... understanding life in molecular detail

Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD Programme

The Molecular Basis of Biological Mechanisms

Molecule background image

Applications for places in October 2019 - Applications closed.
All places for entry in 2019 are now filled.


The results from the various genome projects are providing a wealth of information on nucleic acid and protein sequences. Identification and manipulation of the roles of these molecules in the living cell is the next important challenge. A detailed understanding of their three dimensional structures, folding, interactions with other biomolecules, assembly into multi-subunit complexes and their structure/function relationships is an essential step towards this goal. This is the focus of our 4 Year PhD Programme.

The programme is focussed on important biological questions, and will train students in the wide range of techniques in cell biology, biological chemistry and biophysics that are needed to push back the frontiers in these topical areas. Students accepted onto the programme will have unique opportunities to develop practical skills and a deep understanding of modern techniques, their principles and applications through taught courses in the first year. Students will then undertake a full research project in years 2-4, selecting from the wide range of topics offered by the programme's supervisors, and are able to tailor-make their project of choice.

Course Overview

Why four years?

The application of structural biological methods to complex biological problems is an exciting, rapidly expanding field. As a result of this expansion, there exists a plethora of concepts and techniques which cannot readily be assimilated in a conventional three-year PhD programme. The four year PhD will equip the student with skills in important state-of-the-art techniques ranging from biophysical methods to functional aspects and cell biology. The taught modules and laboratory rotations in the first year of the four-year programme provide a 'flavour' of research in more than one laboratory. Thus students on the programme are ideally prepared to undertake cutting-edge research projects in the years that follow.

Outline of the Programme

The first year consists of taught courses and research laboratory placements. The former are arranged in a series of modules comprising seminars and practical workshops. These are taught throughout the first year and provide essential theoretical background and hands-on training in key experimental areas of the programme. The course begins with a foundation module that introduces concepts and techniques in protein biochemistry, cell biology and biophysics. This is then followed by a further six modules which focus on research areas of strength at Leeds, namely:

  1. Structure and Function of Nucleic Acids and Proteins
  2. Proteins: Function, selection and modification
  3. Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Design
  4. Folding and Assembly
  5. Membranes
  6. Structural Molecular Biology in the Cell

In addition, a series of modules are available which deal with transferable skills including research methodology, PhD project management, effective poster presentation, and many others. These are run either within the Faculty or by the University.

In parallel with the above modules, students will undertake three short laboratory research projects in year 1 in order to gain experience with a wide range of practical techniques. On the basis of the experience so gained, students will decide upon and plan their PhD project with input from an academic advisor. This project will most likely be interdisciplinary in nature and could involve more than one supervisor. The PhD research project is undertaken full-time in years 2-4.