbiome.

The process was fascinating; in particular, learning the length of time that it takes to bring a drug from development to phase trials and market was an eye opener.

The symposium

The Christmas symposium for the White Rose consists of presentations from final year students to the entire consortium, as well as supervisors and lecturers from relevant fields.

Most DTPs will do a symposium – or mini conference style event – for final year students to showcase their work. I have to admit in my first year I didn’t understand a lot of what people were talking about, not having a strong biological background. However, last year I was starting to pick up a few key words, which was encouraging!

For most, this is a brilliant opportunity to practice those all-important presentational skills; for me, it’s a brilliant opportunity to shake with nerves!

Of course, the day ended with the academics’ favourite: a drinks and food reception, which no conference would be without.

Professional placement

The professional placement is what separates some DTPs from a standard PhD. It is the highlight, in my eye, of the DTP structure, giving students the chance to develop professional skills in a different field to their own.

This is a great opportunity – as long as you are working to the standard of a PhD (you can’t do a placement as a lifeguard in America, for example), you have the freedom to apply wherever you want.

For me, it has been an excellent way to learn new skills, as well as seeing how a company works. Also, it’s been really nice to get out of the lab for a while.

If you are considering a DTP with a professional placement, I would recommend using it to gain an idea of a different work setting to research. If you are like me and start a PhD with your mind dead set on staying in academia, you might not realise what other options you have until you get out there and try them.

Hopefully this gives an insight into what working in a DTP entails. Along with the possible bonus of an extra year’s funding, the skills you learn and the people you meet make it a brilliant choice for prospective PhD students.

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Last Updated: 14 June 2018