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MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit


Interested in postgraduate studies at the MBU?

The MBU takes on talented students from around the world and our PhD in Medical Science degree is awarded by the University of Cambridge Degree Committee for Clinical Medicine. In addition to the information provided below, please see University of Cambridge entry requirements for postgraduate study and if you have any queries please contact the MBU’s Postgraduate Manager, Penny Peck.



We recently advertised one UKRI/MRC PhD studentship for entry in October 2024, which will be awarded on a competitive basis to an eligible student. The studentship pays for Cambridge University and College fees, and the student receives a generous full stipend of £21,122 per year (as at 2023), payable for up to four years. The application portal closed on 16 May 2024 and applications submitted by that date are currently under consideration.

The Unit welcomes applications for MPhil study. Further details can be found under "MBU MPhil Programme" below.

The formal rules about fees status can be found here.

The MBU PhD Programme

The MBU’s PhD programme is run by the Unit’s Postgraduate Education Committee (PGEC). Our primary focus is on learning by being embedded in a world-leading laboratory, closely supervised by one of our group leaders. Every student also undertakes the Unit’s formal training programme. In the first year, they attend our lecture course on mitochondrial biology and medicine, plus a number of training courses prescribed by the University. They present a short talk to the Unit at the start of the year, laying out their project plans. At the end of their first year, each student submits a formal report on their work that is assessed in an oral examination by two of the Unit’s group leaders. They also take a separate oral examination testing their knowledge of mitochondrial biology and medicine. In their second year, we hold a joint student poster session with our partner institute in The Keith Peters Building (Cambridge Institute for Medical Research) and then each MBU student presents their poster to the Unit in a seminar format. Then, towards the end of their studies, each student presents their achievements in a formal research seminar. Throughout their studies our students are actively encouraged to take advantage of a broad range of training opportunities both within and outside the Unit and the wider University. For example, the University provides courses on scientific writing, good research practice, ethics and integrity, intellectual property rights, communication skills, project management and career planning. Our students are further encouraged to attend seminars, lectures and workshops that are relevant and interesting to them, selected from the huge range available in Cambridge, and we support them in attending both national and international conferences to present their work, form new contacts and connections, and broaden their knowledge. We fund every student to attend at last one international conference during their studentship and encourage them to apply for additional funding from their Colleges, and elsewhere. Our students are members of the Unit’s Postgraduate Student Society. The Postgraduate Student Society plans and runs a regular series of events, including journal clubs and social events, and provides a forum through which issues of concern to students can be raised, and communicated and discussed with the Unit’s PGEC and Director.

As well as joining the Unit, successful applicants will become member of the Cambridge MRC Doctoral Training Programme, joining peers from other MRC-funded Units in a common training framework and allowing networking opportunities across disciplinary boundaries.

MBU PhD Research Projects for entry in October 2024

The application portal is now closed for entry in 2024. If you applied for PhD study before the 16 May deadline, details about the process are outlined below - "Timetable for applying".


Details about eligibility for entry in October 2025 will be published here in due course.


How to apply

Applicants for postgraduate study at the MBU should check the University of Cambridge entry requirements for postgraduate study. We strongly encourage applicants to contact the potential supervisor for an informal discussion before submitting their application, and then submit their application via the University’s application portal. The MBU will not accept applications for postgraduate study via any other route. There is no application fee for PhD applications. There is an application fee of £50.00 for MPhil study.

University of Cambridge Postgraduate Open Days

During the autumn of each year, the University runs various Postgraduate Open Days.  They provide opportunities for potential students to ask questions, to find out more about the application process, to explore Cambridge virtually, and they include live sessions with departmental representatives.


Unibuddy platform for prospective students

Unibuddy is a platform for prospective students to have a one-to-one chat with current students at the University of Cambridge. It is a great way to gain valuable insights into student life and build professional and social connections with fellow peers.  The student ambassadors are well-versed in answering queries relating to studies and life at Cambridge. Applicants can also connect with student ambassadors from their department of interest and country of origin (this may depend on the availability of the student ambassador).

Timetable for applying

Key dates in our current recruitment round:

Week beginning 22 April, 2024

Applications open (University Portal)

16 May Applications close
17-22 May Shortlisting of candidates
Late May/Early June Interviews; offer
7 June Deadline for departmental acceptances
July-September Monitoring of progress through admissions

MBU PhD recruitment procedures

Collation and circulation

Immediately after the closing date, all applications will be downloaded from the University’s application portal and circulated to potential supervisors.

Interview process

The interview panel will consist of to three group leaders, who will interview and rank all candidates. Ranked applicants’ papers will be considered by the Postgraduate Education Committee. The offer of this studentship will be communicated to the supervisor(s) and then the applicant, informally, by the supervisor(s), and will be subject to formal acceptance by the University.

MBU MPhil Programme

The MBU's MPhil programme is a research-based course of one year's duration full-time (two years part-time) and the project and supervisor are determined during the application process. Information about potential supervisors can be found on our research webpages and informal enquiries are welcomed by potential supervisors.

The MBU operates a rolling admission process for MPhil study. Applications are considered as they are received, via the University's application portal and applicants should expect to hear whether they have been accepted within six weeks of submitting their completed application and required supporting documents.

Maintenance and fees for MPhil students are not available from the MBU's core funds, so we would encourage potential students to submit their applications within the University's funding deadlines.

Our MPhil students are encouraged to attend the MBU's programme of seminars and lectures delivered by visiting speakers and members of the Unit and, during their time in the Unit, to participate in the our postgraduate education programme, including the journal clubs and other activities organised by the MBU's postgraduate students and postdoctoral scientists.


MPhil in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (joint between CIMR and MBU)

In partnership with the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR), we have launched a new MPhil course with taught and research elements.

Through the taught elements which include ~60 hours of lectures and modules on biostatistics along with lab-based research, the course will enable students to gain practical research skills and new specialist knowledge that may be essential to achieving a career in biomedical research. Its main aims are:

•to expand and enhance the student’s knowledge of biomedical research; the model systems, the tools, techniques and approaches employed to investigate the molecular mechanisms of human disease and learn how new treatments are developed and new drugs reach patients; and

•to provide students with an opportunity to undertake a focused project in a lab carrying out cutting-edge research into the molecular mechanisms of human disease.

The course is designed from the perspective of the patient, and follows a track from disease diagnosis and identification, to the lab, and then to the various molecular mechanisms of disease classified by the nature of the dysfunction, and then back to the patient with a look at potential therapeutics. 

For further information see the announcement on CIMR's website.

About our students

Our PhD students come from all over the world. Between 2015 and 2022, we hosted 69 PhD students - 36 from the UK, 23 from the EU, and 10 from other countries, including Brazil, China, Iran, India, Japan, Malaysia and the USA. Nearly all our PhD students complete within four years, with an average time to thesis submission of 3 years 9 months. Our students have achieved ca. 200 authorships on MBU publications, and regularly participate in conferences by giving talks and presenting posters. They are snapped up by academia, biotech and industry – several now hold their own independent academic positions at universities across the world, and others hold senior leadership positions in the pharmaceutical industry. Of the 44 students who graduated over the past 7 years, 22 moved on to post-doctoral research positions, 12 took up industry research positions, and the rest moved on to other careers, such as patent law, clinical training, publishing, business development and secondary school teaching. If you would like to talk directly to our current PhD students about life in the MBU, please contact the current president of the MBU Postgraduate Student Society, Harry Walker.

School of Clinical Medicine - postgraduate study website

Information for prospective applicants to the Clinical School and its associated Departments can be found on the School's postgraduate study website, which also has a link to information on clinical academic training, including the MB/PhD Programme.