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Postgraduate Study

Course closed:

Medical Science (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit) is no longer accepting new applications.


We offer a variety of training opportunities to support our wide range of topics and streams of research.

Each student will follow a personalised approach that takes into account the specific training needs associated with their particular research project, following consultation with their supervisor on arrival. This will include attendance at Unit-wide seminars and seminars intended specifically for first year postgraduates.

While a flexible approach can be taken to the selection of CBU Skills-Oriented and Clinical Sciences training elements (in consultation with your Supervisor), as well as that of other opportunities in and around Cambridge and further afield, as a general rule of thumb, students would expect to accrue a minimum of 30 hours of training during their first year (excluding First Year, Wednesday Lunchtime, and Chaucer Club seminars). In reality, many students (particularly those with technically-demanding projects) complete significantly more.

One to one supervision

Postgraduate study at the CBU is achieved via supervised research which falls under the jurisdiction of the Degree Committee for the School of Clinical Medicine and is overseen by the Postgraduate School of Life Sciences. Within the CBU, the Postgraduate Education Committee is responsible for all aspects of the running of the postgraduate programme. A suitable project falling within the interests of the supervisor, and sustainable within the limits imposed by the facilities available at the CBU and the funded duration, is agreed by student and supervisor, and endorsed by members of the Postgraduate Education Committee.

Each postgraduate student benefits from a supervisory team which comprises a primary supervisor, who supervises the main body of their research, and an adviser who acts as a supplementary source of advice and support. Where it benefits the science, students and their supervisors may seek further support in the form of a second supervisor or additional adviser from the CBU or other Cambridge departments. The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University expectations around supervision for both postgraduates and their supervisor.

The supervisor will provide written feedback to the student each term via progress reports which are submitted online. The feedback will relate to the progress the student has made on their research project.

Additionally, the CBU has two pastoral care tutors who are available to offer personal and emotional support throughout a student’s time at the CBU. The CBU also runs a mentor scheme, through which postgraduate students can be paired with a postdoctoral researcher if they wish, as another helpful source of inspiration and guidance.

Seminars & classes

Unit-wide seminars: During term, students and staff attend weekly one-hour Unit seminars (Wednesday Lunchtime and Chaucer Club) given by distinguished CBU and Cambridge, as well as UK and international, scientists.

First year seminars: CBU students are members of the Cambridge Postgraduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences which was jointly established by the CBU and Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry. The programme comprises a series of weekly theoretical and practical seminars in either Michaelmas and Lent (or Lent and Easter) terms. Attendance at these is compulsory for first year postgraduates. The content varies but typically includes lectures on basic cognitive neuroscience content (e.g. memory, intelligence, language), methods (e.g. MR physics) and professional issues and skills (e.g. how to give a good talk). Recent years have also incorporated Amy Orben’s “Robust Behavioural Science" seminars which cover aspects of open science, including the philosophy of science and the replication crisis. Details of the Seminar programme are communicated by email via the gradscbu @ mailing list.

Skills-Oriented Training: We also offer a comprehensive in-house skills-oriented training programme that incorporates, for example, aspects of scientific computing, signal analysis, neuroimaging and statistics. Elements of the training can be substituted for other training opportunities in the university and further afield, depending on the student's needs and following a discussion between the supervisor and student. Further detail can be found here: Those beginning postgraduate study the CBU can subscribe to the skills training mailing list by emailing  

Clinical Sciences Training: For some candidates clinical skills may be far more relevant than much of the technical methods training on offer. We thus offer a parallel track of Clinical Sciences training (e.g. diagnostic interviewing, mental health assessment more broadly, clinical trials design, clinical governance, risk assessment and safeguarding) which can be accessed either locally or elsewhere in Cambridge and completed in addition to or instead of much of the Skills-Oriented training. This is generally tailored to the student's needs and experience in discussion with their Supervisor.

Posters and Presentations

All PhD students give a Wednesday Lunchtime Seminar presentation based on their research so far, typically in their second year.


Students receive written feedback on a termly basis via a termly supervisory report the supervisor writes and submits online. The feedback will relate to the progress the student has made with respect to their research project and will be discussed with the student in advance of the submission of the report to the University. The CBU monitor these reports to ensure any issues are addressed in a timely manner.


Thesis / Dissertation

The PhD is examined using an internal and external examiner based on a thesis which shall not exceed 60,000 words and a viva.


All PhD students are probationary in their first year until they undergo formal assessment  (by written report and viva) in a first year review meeting held towards the end of their first year. In advance of this meeting, students submit a written report that includes a summary of progress to date, work proposed for the remainder of the PhD, and training undertaken. Students must pass this assessment to be registered to the PhD and continue with their project.

Approximately nine months before students are due to complete their PhD, a final year review meeting is held between student, supervisors, and other departmental representatives to ensure they are on track for timely completion. The aim is to mitigate against discovering, towards the end of the final year, that there is too much to do in too little time. Students bring along an outline of the planned thesis and a writing sample to facilitate discussion and problem-solving during the meeting.

Lighter touch mid PhD reviews are held for all students not in their first or final year. These ensure that students are on track to deliver a PhD in the number of funded years, consider whether there are any gaps in their opportunities or training to date, and think about whether they might benefit from additional support in any area.


Key Information

3-4 years full-time

4-7 years part-time

Study Mode : Research

Doctor of Philosophy

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Course - related enquiries

Application - related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 4, 2023
Application deadline
May 16, 2024
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2024

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Course Funding Deadline
Dec. 5, 2023
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 11, 2023

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2024, Lent 2025 and Easter 2025.

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