MRC PhD Funding - A Guide for 2020 | FindAPhD.com
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg) Featured PhD Programmes
Coventry University Featured PhD Programmes
King’s College London Featured PhD Programmes

MRC PhD Funding

As the name suggests, the Medical Research Council (MRC) is the main source of Government funding to advance medical research in the UK. MRC PhD studentships ordinarily cover fees and maintenance as well as providing an additional support grant for research training.

This guide will explain how MRC funding works for PhD students, focusing on the different types of studentships, who is eligible and how to apply.

On this page

What is the MRC?

The MRC is one of seven Research Councils that make up UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each council manages its own UK Government budget for training and research, some of which is allocated to PhD studentships.

The MRC support research across all of the medical sciences. Like other research councils, this research is carried out in universities. In some cases universities direct MRC-funded research within Doctoral Training Partnerships. However, the Council also maintains its own research units, institutes and centres within universities where it takes a more immediate role in directing ground-breaking research, including at PhD level.

Which PhD subjects does the MRC fund?

The MRC funds PhDs in all medical subjects, such as:

There are also some interdisciplinary funding opportunities offered by the MRC in partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) or the Biotechnology and biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

What PhD funding does the MRC provide?

The MRC funds around 1,900 PhD studentships each year out of budgets allocated to universities as well as MRC units, institutes and centres. A typical MRC PhD studentship has four main components:

  • Tuition fee payment of £4,407 per year
  • Doctoral stipend of £15,285 per year (additional money is available for students in London)
  • Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £5,000 to cover cost of lab equipment and consumables
  • Travel and conference allowance of £300 to attend and present at conferences

How is MRC funding allocated?

To receive funding, students apply to projects advertised by research organisations, such as universities or MRC units, institutes and centres. You don’t apply directly to the MRC for PhD funding.

Projects advertised by universities are offered within university Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) or as industrial Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (iCASE) studentships. Other studentships schemes, such as the MRC integrative Toxicology Training Partnership (iTTP) in the Toxicology unit, are also available.

UKRI funding for other subjects

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

MRC Doctoral Training Partnerships

The MRC Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) are set up by individual research organisations or regional networks.

DTPs receive funding for certain number of PhD studentships from the MRC and use this to provide additional training and professional development opportunities.

MRC DTPs for 2020

Currently, the MRC funds the following DTPs:

Each DTP has its own research themes that its studentships support, so it’s worth checking that these cover your area of interest.

Studying your PhD at an MRC DTP

The benefit of studying within a DTP is the focus on broader training and in most cases a partnership with other research organisations.

Although you will be studying primarily at the university you applied to, you will also have the option to spend time at other universities or institutions within the partnership. This will give you access to other facilities and widen your research opportunities.

Most studentships last 3.5-4 years full time, depending on the route you take. DTPs can either offer a 1+3 model with an incorporated MRes or a straight 3.5-4 year PhD.

  • First year – Within the first few months you will meet your cohort and attend cohort building activities, orientation. Some DTPs may spend their first year undertaking lab rotations (periods of time spent in different laboratories and research groups). Overall, the first year mostly focuses on training in core skills.
  • Second year – If you did rotations in the first year, you will now be starting your proposed PhD project and attend bespoke training tailored to your research topic. You will also attend more core training and workshops along with cohort activities such as conferences.
  • Third year – By this point there is typically less focus on training and more time spend generating and analysing your findings. If you are doing a 3.5-4 year PhD this is where you may start writing up your thesis.
  • Fourth (and final) year – You will now be finishing your analysis and writing up your thesis for examination.

Specifics on each programme can be found on the DTP websites, as they all offer slightly different structures.

Overall, you will be studying within a cohort of other PhD students, attending additional training, team building exercises and conferences together. Most DTPs have a student-led symposium programme where PhD researchers present their work in progress to the whole DTP.

MRC iCASE studentships

It is possible for some MRC PhD projects to be advertised as industrial Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (iCASE) studentships. This is where a non-academic industry or business partners with a university to offer additional training and resources that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Studying an iCASE PhD

Typically, the research project is developed between a university in an existing MRC DTP and an industrial partner. Such projects tend to focus more on potential commercial outcomes.

You will need to spend at least 3 cumulative months working within the facilities of the collaborator. Because of this, MRC iCASE students won’t normally complete lab rotations at the start of their PhD.

You will receive the same MRC funding for your PhD, but your industrial collaborator may cover additional costs for your research / equipment.

Although you may not follow the same programme structure, you are still part of the DTP cohort and will be able to access its training, workshops and symposiums.

MRC iCASE opportunities for 2020

iCASE studentships are usually awarded by universities in a DTP. You apply for an iCASE project through individual universities.

The best way to find an iCASE studentship is to check the details for the DTPs listed above, or search for advertised opportunities.

MRC integrative Toxicology Training Partnership (iTTP)

Set up in partnership between academia, industry and government, iTTP studentships seek to build expertise in Toxicology and related subjects.

The two main aims are to: develop drugs, chemicals and consumer products and to improve risk assessment of risk to health resulting from environmental exposure. The iTTP is funded as part of an MRC investment in the Toxicology Unit (based at the University of Cambridge).

The Toxicology Unit is one of the MRC’s Institutes, Units and Centres which are led by an assigned expert scientific director to promote novel high-risk approaches to develop innovative methodology and technology.

You will study your PhD within the Toxicology unit and includes training opportunities to encourage development of academic research skills. As with other studentships, you will gain experience in written and oral presentation of your work, as well as toxicology-specific training.

MRC institutes, units and centres

In addition to the Toxicology Unit, the MRC funds several other named institutes, units and centres. These often exist within universities, or in close partnership with them, but carry out more specific research to a remit set directly by the MRC.

Some institutes, units and centres are set up through partnerships between the MRC and other medical research organisations. One of the flagship examples of this format is the Francis Crick Institute, set up by the MRC alongside the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and three colleges of the University of London.

There are currently 49 different MRC institutes, units and centres. Many offer their own PhD training and funding opportunities.

Eligibility

Student eligibility for MRC PhD funding follows the same criteria as the other UKRI research councils.

Residency (and funding amounts)

  • Full studentships cover the cost of tuition and provide a stipend. These are awarded to UK and EU students that have been resident in the UK for a least three years
  • Partial (fee-only) studentships exclude funds for a stipend and can be awarded to EU students that reside in the EU, EEA or Switzerland

MRC funding for international (non-EU) students

International students are not normally eligible for MRC PhD funding. However, it may be possible to be accepted if a funded project cannot be filled by a UK or EU student. In this case the project falls into the ‘widened the residence eligibility criteria’. These places may be offered if an international applicant possesses target skills in areas such as: quantitative skills; interdisciplinary skills or whole organism physiology.

Academic requirements

MRC-funded studentships are competitively awarded to the best applicants for each project.

The MRC expects applicants to hold a qualification at the level of a ‘good honours’ degree, usually a first or upper second (2.1) in a relevant BSc subject.

Having a Masters degree is not always necessary, as you will receive equivalent training during your first year, but an MSc or MRes may help offset a lower honours grade (2.2).

It is always a good idea to tailor your application for MRC funding, so check the background for each project and pay close attention to its specifications.

Working during a MRC studentship

Students in full-time work are not eligible for full MRC funding. If you are receiving a full studentship, the stipend should be enough for you to live off of.

You are allowed to work part-time. However, students in part-time work may only be eligible for a part-time award. After all, your PhD project is a substantial time commitment and has a large workload, particularly in medical subjects.

You cannot combine MRC funding with a PhD loan (or any other form of government funding).

Applications

Applications are not made directly to the MRC but to the research organisations that will host your PhD. These can be found on specific DTP websites, on the university websites or here on FindAPhD.

Advertised projects

Most MRC projects have a pre-defined project aim (such as an iCASE project). Applying for these PhD opportunities is a lot like applying for a job: you must demonstrate that you meet the requirements outlined in the project advertisement and will be a good fit for the position.

However, some MRC DTPs offer more flexible scholarships where you will spend the first year doing lab rotations after which you will submit a research proposal. There are a set number of scholarships and students are accepted on a competitive basis.

It is unlikely that a university (or other institution) will provide MRC funding to a student who has designed and proposed their project completely independently.

Application process

To apply for an MRC scholarship, you first need to find an advertised opportunity at a DTP or other institute with funding. Once you have found one you would like to apply for, you should read the description and prepare the necessary application materials.

You will usually need to include a personal statement (providing information on your academic background, experience and research interests), covering letter (demonstrating your suitability and your interest in the project) and CV with appropriate referees.

If your application is successful, you will then be invited for a PhD interview and given the opportunity to discuss the PhD with you in more detail.

Application deadlines

DTPs usually start advertising MRC studentships around September / October for the following autumn semester.

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

  • Cambridge – 7 December
  • DiMeN – 6 January
  • Dundee – 11 January
  • GW4 – 5 August
  • Imperial College London – 18 November
  • IMPACT – 17 January
  • King's College London – 1 December
  • LSTM – 13 February
  • London intercollegiate – 1 January
  • Manchester – 15 November
  • Oxford – 10 January
  • Precision medicine – 6 January
  • Translational Immunology, Inflammation and Cancer – 24 January
  • UCL-Birkbeck – 8 January
  • Warwick– 28 November

The iTTP is currently advertising PhDs and has an application deadline of 10 February.

These are the deadlines for PhDs starting in October 2020. You can use them to get an idea of the deadlines for 2021, but they may change. You can sign up for our free PhD newsletter to stay up to date on new project advertisements and we’ll email you each week with updates.

MRC funding application tips

Applications for MRC funding are competitive. Here are some tips:

  1. Find out about potential supervisors – If you are applying to a DTP with rotations then you most likely will need to select some potential supervisors. It’s worth finding out what their research interests are so you apply to the ones that you also find interesting.
  2. Time to prepare – Application deadlines for the MRC are earlier than most other research councils so it’s important to make sure you have enough time to research the programmes and research areas.
  3. Make sure your CV is up to date – Having an up to date CV is critical for your PhD application. Also make sure its tailored towards a PhD with the MRC showing relevant research interests and extra-curricular activities.
  4. Choose good referees – References can be essential to your application. You should think carefully about who your referees will be and notify them that you intend on adding them to application. That way, your reference doesn’t get forgotten about.

Most DTPs will provide an expected timeline on when you should hear back about your application, when interviews are expected to take place and when successful candidates will be notified.

Search for MRC PhD funding

MRC projects can be found on the DTP and iTTP websites, or can be easily found here on FindAPhD. Also if you subscribe to our newsletter, you will be the first to hear about new listings and opportunities.

Further information

Check the MRC and UKRI websites for additional funding details.

Last updated – 26/02/2020

This article is the property of FindAPhD.com and may not be reproduced without permission.

Click here to search our database of PhDs



FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2020
All rights reserved.