Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit MPhil/PhD

London, Bloomsbury

The Gatsby Unit PhD programme was the first to combine theoretical neuroscience and machine learning within the same programme. Our mathematical approach for developing novel algorithms and tools to understand learning, perception and action in brain and machines is unique.  Applications to this programme must be submitted directly to the Gatsby Unit via its online portal.

UK students International students
Study mode
UK tuition fees (2024/25)
Overseas tuition fees (2024/25)
4 calendar years
Programme starts
September 2024
Applications accepted
All applicants: 16 Oct – 13 Nov 2023

Applications closed

Entry requirements

Applicants must have a strong analytical background, a keen interest in neuroscience or machine learning and a relevant first degree at a minimum of upper second-class UK Bachelor's level or an overseas equivalent, for example in Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Neuroscience, Physics, Psychology or Statistics. Students seeking to combine work in neuroscience and machine learning are particularly encouraged to apply.

The English language level for this programme is: Level 3

UCL Pre-Master's and Pre-sessional English courses are for international students who are aiming to study for a postgraduate degree at UCL. The courses will develop your academic English and academic skills required to succeed at postgraduate level.

Further information can be found on our English language requirements page.

If you are intending to apply for a time-limited visa to complete your UCL studies (e.g., Student visa, Skilled worker visa, PBS dependant visa etc.) you may be required to obtain ATAS clearance. This will be confirmed to you if you obtain an offer of a place. Please note that ATAS processing times can take up to six months, so we recommend you consider these timelines when submitting your application to UCL.

Equivalent qualifications

Country-specific information, including details of when UCL representatives are visiting your part of the world, can be obtained from the International Students website.

International applicants can find out the equivalent qualification for their country by selecting from the list below. Please note that the equivalency will correspond to the broad UK degree classification stated on this page (e.g. upper second-class). Where a specific overall percentage is required in the UK qualification, the international equivalency will be higher than that stated below. Please contact Graduate Admissions should you require further advice.

About this degree

The Gatsby Unit is a world-class research centre for Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience and Machine Learning. Our research seeks to understand the principles of learning, perception and action in brains and machines by developing mathematical algorithms. We provide a unique opportunity for a critical mass of theoreticians to interact closely with each other and with other UCL research groups, in particular the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (SWC) as well as the Centre for Computational Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML). Teaching is supplemented with regular research talks, journal clubs and reading groups, external seminar series and participation in relevant conferences and workshops. PhD students will be supported by all academic staff, not just their immediate supervisors.

Who this course is for

Applicants should have a strong analytical and mathematical background, a keen interest in neuroscience and/or machine learning, and a first degree in relevant fields such as Computer science, Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Statistics, Neuroscience, or Cognitive Psychology. Many applicants to our programme will have a Master’s degree, but this is not essential. Each application is assessed on its individual merits. Candidates offered a place on our programme will be required to meet UCL's standard admissions requirements (including the English language proficiency requirements for international applicants).

What this course will give you

Students at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit study toward a PhD in Theoretical Neuroscience and Machine Learning. The Gatsby Unit is part of the Centre for Computational Statistics and Machine Learning, together with UCL Computer Science and Statistical Science. Approximately 90% of alumni have secured academic or industry positions. Many of the most successful leaders in the fields of computational neuroscience and machine learning have studied or worked in the unit, and the unit has a reputation for offering world-class training.

Our programme offers first-year teaching in Systems and Theoretical Neuroscience (jointly with SWC), Probabilistic and Unsupervised Learning, Approximate Inference and Learning in Probabilistic Models, Theoretical Neuroscience, and Advanced Methods in Machine Learning. In your second year, you will carry out a 2-month rotation project in a lab of your choice, either at or external to UCL. The rotation project should be on a research area not related to your PhD topic. Our course also offers a variety of career and skills development training. 

We are based in a purpose-designed building in the heart of London and UCL. The building also houses the SWC, with which we interact closely. Our building offers two large seminar rooms, common areas for social interaction or quiet study, high-performance computing facilities, kitchen facilities, and a brasserie offering breakfast, lunch, coffee and snacks. There are also two large outdoor areas and an on-site bicycle rack. The surrounding area is vibrant with a variety of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, and museums.

The foundation of your career

Students receive world-class training through our intense, rigorous and diverse research programme. As a result, the majority are highly employable. Students will develop interdisciplinarity and will be expected to collaborate widely. You will develop your communication skills by giving regular internal talks as well as writing scientific publications. Critical thinking is further developed through weekly journal clubs and lab meetings. You will be expected to teach during the second year of the programme and act as a mentor to junior PhDs. Participation in outreach and public engagement activities is also encouraged.


Most of our graduates have continued in the fields of computational neuroscience and/or machine learning. Alumni have secured academic positions in prestigious institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, Columbia, Princeton, Caltech, École Normale Supérieure, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems and Janelia Research Campus, or have gone on to work in companies such as Google DeepMind, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung and Babylon Health.


There are many networking opportunities, both within and external to the Gatsby Unit. Within the unit, there are daily tea hours where members take turns to present their research or a 10-minute talk on an interesting topic to the unit. Our external seminar series provides an opportunity to meet and interact with eminent speakers and external attendees. 

Based in the same building as the SWC, students will have the opportunity to network extensively with experimentalists and to attend SWC seminars, lab meetings and joint social events. Through CSML you will network with peers in Computer Science and Statistics. All students are encouraged to attend relevant conferences and workshops.

Teaching and learning

The four-year PhD programme includes in its first year intensive courses that provide a comprehensive introduction to theoretical and systems neuroscience and machine learning:

  • Systems Neuroscience and Theoretical Neuroscience
  • Probabilistic and Unsupervised Learning (COMP0086)
  • Approximate Inference and Learning in Probabilistic Models (COMP0085)
  • Advanced Topics in Machine Learning (COMP0083)
  • Reinforcement Learning (COMP0089)

Students will also be required to carry out a 2-month rotation project in a field different from the field of their PhD thesis.

We offer a supportive and interdisciplinary environment with close links to the SWC and the ELLIS Unit at UCL. For more details see

Students are required to complete coursework for all first-year courses. There are three examinations in the first year of study.

Typical contact hours are 9am - 5pm.

Research areas and structure

  • Analysis of neural data
  • Neural dynamics
  • Neural plasticity
  • Perceptual processing of auditory and visual input
  • Neural population coding
  • Kernel methods
  • Bayesian statistics
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Statistical machine learning
  • Unsupervised learning
  • Network and relational data

Research environment

The Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit was established by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation at UCL in 1998 to provide a unique opportunity for a critical mass of theoreticians to interact closely with each other and with other UCL research groups in neuroscience, machine learning and related areas. We are one of the first centres in the world to bring together the fields of theoretical neuroscience and machine learning, and our investigators have pioneered research into the mathematical underpinnings of learning, perception and action in natural and artificial systems.

In 2016 we moved from our original home in Queen Square to Fitzrovia to create a new collaborative partnership with the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (SWC). The SWC and the Gatsby Unit work together closely, with joint research appointments, parallel PhD programmes, common day-to-day activities, and joint research projects that bring together theoretical and experimental neuroscience. We are also part of the cross-faculty Centre for Computational Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML) and work with other UCL research groups in neuroscience and machine learning

There are many networking opportunities both within and external to the Gatsby Unit. Within the unit, there are regular talks where members take turns to give research talks to the rest of the unit. The unit also holds regular seminars to which eminent speakers are invited; these are open to other members of the university, and there is an opportunity to meet speakers and attendees after the talk. Students also run journal clubs and their own reading groups, and all students have the opportunity to attend relevant conferences and workshops.

The PhD programme lasts for four years, including first-year teaching in techniques and research in theoretical and systems neuroscience and machine learning. We only admit new students starting in September.

Courses in the first year, taught with colleagues from the SWC and CSML, provide a comprehensive introduction to theoretical and systems neuroscience and to machine learning; with multidisciplinary training in other areas of neuroscience also available. Students are encouraged to work and interact closely with peers and faculty in the SWC and CSML throughout their PhD to take advantage of this uniquely multidisciplinary research environment.

In Year 1, students take core courses in theoretical neuroscience (TN), systems neuroscience (taught with SWC) and machine learning (ML), after which they generally choose to concentrate on either TN or ML. Students sit exams for TN and ML during the second (third) term. 

In Year 2, students are expected to work on their thesis project. Students also do a 2-month rotation in a field that is not related to their PhD thesis. At the end of the second year, students are expected to write an MPhil/PhD upgrade report on their progress and future plans and schedule to give a presentation on this report to the rest of the unit. Having passed all the required assessments, students then transfer from MPhil to PhD status and devote their remaining tenure to research. 

Throughout the PhD programme, students are immersed in a highly stimulating educational environment, comprising regular talks, research reports, journal clubs and ad hoc reading groups; seminar series in the unit and other UCL departments (including SWCInstitute of Cognitive NeuroscienceInstitute of Neurology, Department of PsychologyNeuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacologythe ELLIS Unit at UCL; and Department of Statistical Science), and participation in international conferences such as COSYNE, ICML and NeurIPS.


Details of the accessibility of UCL buildings can be obtained from AccessAble Further information can also be obtained from the UCL Student Support and Wellbeing team.

Fees and funding

Fees for this course

UK students International students
Fee description Full-time
Tuition fees (2024/25) £6,035
Tuition fees (2024/25) £34,400

The tuition fees shown are for the year indicated above. Fees for subsequent years may increase or otherwise vary. Where the programme is offered on a flexible/modular basis, fees are charged pro-rata to the appropriate full-time Master's fee taken in an academic session. Further information on fee status, fee increases and the fee schedule can be viewed on the UCL Students website:

Additional costs

There are no programme-specific additional costs.

For more information on additional costs for prospective students please go to our estimated cost of essential expenditure at Accommodation and living costs.

Funding your studies

A number of fully-funded studentships are available each year. Each studentship covers payment of full fees, provides a generous tax-free living stipend and a travel budget for conference/workshop attendance. Studentships are available to students of any nationality.

For a comprehensive list of the funding opportunities available at UCL, including funding relevant to your nationality, please visit the Scholarships and Funding website.

Next steps

All applications must be made directly to the Gatsby Unit by the deadline stated on the Gatsby Unit website. Please refer to this web page on the Gatsby Unit website for how to apply to this programme. Late applications will be held until all applications received by the deadline have been assessed. It is very likely that all available positions will be filled by then.

Please note that you may submit applications for a maximum of two graduate programmes (or one application for the Law LLM) in any application cycle.

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