UCL Division of Biosciences



The Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology (SMB) is an outstanding place to begin a research career. We are home to one of the world's largest academic centres for multidisciplinary research in biochemistry with over 30 research groups and 60+ Post-Docs, PhD students and support staff. PhD students in SMB join established research groups in well-funded labs that provide support throughout the PhD.

Why SMB for your PhD?

  • UCL is home to one of the largest Life Sciences research communities in the world. Our research covers everything from protein structure to drug discovery. This provides great range and flexibility to our PhD students for their PhD topics and methodologies.
  • UCL and the Department of Biological Sciences at Birkbeck created the Institute for Structural Biology (ISMB), one of the largest research centres for research in multidisciplinary research around structural biology in the world. This unique pooling of resources and expertise provides our PhD students with more than 60 research groups and supervisors, world-leading facilities and an innovative program of seminars and symposia.  
  • UCL is home to one of the largest concentrations in Europe of researchers in the exciting growth field of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.
  • Our research expertise is world-recognized in areas such as bacterial secretion, aging, signal transduction, protein folding, drug metabolism and cellular protein trafficking. 
  • Our PhD students have access to the cutting-edge central computing facilities at UCL which is a world leader in computational scientific research. 
  • We use state-of-the-art facilities in X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, cryo-electron microscopy, imaging, biophysical and biochemical analysis, molecular and cell biology.
  • We are pioneering both multi-disciplinary approaches aimed to bridge across the scales of biology, and methods to integrate disparate data across the disciplines.

  • We pride ourselves in doing world-class research in the most collegial and collaborative environment, with emphasis on a positive research culture of mentoring and promoting equal opportunities for researchers at all levels.

  • We have a very persuasive track record in supporting women in science and pay heed to all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion.

  • Recent graduates have become researchers at leading UK and international universities and research centres as well as taking senior roles in industry with companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis, UCB-Celltech and Genzyme.

  • We provide continuous support and mentorship to support our fellows in their research and career progression.

  • 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.

Meet some of our Current PhD Students

Each year around 10 students join the SMB PhD programme. Around half are on funded programmes, a quarter are self-funded and a quarter are funded by other sources (eg foreign governments, charities or external scholarships). 

veronica boron
Veronica Boron
Faculty of Life Sciences PGR Rep
Linked In

"I am a member of Andrew Martin’s Lab, my research focuses on using machine-learning based approaches to predict various aspects of antibody structure. This PhD has given me a great jump-start into the interdisciplinary world of Bioinformatics, my work blends aspects of Immunology, Computer Science, and Biophysics to address a multi-faceted challenge.”

Kristina Ulicna
Linked In


"The computational aspect of my PhD project allowed me to look at cell biology from a whole different perspective - monitoring cells under a microscope resembles a bunch of weirdly smart, miniature robot-like devices". 

Watch Kristina speaking about Automated Deep Lineage Tree Analysis at PyLadies


Gabriel Scoglio
Linked In

"Hello, I am a Ph.D. student currently working on cyanobacteria in the Purton Lab. Specifically, I am working on a strain of Aphanizomenon flos aquae (AFA) from Klamath Lake, Oregon. My project is to isolate it, determine its optimal growth conditions, unravel its genome sequence and, eventually, genetically engineer it. The overarching aim is to be able to culture AFA at mass scale for commercial reasons. Please feel free to contact me if needed".


James Sweet-Jones
Linked In

"I'm a LIDo-funded PhD student working on tools to aid the development of antibody-based drugs using machine learning in Andrew Martin's Lab. My aim is to improve the success of the discovery pipeline through improved candidate selection therefore reducing the time taken and the cost to bring new drugs to the clinic."

Selection of Theses Submitted 2020-2021 

    The majority of research projects undertaken by our postgraduate students have a strong multi-disciplinary component. However, research activities within the department can broadly be grouped into the following research areas:

    • Bioinformatics
    • Molecular cell biology and metabolism
    • Molecular microbiology
    • Structural biology and molecular biophysics

    Here are some of the theses submitted by SMB PhD Doctoral Students in 2020 and 2021:

    Download the Biosciences Graduate Student Handbook 2021-22

    How to Apply 

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    In general, students apply directly to a funding programme. 

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    If you are interested in doing a PhD in SMB at UCL and are not eligible for a UK studentship, you will need to follow a different process. 

    What's it Like to do a PhD at SMB?

    Day-to-day supervision is provided by the primary supervisor who generally meets with the student on a weekly basis, as well as in group meetings, and is available whenever required to answer questions and assist with problems. In addition, students’ progress is monitored via a thesis committee consisting of the primary and secondary supervisors and an independent ‘thesis chair’. Meetings occur at regular intervals and there are prescribed activities (oral presentations and/or written work) for each meeting. Meetings and reports are all recorded in the student’s online research log. The graduate research administrator team provides administrative support while the departmental graduate tutor has an overall monitoring role and will help to resolve any problems with progress or supervision.

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    We place a strong emphasis on high-quality interdisciplinary student training and the development of transferable skills. Students attend weekly seminars given by leading researchers and meet these external speakers over lunch. They also attend weekly ‘Friday Wraps’, presented by students and post-docs. Attendance at conferences is expected and presentations are strongly encouraged. In addition, the ISMB (of which SMB is a part) organizes research retreats and symposia providing other opportunities for networking as well as presentation and communication skills.

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    Students are required to gain 20 ‘training points’ per year. These are gained from attending seminars and conferences, demonstrating for practicals and attending some of the many training courses available within the faculty and through the UCL Doctoral School. This wide range of free programmes across UCL is designed to develop core skills and includes:

    • Statistics

    • Generic research techniques and ethics

    • Document preparation in LaTeX

    • Presentation and writing skills

    • Programming

    Innovation and Enterprise Entrepreneurship

    Public Engagement

    Students can also participate in ‘Software Carpentry’ workshops and can attend the Bioinformatics MSc lectures at Birkbeck.


    Students have ready access to a full suite of electronic support facilities including the library and e-journals. UCL has exceptional computing facilities including group and departmental servers and university-wide supercomputing (approaching 20,000 cores as well as GPUs).

    Useful Information 

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    Structural and Molecular Biology 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 

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    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.

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    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.