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BBSRC PhD Funding

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the main source of UK Government funding for doctoral students in Biology, Biochemistry and related Bioscience fields. A BBSRC PhD studentship will cover your PhD fees and / or maintenance, as well as providing a generous contribution towards expenses for materials, consumables or training related to your research.

In this guide we've explained how BBSRC funding works for PhD students, with information on different types of BBSRC studentships as well as eligibility and application information.

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What is the BBSRC?

The BBSRC is one of the seven Research Councils that form part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each of the Councils within UKRI manages a UK Government budget for research, including training future researchers through PhD studentships.

The BBSRC is responsible for supporting 'pure' Bioscience research as well as its application through new Biotechnology developments and solutions.

Which PhD subjects does the BBSRC fund?

The BBSRC funds PhDs in all Biological Science subjects, such as:

Some interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary BBSRC funding is also offered in partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

What PhD funding does the BBSRC provide?

The BBSRC funds around 2,000 studentships each year. There are three main components to a PhD studentship from the BBSRC:

  • A fee payment of £4,327 per year
  • A doctoral stipend of £15,009 per year (you will receive slightly more if you are based in London)
  • A Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £5,000 per year (covering 'bench fees' such as consumables and materials as well as other expenses directly related to your research)

BBSRC funding can also cover some other expenses such as conference attendance, fieldwork and Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA).

Note that eligibility for different parts of a BBSRC studentship can depend on your circumstances.

How is BBSRC funding allocated?

Prospective students don't apply directly to the BBSRC for PhD funding. Instead, money for studentships is provided to universities and external partner organisations who advertise PhD projects with funding attached.

These projects and studentships are offered within university Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and externally-led Collaborative Training Partnerships (CTPs) or as industrial CASE studentships. Each emphasises slightly different objectives and potential outcomes for a student's PhD.

What else does BBSRC funding offer?

The BBSRC remit covers applied Biotechnology products and outcomes as well as more academic research in Biological Science. This is reflected in its studentships, which all incorporate additional funding for students to complete professional internships or industry placements.

This means you'll receive highly valuable transferable skills and careers experience, as well as generous funding during your PhD.

UKRI funding for other subjects

The funding opportunities described on this page are for Bioscience PhDs. Other members of Research and Innovation allocate their own Research Council studentships for different PhD subjects.

BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships

The BBSRC's Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) are set up by individual universities or by regional networks of universities along with associate non-university partners.

DTPs receive funding for PhD studentships across the whole range of Bioscience fields, with specific projects determined by universities' current research focus.

BBSRC DTPs for 2020

Current BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships include the following:

Each of these BBSRC DTPs has confirmed funding for PhD studentships beginning in September / October 2020. See the BBSRC website for more information on past, present and future DTPs.

Search for BBSRC DTP projects

We regularly list PhD opportunities at BBSRC DTPs here on FindAPhD. You can also sign up to our newsletter and be notified as new projects become available.

Studying your PhD at a BBSRC DTP

As their name suggests, Doctoral Training Partnerships focus on training and partnership, as well as the completion of a successful doctorate.

Your PhD will be hosted and awarded by a specific university within your DTP with a supervisor assigned to guide your research project. However, you may have a second supervisor drawn from elsewhere in the DTP and will probably spend some time at other universities or institutions within the network.

The BBSRC DTP system also incorporates additional academic and professional development opportunities. Most studentships last for four years full time and follow a structure like this:

  • The first year includes training in key skills and methodologies (such as bioinformatics, statistical analysis and core lab techniques). These will be applied to focussed projects during a series of rotations in different labs at your host university or, potentially, elsewhere in the DTP. You will also carry out a more general literature review of current scholarship related to your project.
  • The second year continues your training but sees you focus more on collecting data for your own research. You may also complete a Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) scheme at this point (see below).
  • The third year focusses on your project and may see you start to produce more outputs such as conference posters and presentations, or peer-reviewed journal articles and other publications. If you didn't complete your PIPS in the second year, you will do it now.
  • The fourth year is the final year of the studentship. At this point you should be ready to complete the analysis of your results and write up your doctoral thesis for examination.

Specific DTP websites will have more information about the exact structure they expect PhD students to follow.

Throughout your time at the DTP you will benefit from studying within a cohort of other PhD students, offering a community for support and discussion during your PhD. You may also receive additional funding to travel to conferences or carry out fieldwork away from your host university.

Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS)

The PIPS scheme is an integral part of PhD research at a BBSRC DTP. All funded students are expected to complete a three-month professional placement outside their university. This allows you to gain wider work experience and enhance your future employability.

Your PIPS shouldn't be directly related to your PhD project (you can't simply go and assist in another university lab, for example) but it can have a connection with science, research or higher education in general. Examples of hosts may include technology companies producing laboratory equipment, government bodies working on science and research policy (including the BBSRC itself) or publishers such as FindAPhD.

Host organisations aren't allowed to pay PIPS interns, but you'll continue to receive your studentship during the placement and can also claim for some additional travel costs.

PIPS opportunities at FindAPhD

We frequently host BBSRC students on PIPS placements at FindAPhD. Opportunities are available to help build and improve new parts of our website, deliver our weekly newsletter and participate in our events, all while gaining skills in web design, digital publishing and science communication. Get in touch for more information.

BBSRC iCASE studentships

Some BBSRC studentships are offered as industrial Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (iCASE) awards. These fund projects that are designed and delivered through equal partnerships between universities and external organisations from business and industry.

Studying an iCASE PhD

The project you work on will usually be more practical, with a focus on applied science and potential commercial and industrial outcomes. To achieve this, you'll spend between 3 and 18 months based at the partner organisation, though your doctorate will ultimately be awarded by your host university.

You'll receive the same funding for your PhD, but your external partner may also cover additional expenses during the time you are based with them.

iCASE students don't need to complete a PIPS placement as their PhD is already professionally focussed.

BBSRC iCASE opportunities for 2020

In most cases (no pun intended) iCASE studentships are awarded by DTPs: a member university selects a partner and uses some of its BBSRC funding to develop a project with them.

This means that the best way to find an iCASE studentship is to check the details for DTPs in the section above, or search directly for advertised opportunities.

BBSRC Collaborative Training Partnerships (CTPs)

Collaborative Training Partnerships are set up between universities and external organisations from business and industry in order to address priority research areas for the UK bioeconomy.

Unlike DTP and iCASE projects, CTP projects are initiated and led by non-academic partners who seek out universities to develop a PhD opportunity with. Your degree will be awarded by the university, but your project will be designed by the external partner who will also cover some of the costs involved.

This type of BBSRC funding is ideal if you want to focus on biotechnology and applied science, potentially with a view to pursuing a non-academic career with your PhD.

BBSRC CTPs for 2020

CTPs were initially funded for PhDs starting between 2017 and 2019. However, the BBSRC has since provided funding for additional CTP studentships in 2020.

BBSRC CTPs are currently set up with the following organisations for 2020:

These studentships will normally be advertised by universities, or here on FindAPhD.

You can find more information about current CTPs on the BBSRC website.

Studying your PhD at a BBSRC CTP

BBSRC-funded PhD students at CTPs receive essentially the same funding as those at DTPs. Your studentship will run for four years, full time, and will cover fees, maintenance and additional research expenses (subject to eligibility). Your PhD will be jointly supervised by representatives of your university and the external organisation leading the project.

CTP projects don't include a separate PIPS internship as all students spend a minimum of three months based with their external partner.

Which BBSRC studentship is right for me?

The three types of BBSRC PhD studentship can seem confusing, but they have quite a lot in common: all provide equivalent levels of PhD funding, all lead to the award of a high quality UK doctorate and all include additional professional placement and development opportunities.

The broad differences are:

  • DTP projects are the most traditional: you'll be primarily based in a university lab environment (with the exception of your PIPS); this is ideal if you're most interested in academic research
  • iCASE projects are something of a 50/50 option: you'll spend more time at an external partner who will play an integral role in the project, but the PhD will still be delivered as part of a DTP; this is good if you want to explore more professional applications for Bioscience and Biotechnology whilst still being based primarily in an academic setting
  • CTP projects are shaped (and usually instigated) by external partners and funded as priority research areas for the wider UK bioeconomy; they are perfect if you are interested in pursuing a career in industry or if you simply need access to very specific resources and facilities in the area you want to research

The golden rule for all three project types is the same: if you see a PhD opportunity that interests you, apply for it!

Eligibility

Eligibility for BBSRC PhD funding is broadly the same as for other UKRI studentships.

Residency (and funding amounts)

  • Full studentships are available to UK and EU students who have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least three years: they include the fee payment, doctoral stipend and Research Training Support Grant
  • Partial (or 'fees only') studentships are available to EU students who are ordinarily resident in the EU, EEA or Switzerland (but not in the UK): they do not include the doctoral stipend, but still cover PhD fees (and will normally include the Research Training Support Grant too)

EU eligibility for BBSRC studentships is guaranteed for PhDs beginning in the 2020-21 academic year, regardless of Brexit.

BBSRC funding for international (non-EU) students

BBSRC funding for international students is rarely available. Some DTPs may have the freedom to allocate awards to overseas students for projects in priority areas. This is rare, but you can check the details for the DTP you are considering applying to.

Academic requirements

BBSRC studentships are competitively awarded to the best student applying for each project.

The BBSRC doesn't set official minimum qualification requirements, but universities will normally expect at least a 2.1 (or equivalent) in a relevant BSc degree.

Having a Masters degree such as an MSc isn't normally necessary: a four-year BBSRC studentship includes time for the more advanced training that these degrees provide.

Whatever your academic background, you should make sure your application is tailored to the specific project you are applying for, paying close attention to the advertised specification and criteria.

Working during a BBSRC studentship

You can't receive BBSRC funding (or other UKRI funding) if you work full-time during your PhD.

You are allowed to work part-time whilst receiving a BBSRC studentship, but you should get your supervisor's advice before you commit to additional workload. The 'timetable' for a Bioscience PhD can be less flexible than for other areas as you will need to conduct and monitor time-sensitive experiments and other lab work.

You will also need to ensure any work can fit around your PIPS (if you are studying within a DTP) or other professional commitments (for CTP and iCASE studentships).

Finally, be aware that you can't combine BBSRC funding with a PhD loan (this is also true for fees-only studentships).

Applications

You don't apply directly to the BBSRC for PhD funding. Instead studentships are allocated to DTPs and CTPs who advertise them on their own websites, on university websites and here on FindAPhD.

Advertised projects

Most BBSRC projects have pre-defined aims and objectives. There will be scope to adopt different methodologies and respond to new directions that emerge from your research, but the research question you will be exploring will already be set out for you.

Some DTP projects may be a little more flexible, inviting students to propose their own approaches and objectives within the broad limits of universities' resources and facilities. CTP projects will usually be much more defined as their outcomes will line up with the interests and objectives of industrial partners.

It is very rare for students to receive BBSRC funding for a project they have designed and proposed entirely independently.

Application process

The first step in applying for BBSRC PhD funding is to find an advertised project to apply to. Once you have done that you should read the description carefully and prepare the necessary application materials.

These will probably include a personal statement (detailing your academic background, research interests and objectives) a covering letter (explaining your interest in the project and your suitability for it) and details of appropriate referees.

If you are shortlisted, you will usually be invited to a PhD interview and given the opportunity to discuss your application in more detail.

Application deadlines

DTPs will generally advertise BBSRC studentships to commence in the autumn semester (September / October) and set the same deadline for them.

Here are the application deadlines for PhD studentships at BBSRC DTPs for projects beginning in the 2020-21 academic year:

  • eastbio – 5 January
  • LIDo – 25 January
  • Manchester – 31 January
  • MIBTP – 12 January
  • NLD – tbc
  • Norwich Research Park – 25 November
  • Nottingham – 28 January
  • Oxford – 24 January
  • SWBio – 2 December
  • White Rose – 6 January

These dates are for PhDs starting in autumn 2020. You can use them to get an indicative idea of deadlines for projects in 2021, but the exact details may change. One way to stay up to date with new project advertisements is to sign up to our PhD newsletter: we'll email you each week with new projects that have become available in your subject area/s.

CTPs will usually set specific deadlines for each project they advertise.

BBSRC funding application tips

Applications for BBSRC funding are competitive, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you have the best chance of success:

  1. Read carefully and respond specifically – Applications for advertised PhD projects are a bit like applications for jobs (they even come with a 'salary'). You need to show that you fit the job description and the best way to do that is to read it, carefully, and respond to it, specifically.
  2. Read around the project description too – Really good applicants will demonstrate a sense of how an advertised project fits into the current scientific landscape. You don't have to be an expert yet (you're applying for the PhD, not sitting the viva voce exam) but it won't hurt to look at some recent journal articles on related topics.
  3. Don't just copy and paste – There's nothing wrong with applying to more than one PhD project, but avoid the temptation to re-use lots of material. If you keep it generic, it won't be very good (see above); if you only edit specific details you risk accidentally addressing the wrong university (it happens); and if you edit the whole thing thoroughly you may as well just write a new one.
  4. Remember there's (hopefully) an interview – Having an interview as part of your PhD selection process can help your application: it lets you include concise details in the knowledge that you can expand on them later, if need be. But it can also catch you out if you include inaccurate details and can't expand on them later.
  5. Give yourself enough time – Don't rush your application or start it at the last minute. Even if you can think you can get a personal statement and covering letter written up, you almost certainly won't have time to really engage with the project description or give enough notice for references.

Most DTPs and CTPs will provide application timetables saying when you should hear back, when interviews may take place and when successful candidates will be notified.

Search for BBSRC PhD funding

You can keep an eye on DTP and CTP pages to check for details of new projects and application windows, but there's a simpler way:

BBSRC-funded PhD projects are often listed here on FindAPhD, including projects at DTPs and CTPs as well as iCASE studentships. Subscribing to our newsletter is a simple way to see when new opportunities are added.

Further information

Check the BBSRC and UKRI websites for additional funding details.

Last updated - 28/11/2019

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