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Students will complete a comprehensive training programme in their probationary year plus a 1 month guided PhD proposal which is followed by an extended research project for the award of the PhD. 

The training programme will be completed in the first 6 months of the probationary year, and offers workshops, experimental research experience and compulsory bespoke taught courses that are broken down into two distinct types:

  • Essential Fundamental Skills Courses, which will be followed by all students predominantly during the first six months; and
  • Bridging Courses, academic courses tailored to student needs in order to develop fundamental knowledge.

Alongside the lectures, students will undertake a Guided Training Project and a Guided PhD Proposal, selected from a list of projects and hosted in the Department of Chemistry or other partner Department.

Optional Advanced Courses will also be available to students, according to individual interest/need at any time during their PhD, following the completion of their probationary year.

One to one supervision

The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which set out the University’s expectations regarding supervision. 

In addition to a Principal Supervisor, all CDT students will have several sources of support available to them including Departmental Tutors and Academic Mentors.


During the probationary year compulsory elements will be taught through lectures and classes predominately within the first 6 months:

  • Essential Fundamental Skills Courses equating to approximately 70 hours in total, plus additional online courses.
  • Bridging courses equate to approximately 90 hours in total.

Optional Advanced Courses will vary depending on individual student needs and research commitments.


A Guided Training Project and PhD Proposal will be completed by students (duration approximately 4 months) in the remaining time of the first 6 months when not committed to lectures.


Students will be required to produce one literature review during the probationary period of the CDT programme as part of the assessed Review-Style Article.


Presentation is an integral and expected part of the experience every PhD student will have within the SynTech CDT, from peer to peer presentations at which second year students will give poster presentations and third year students will give a talk.  

In the first year of the programme, students will have the opportunity to attend the Chemistry Department Showcase Week, which follows a similar structure for the second and third year presentations.

Opportunities also exist for students to attend national and international conferences within their field of enquiry.


There is a non-compulsory possibility for students to undertake a 2-3 month placement in a partner company during their second year of study. Projects opportunities will be advertised in due course.


Informal feedback will be provided by supervisors during one-to-one supervision sessions and as part of group meetings.

Termly supervision reports will be written by CDT Director and/or Project Advisor in the first year and by PhD Supervisor(s) in the following years.

In addition, all students will receive termly online reports written by their supervisors. Supervision reports and student progression can be discussed more informally, with the opportunity for feedback and action through termly meetings with Academic Mentors, if required.


Thesis / Dissertation

Examination at the end of the programme will be by submission of a thesis for examination for the PhD degree. The thesis is typically no more than 60,000 words, but word limits and requirements are set by the Degree Committee of the Department in which the PhD project is based. The thesis is examined by two examiners and includes an oral examination.


Students are probationary in the first year and progression to the second year (and registration to the PhD) depends on a successful first year review.  The review has two stages.

During the first year, students are required to submit a portfolio of written work consisting of a:

  • Review-Style Article (up to 5,000 words)
  • Training Project Report (up to 5,000 words)
  • PhD proposal which lies within the field of enquiry offered by the CDT course (up to 5,000 words)

The portfolio will be assessed and an oral examination, which will probe knowledge of entire student experience during the first year including written work and the PhD proposal, will be undertaken. 

Then, towards the end of the first year, students submit a written progress report for probationary review. The word limits and requirements are set by the Degree Committee of the Department in which the project is based. The report is assessed by two or three assessors and an oral examination of the report will be undertaken.

To progress onto PhD study, students are required to obtain a pass mark in the portfolio of written work and oral assessment, satisfactorily attend all mandatory training courses, normally have satisfactory supervision reports in all three terms, and pass the first year probationary review exercise.

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Key Information

4 years full-time

Doctor of Philosophy

This course is advertised in multiple departments. Please see the Overview tab for more details.

Course – related enquiries

Application – related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Michaelmas 2021

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2020
Application deadline
June 30, 2021
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2021

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

Graduate Funding Competition
Dec. 3, 2020
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 14, 2020

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2021, Lent 2022 and Easter 2022.

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