Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience


Postgraduate research degrees

We have a large and active community of PhD students and offer a vibrant and stimulating learning environment for postgraduate research. UCL is ranked first for research power in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience by the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021), with more than two thirds of our research in these areas rated as world-leading (4*).

We are delighted that you are thinking of applying for a PhD at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. The decision to undertake a PhD is a momentous one that should not to be taken lightly. There are many good and bad reasons for doing a PhD. We hope that the information below will help you with your decision.

Why do a PhD?

If you are fascinated by cognitive neuroscience and want to pursue a career in research, you may wish to consider doing a PhD after your undergraduate or MSc degree. A PhD would demonstrate an ability to conduct out scientific research.  It is required for an academic career and desirable for many non-university research positions.

What are the benefits?

The principal benefit of doing a PhD is the satisfaction of pushing yourself and showing that you are capable of producing world-class research.  As well as becoming an expert in a particular area of cognitive neuroscience, you will develop excellent oral and written communication skills, enhance your critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and make friendships that may endure throughout your life.

What are the considerations?

A full-time PhD requires a 3-4 year time commitment during which you are dedicated to your research.  This is likely to involve long hours, poor pay (or even going into debt), and many worries: Is my chosen topic suitable for a PhD project?  Am I on the right course?  Am I making sufficient progress? What are my job prospects afterwards?  Surprisingly, most students find that despite the support of their supervisor, lab colleagues, and fellow PhD students, doing a PhD can be a lonely experience when responsibility for the work  ultimately comes down to you.

What does the PhD involve?

You would spend 3 years conducting research on your chosen topic, supervised my a member of staff. This ultimately results in a PhD thesis. During your PhD you also take postgraduate courses, attend research talks, and benefit from the exciting intellectual climate at UCL.

Why at the ICN?

The ICN has a large and active community of PhD students. We are an interdisciplinary Institute situated within the School of Life and Medical Sciences at UCL. Faculty at the ICN are drawn from many different research divisions and departments, including the Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, the Institute of Neurology and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging.

How do I decide on a topic?

Before applying for a PhD, you need to decide on a topic. This might be something you have already developed an interest in one during your BA or MSc degree. Alternatively, you may want to get some ideas by taking a look at the research conducted by our academic staff.

The final steps

Once you have checked that you would be eligible, and thought of a general idea, please contact the relevant member of academic staff to discuss possible topics. If you have decided on a topic, find out how to apply to do a PhD at the ICN.

Entry requirements and funding

If you want to undertake a PhD degree at the ICN, there are a few things that you need to think about. Normally you need a minimum of an upper second-class UK Bachelor’s degree or a taught UK Master’s degree, or the overseas equivalent, in a relevant subject. Overseas applicants also need to satisfy the English language requirements.

Closing date for applications: 8 January 2024. You need to contact a potential supervisor well before this date so that you can prepare the research proposal that is required as part of the application process. Applications after this date are possible until 31 July (assuming a September start date), however they cannot be considered for the funding opportunities that we offer.


Being offered a place at the ICN does not guarantee funding. You should discuss relevant options with your supervisor. Funding may be obtained by application through the ICN or by applying directly to funding schemes outside the ICN. Some of the schemes below only cover fees at the UK rate (which includes EU-nationals with 'settled' or 'pre-settled' status), some only cover fees at the International rate, and some are open to students with either fee status. You can find further information about fee status here. If you are not sure of your fee status you should discuss this with your supervisor.

Apply through ICN

The ICN is a central part of UCL Neuroscience, so we are able to offer a range of potential PhD funding opportunities (see below). Some are associated with specific divisions and research departments, while others are broader-based programmes of study. Please check with your potential supervisor which sources of funding you may be eligible for.

Apart from the ESRC DTP, which requires a separate preliminary application to be submitted by 15 Janury 2024, nominations for these funding opportunities are made by the ICN graduate tuturs following the interviews which are expected to be held on 16-18 January 2024. You do not need to apply directly yourself.

Occasionally, Group Leaders may have positions available as part of a grant they hold, or through specific studentship awards direct to them (e.g. industrial collaborations). You should check with your potential supervisor whether any such positions are available.

Don't have a Masters degree?

It is possible to be accepted onto a PhD programme even without a Masters degree. A potential supervisor may decide to accept you directly onto a programme if you are able to demonstrate a sufficient level of knowledge and skills.

Alternatively, you may apply for a "1+3" programme, in which you complete a masters degree before moving directly into the PhD programme. Each programme requires different levels of pre-planning, and students are encouraged to think about potential supervisors for the PhD component, which starts in the second year, before starting out. These programs are particularly useful for students who are moving into Psychology-related research from other fields, and those who do not have substantial previous research experience. Please consult the funding bodies listed on this page and elsewhere to see if a 1+3 programme is available.

Funding schemes outside the ICN

Other sources of funding you may wish to consider. Applicants must apply for these independent of the ICN application procedure. These schemes have their own requirements and deadlines, please visit the links below for relevant information.

Please contact the Postgraduate Tutors at the ICN, Professor Sam Gilbert and Professor Antonia Hamilton if you require any further information.

How to apply

Do I satisfy UCL entrance criteria?

Before you start the application process you should check that you satisfy the UCL entry requirements.

Can we supervise your research?

You’ll need to find a member of staff who can act as supervisor and is willing to do so. To find a potential supervisor you should check this list of our research staff, which describes the research carried out by each group. If you find someone who may be appropriate you should send them an email to ask if they are currently accepting PhD students. You should include some information about yourself (e.g. a brief CV), a statement of why you have approached them, and if possible a brief explanation of possible reseach topics that would interest you (this does not need to be extensive at all, it is not a full research proposal). If you have any ideas about funding opportunities you can mention this well, but this is not essential.

Securing approval of the supervisor

Most people respond fairly quickly to email requests of this sort but this is just the first of many steps.  You will need to discuss your proposal in depth with your supervisor and agree a plan for your PhD.  You will then need to prepare a formal, written PhD proposal which your supervisor will have to approve before it is submitted.

Submit a formal online application
  • Please note that your completed application will require the name of your prospective supervisor and a brief research proposal, otherwise it will be considered incomplete. When submitting your application please keep the application deadlines in mind.
  • The department will need time to process your application.  Please submit your application 3-4 days before deadline(s) to avoid delays.
  • Please ensure that you apply for a place to study for a Research Degree in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, otherwise the department will not be able to view your application.
  • Please make sure that your referees are aware and willing to provide a reference in the given time frame. Your application will not be received by the department until both references have been submitted.

Apply here

What happens next?

You will receive notification about whether you will be invited to interview for a PhD position.  If possible, these are done in person at the department. However, they can be done remotely via Zoom if necessary.  Interview results are usually announced informally shortly afterwards, and followed-up with a more formal letter from the UCL Doctoral School early in the new year. If you are accepted for admission, the program begins at the end of September.