UCL Institute of Mental Health


About the programme

Information about the UCL Wellcome 4-year PhD in Mental Health Science

Mental illness is very common and a major public health problem. Over half of adult disorders begin by age 15, and one-in-four people in the UK has experienced clinically relevant symptoms within the past year. Treatments help many but do not work for a large proportion of people and, so far, have failed to reduce prevalence.

To create genuine change in this field, we need to develop innovative preventative strategies and treatments and apply existing ones more effectively through understanding the mechanisms that drive symptoms.

The UCL Wellcome 4-year PhD in Mental Health Science is an exciting opportunity for students to train in a wide range of the latest methods and techniques in mental health research. This programme, funded in 2019, is the first of its kind in the UK, representing an investment of over £5 million by the Wellcome Trust. It is based in the UCL Institute of Mental Health and recruits six students per year from 2020 to 2024.

The programme will provide a platform for the interdisciplinary research we need to translate findings from work on mechanisms and risk factors into novel treatments and prevention strategies.

The different themes of the programme are:

Mechanism: Identification of the biological, neural and cognitive processes that drive and maintain the symptoms of mental illness from childhood to old age, particularly drawing on UCL’s world-leading neuroscience. Includes research in: molecular genetics, cellular and systems neuroscience; pharmacology; cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging; and cognitive psychology.

Population Mental Health: Understanding risk factors for mental illness using epidemiological methods, using birth cohorts to identify social and environmental determinants of mental illness, and genetic epidemiology. Incorporates the rapidly developing field of mental health data science, including new remote data capture approaches and the application of novel machine learning methods to large datasets.

Intervention: Development, targeting and evaluation of new treatments and preventative interventions for mental illness, including experimental medicine and clinical trial methodology. Builds on knowledge relating to modifiable risk factors and causal mechanisms, enabling the development, implementation and targeting of more effective interventions.

Central to our ethos is the co-production of research with people with lived experience of mental illness. We provide training in co-production, involve lived experience researchers at all stages of the research process, and have lived experience representatives on student thesis committees.  

Our ultimate objective is to train outstanding scientists and policy leaders for whom interdisciplinary working is the norm and who can communicate their findings to a wide audience so that their research delivers change. An important priority for the programme is developing transferable skills relevant for a variety of career pathways both within and outside academia, including, for example, policy, the charitable sector, and commercial research organisations.

Key Dates

Application deadline:

January 2024


March 2024

Start date:

September 2024

Studentship details

We offer six fully-funded studentships per year. Funding includes: 

  • A stipend for four years at Wellcome Trust rates (see Wellcome Trust website  London rates). 
  • UCL Tuition fees (UK and overseas rates as applicable)
  • Research consumable costs
  • Travel allowance 
  • Training expense allowance

At the end of the programme, students can apply for ‘transition funds’ to support their transition to the next career stage, whether in academia or another sector. During this period, students can disseminate research findings or take up to 6 months of internships outside academia (e.g. healthcare, the media, teaching, policy, and the commercial and charitable sectors). The funds can only be accessed after the students have submitted their thesis. 

This studentship is also available on a part-time basis. If you wish to undertake this option, please indicate so in your statement of motivation. 

Through this programme, students can join the UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Training Program in Neuroscience, which would involve conducting part of their training at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), situated near Washington, DC. This would extend the studentship to a fifth year. For students opting to pursue this opportunity, their stipend and research expenses would be supported by the NIH during the period spent there.

Overseas applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible and will not be required to pay additional tuition fees.


This programme is part of Wellcome’s non-clinical four-year PhD studentships in science. We will not normally consider applications from allied health professionals  (doctors, clinical psychologists, other health professionals). We will only do so if candidates demonstrate that they are committed to a career outside clinical practice. Wellcome funds several PhD programmes specifically for health professionals, which are designed for those intending to complete a PhD in the context of clinical training. 

Overseas applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible and will not be required to pay additional fees. The programme will cover visa costs and NHS surcharge costs.

Applicants whose first language is not English or that do not have a degree from an institution in a majority English speaking country, will need to provide proof of an adequate level of English proficiency. The English language level for this programme is Good. Further information can be found on our English language requirements page.

Improving diversity

Equality, diversity, & inclusion are fundamental to society. A key goal for this programme is to increase the representation of students with minoritised status and support their progress and welfare once recruited. With respect to the Equalities Act of 2010, by minoritised status, we refer to ethnicity, recognising that differences between individual ethnicities are very important; gender; sexuality, gender identity and reassignment; disability; age; marriage and civil partnership status; and pregnancy and maternity. We welcome neurodivergent applicants and will make adjustments to the recruitment process to help overcome specific challenges.

At every stage of the educational and professional journey, there are barriers to advancement faced by minoritised people; of particular relevance to this programme is the underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups from undergraduate to PhD level studies in mental health-related disciplines. This is a matter of retention as well as recruitment - once in place, students from ethnic minority groups are vulnerable to discrimination by staff and peers (see Supporting students below).

We recognise that each stage of the recruitment process involves barriers: who feels eligible or entitled to apply, which undertakes the selection process, how applicants are assessed during shortlisting, how interviews are conducted, and how final decisions are made. We are taking steps to tackle each of these:

·        One place each year is ring-fenced for a candidate from an ethnic minority background.

·        We will develop outreach strategies to overcome barriers to application, for example, by targeted dissemination into non-research-intensive universities (which have more diverse student populations) and through ethnic minority societies, as well as organisations that aim to support the participation of ethnic minority students in academia.

·       We have put measures in place to treat students fairly during the selection process, such as removing identifiable and demographic information during shortlisting. Our selection criteria go beyond academic grades and consider evidence of motivation and insight to assess the whole person.

·        We are sensitive to how differences in cultural background between applicants and the interview panel may disadvantage students, and we will ensure that no interview panels are exclusively white.

·        All supervisors must undertake UCL’s Online diversity training for staff and harassment prevention training.

We are also guided by long-term UCL strategies for advancing equity and inclusion, for example, the UCL Equity and Inclusion Plan 2020-2021.

Programme structure and training

The programme follows a “1+3” model, with a foundational year in year one, followed by three years dedicated to the main PhD project.

Year 1 

Students will undertake three rotation projects, Master’s-level module courses, clinical rotations, and a bespoke set of training seminars during the first year.  

Rotation projects will familiarise students with the different groups in which they may choose to conduct their PhD project. 

Students undertake three rotation projects per year, one from each of the programme’s themes (mechanism, population mental health and intervention). Students select projects from a list of projects offered by Programme supervisors in each academic year. A list of previous rotation projects undertaken by students on the programme can be found here

Students will also follow a taught curriculum of Master’s-level modules at UCL, focused on areas of mental health in which they do not have specific academic training. Students can select courses at FHEQ Level 7 or Level 8 from the  UCL Module Catalogue, with guidance from their mentors. Students should take a minimum of three modules over the year. Typically, students will take 1-2 modules per term.

Students will also have the opportunity to gain experience in clinical mental health settings. This will develop their understanding of clinical problems and enable them to make links with clinicians and patient representatives. We offer 4-week-long, one session a week across a range of settings within the Camden and Islington NHS foundation trust.

The programme also includes purpose-built weekly training seminars covering topics in mental health, good research practice, dissemination skills, mental wellbeing in academic life, co-production, engaging with policymakers, ethical issues in research, critical appraisal, and systematic review training.

Students will also have the opportunity to complete modules in statistics, data analysis and computer programming and engage in a wide range of training available at UCL, including through its Doctoral Skills Development Programme.

Years 2-4

This programme aims for students to receive training in three research Themes through three rotation projects during the first year and subsequently decide on research projects and supervisors for their main PhD projects at the end of the first year. Thus, 

students are not expected to have a pre-identified supervisor or research proposal for their main PhD project at the time of application. 

Primary supervisors must be affiliated with UCL and part of the list of approved supervisors for the programme. Subsidiary supervisors must also be affiliated with UCL (including with honorary contracts).

The main PhD project will be completed in Years 2-4, supported by an interdisciplinary Thesis Committee, which includes representation from each of the three themes of the programme, a clinical mental health practitioner (typically a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist), and at least one person with lived experience of mental health problems.

The programme supports the students in identifying lived experience Thesis Committee members through our partnerships with the UCL Co-Production collective and McPin.