My experience of a DTP |
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Posted on 12 Apr '24

My experience of a DTP

Doctoral Training Partnerships are a type of fully funded PhD programme on offer by the UK Research Councils. The key part of what makes a DTP is the additional training and learning opportunities on offer alongside your PhD.

This means DTPs are great for those who don’t have a Masters, either because they have come straight from undergraduate or have been in work. They’re also useful if you have a Masters and want to learn more or shift your subject area.

These programmes cover the cost of tuition fees, ‘bench’ fees (the resources to do your PhD) and you can receive a tax-free stipend each month (like a salary). International students can also apply but the cost of tuition covered can vary.

When you join a DTP, you’ll join a cohort of PhD students who start at the same time as you do and these students may be from different institutions in a collaborative network. These programmes often feature a training year before you begin your PhD research and then offer training opportunities throughout.

If you want to know more, read our complete guide on what CDTs and DTPs are and how they function.

My DTP experience – the training year

I’m on a DTP funded by the BBSRC (a UKRI research council). I joined a cohort of almost 70 students across three universities, studying subjects related to the biosciences. My first year was entirely dedicated to training, with four main rotations:

September - December The first three months involved lectures in maths, statistics and R programming. These were assessed by two exams and two pieces of coursework. We could also choose extra masterclasses in laboratory or data analysis techniques.
January - March The next three months were spent in a lab at my home university experiencing the PhD project I had chosen. This was assessed by a dissertation style lab report.
April - June The third term was based in a lab group at a different university within the DTP partnership. This was assessed by the creation and presentation of an academic poster.
Either July - September or during any of the research years The final key feature of the DTP training was the Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPs). This is a three month work experience placement that can be done in any year of your PhD and has to be in a different field to your project. I’ve worked with FindAPhD in their content team for mine!

Each DTP offers their own training opportunities, so the specifics of what is involved can vary. It’s worth looking into the DTPs you are interested in to see whether you would find the training year interesting and useful.

Reflection on my DTP experience

I have really enjoyed being on a DTP. Having jumped from undergraduate to PhD, the training year helped bridge the gap through the lectures and rotations in different lab groups.

The first term involved taught components. Some of these topics, like statistics and programming, have been really useful for my PhD. Others I haven’t really used, but it’s good to be aware of what techniques are being used in research so you can think creatively or even collaborate with others. The most challenging part was studying for the exams, but our grade was also made up of coursework so this took some of the pressure off.

In the second term, we had the opportunity to do two lab rotations. I started in my ‘home’ lab, so that I could experience the PhD project I had chosen. My second lab rotation was in a different lab group at a different university in the DTP. This rotation is a great opportunity to learn something that you haven’t done before, like a type of data analysis, or something that your lab group doesn’t have knowledge of, so that you can bring it back and share it with the group.

My DTP also offered the PIPs placement. This was a three months internship in something not related to lab-based research and I’ve been doing mine with FindAPhD! I’ve really enjoyed writing about university life and learning more about how business works, which is something I wouldn’t have learned in my PhD. This experience will be so valuable at the end of your PhD project, whether you stay in academia or not.

Being part of a large cohort and having extra support from the course directors and administrators has also been helpful when I have needed advice.

The most valuable part has been having friends from the start who were supportive and really understood what we were all going through. They have been there for fun breaks away from the lab, lunch time catch ups but also when experiments just won’t work.

When applying for PhDs, it’s easy to get caught up in rankings and precise details of what’s on offer, but the softer things like a cohort and the extra support are invaluable because life happens alongside your research.

My top tip: if you have any worries or concerns before starting, then you could ask your future PhD supervisor or your DTP to put you in touch with current students so that you can ask your questions.

We have other blogs from students who have shared their experiences of DTPs, such as what it was like to work within the White Rose DTP and how DTP funding actually works.

You can also check out my blog on the pros and cons of doing a DTP.

Find a Doctoral Training Partnership

Browse DTP projects listed here on FindAPhD.

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Last Updated: 12 April 2024