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PhD

The Research Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology (NPP) is an outstanding place to begin a research career. Neuroscience research at UCL is ranked 2nd in the world and 1st in Europe for neuroscience and behaviour and NPP is part of this unique environment. PhD students in NPP join established research groups in well-funded labs that provide support throughout the PhD.

PhD student projects range from the molecular basis of receptor and ion channel function, to cell signalling in epithelia, neurons and glia, metabolic and autonomic neuroscience, synaptic, circuits and systems neuroscience, and neural computation. Drug action is studied at molecular, cellular and systems levels, while diseases of aging such as Alzheimer’s Disease are a prominent part of our research activity. 

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Prospective students are warmly encouraged to review the many research topics in the department and to make early contact with academic staff researching areas of particular interest. PhD projects may be based entirely within NPP, or (as often the case) are connected to collaborative research projects that link departments across UCL and with external partners.
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Why NPP for your PhD?

  • NPP is a dynamic, inclusive and research-led department with broad expertise spanning receptor pharmacology, biophysics, circuits and systems neuroscience, cardiovascular neurophysiology and neural computation.
     
  • UCL is home to Europe's largest Neuroscience research community comprising over 400 research groups.
     
  • NPP is home to researchers developing cutting edge technologies and has state-of-the art Science Technology Platforms for imaging, genomics, mass spectrometry and more.

  • Graduate students joining NPP will join a long and distinguished heritage of PhD study.

  • PhD students participate in the NPP seminar programme in addition to having regular opportunities to attend national and international meetings of Learned Societies such as the Physiological SocietyBritish Pharmacological Society and British Neuroscience Association.

  • Across UCL, PhD student provision is supported and monitored by the UCL Doctoral School which provides the main avenue for training support for PhD students at UCL.

  • Within NPP, the progress of all PhD students is monitored by the NPP Graduate Tutors, Professor Alasdair Gibb, Dr Joanne Marks and Professor Alex Gourine. In addition to a primary supervisor, each PhD student has a secondary supervisor who chairs Thesis Committee meetings and the MPhil-PhD upgrade process at the end of the 1st year of PhD study.

Funding for your PhD

A variety of possible funding routes operate for PhD students and in addition to established PhD programmes, occasional opportunities arise for prospective students to apply for specific funded scholarships such as industry linked CASE awards. These are usually advertised at findaphd.com. 

Several flagship PhD programmes at UCL include staff in the Department of Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology.  These programmes include:

Other options for prospective PhD students:

Where a Studentship is not available in a particular area of study, it may be possible to secure a self-funded PhD place. Students are encouraged to directly contact potential supervisors whose research matches their interests. For students with an outstanding academic record, this may lead to application for a UCL Graduate Research Scholarship.

How to Apply

We will be pleased to consider applications to the department via the UCL online application portal.

Students may also apply directly to dedicated studentships.  

In either case it will facilitate your application if you can make early contact with a prospective supervisor in the department.

Step by step guide to application
 

1. Contact a potential supervisor
 

  • Visit the People page (LINK) on this website or review our research theme pages (LINK) to find the labs and academics working on your areas of interest.  
     
  • Initiate contact with the potential supervisor or with one of the Graduate Tutors below listed below, sending them some details about yourself and your motivation for PhD study.

2. Make a formal application via the online application portal
 

Key Contacts
 

Graduate Tutor: Professor Alasdair Gibb
Graduate Tutor: Professor Alexander Gourine
Graduate Tutor: Joanne Marks
PhD Administrator: Manu Davies 020 3549 5460 (internal - 65460), G03A Anatomy

What's it like to do a PhD in NPP?

Instead of learning things that are already well known, PhD students discover things that were previously unknown. So a PhD is less structured and less predictable than other academic qualifications. PhD students are often the most active and productive people in their research group, and we value them highly.

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Each student will work closely with their principal supervisor, but also take part in many other research-focused and skills training events and opportunities during the course of the PhD. The precise form of your research program will depend in part upon the nature of your funding.
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All NPP PhD students will have access to the UCL Doctoral Skills Development Programme (UCL DocSkills). This programme is designed to help you to expand your research and transferable skills in order to support your research, professional development and employability.

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Successful PhD students will go on to join the active UCL Alumni Community. UCL currently has alumni living in 191 different countries worldwide.

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Illustrations of PhD Student Work in NPP

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Two-photon evoked images of capillaries in rat brain cortical slices  before and after applying 72 nM Amyloid- (Aβ1-42), showing capillary constriction near pericytes. (basement membrane labelling with fluorescently tagged isolectin B4 (IB4)). Contributed by Ross Nortley, PhD student with David Attwell (DOI: 10.1126/science.aav9518).

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Merged images of HA-tagged CaV2.2 calcium channels (green) and the peptide CGRP (red) in the dorsal horn of CaV2.2_HAKIKI mice. Region of interest depicted as white rectangle illustrates the gradation in intensity of staining between superficial and deep dorsal horn. Scale bar 200 μm. Contributed by Krishma Ramgoolam, PhD student with Profesor Annette Dolphin (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1811212115).

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Merged images of a brain slice from a mouse model of Alzheimer’s Disease labelled for Astrocytes (red) and Microglia (yellow), using Dapi (blue) to label nuclei and Amytracker (green) to label amyloid plaques). Scale bar 200 μm. Contributed by Karina Vitanova, PhD student with Profesor Frances Edwards.

Useful Information

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Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology MPhil/PhD Prospectus Page

Find out about entry requirements, teaching, funding and more

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UCL Graduate Student Admissions Guidance

Everything you need to know about graduate degrees at UCL 

Main campus of UCL. There is a large red bus parked in front of the main building.

Scholarships Finder

We have several students in receipt of UCL scholarships that provide full funding. Explore all UCL scholarships here

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All UCL Funding Schemes

There are many possible sources of financial support for PhD students. This page gives a full description of funding for current and prospective PhD students at UCL.

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UK Doctoral Loan Scheme

A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course, such as a PhD.

Display case in the Grant Museum up close

How much does a PhD cost?

Many of our students have independent funding, such as foreign government schemes, private support, small scholarships, and savings. Make sure you have enough to cover the 3 or 4 years a PhD takes.

Graduate students joining NPP will join a long and distinguished heritage of PhD study.  The Research Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology has origins in the UCL medical school departments of Physiology, Pharmacology and Anatomy which made many contributions to the early development of these academic disciplines.

During the second half of the 20th Century, many important contributions to our fields of study were made by PhD students who began their careers at UCL.  Among PhD students from the departments of Physiology and Pharmacology was Donald Jenkinson (Head of Pharmacology, 1983 to 1987) who was a PhD student in the 1950s with Sir Bernard Katz and made the first precise quantitative measurements of the affinity of tubocurarine for acetylcholine receptors of the neuromuscular junction (Jenkinson, 1960; doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1960.sp006489).

Bernard Katz Portrait by Jenny Hersson-Ringskog

Later, with Dennis Haylett and Neil Castle he made precise measurements of the highly specific block of one class of potassium channels by the honey bee venom peptide, apamin (Castle, Haylett and Jenkinson, 1989, doi:10.1016/0166-2236(89)90137-9).  He was a generous and kind Head of Department, (known as ‘the old walrus’ by some of the medical students on account of his bushy mustache).

Don Jenkinson

Paul Fatt was a remarkable PhD student in the Physiology department who studied neuromuscular transmission in the frog with Sir Bernard Katz during his PhD.  Paul had studied Biochemistry at University of California Berkeley on the G.I. Bill after serving with the US Army during World War II.

In a Physiological Society memoir (Ashmore, 2014, An interview with Paul Fatt) he describes vividly arriving at UCL in the summer of 1948, having travelled by transatlantic liner from the United States, to find very few people in the department!

Murdoch Ritchie, Paul Fatt, Bernard Ginsborg, Douglas Wilkie

He was advised to go to Plymouth, where Katz and Hodgkin and Huxley were working together studying squid axon action potentials. There he met Katz and this led to the idea for his PhD, to use the new technique of recording membrane potential using glass microelectrodes to investigate synaptic transmission by studying the endplate potential in frog muscle. Observing the membrane potential recording, Fatt & Katz noticed that there were small blips in the membrane potential (about 1 mV in size) they described as ‘biological noise’.

Paul Fatt

Others might have overlooked the noise as perhaps due to vibration or originating from their home-made amplifier, but crucially, Fatt & Katz noted that the ‘noise’ was only observed when the microelectrode was inserted in the muscle fibre close to the point of contact between the nerve and the muscle. They had observed, for the first time, a nerve talking to a muscle! These spontaneous, sub-threshold events were due to the release of ‘quanta’ of neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the terminals of the motor nerve. 

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Paul Fatt’s PhD resulted in one of the most significant discoveries to be made in Physiology. Fatt & Katz published a brief report of their work in Nature in 1950 (doi: 10.1038/166597a0.), and a full paper in the Journal of Physiology in 1952 (DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2006.122143).

The illustration shows original membrane potential recordings from endplate of frog extensor digitorum longus muscle. Panel A, with electrode inserted at the endplate; Panel B, inserted 2 mm away. Panel C, Paul Fatt photographed in 1989; Panel D, Paul’s PhD supervisor, Sir Bernard Katz. In a long and distinguished career in the Biophysics Department at UCL, Paul Fatt went on to make fundamental discoveries on excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission, on muscle properties and identified voltage-gated calcium currents.

Read more about the History of NPP

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