Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme for the Ecological Study of the Brain MPhil/PhD

London, Bloomsbury

This DTP trains students in the interdisciplinary study of interactions between human brain function, behaviour and real-world environments. We bring together supervisors from psychology, neuroscience, engineering, architecture, education, and computer sciences, sharing the vision that we can achieve a step-change in both our understanding of how humans function in the environment and how to change the environment to best suit human endeavours. 

UK students International students
Study mode
UK tuition fees (2023/24)
Overseas tuition fees (2023/24)
4 calendar years
Programme starts
September 2023
Applications accepted
All applicants: 17 Oct 2022 – 01 Jul 2023

Applications open

Entry requirements

Applicants must hold, or be expected to achieve, a first or high upper second-class undergraduate Honours degree (e.g. BA, BSc) or a Master’s degree (e.g. MRes, MSc), or the overseas equivalent, in a relevant subject.

The English language level for this programme is: Level 2

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. International Preparation Courses

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

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

Understanding how humans operate in the real-world, the ecological niche in which the brain has evolved, is critical to explaining the richness of human experiences. Most scientific knowledge about brain and behaviour, however, comes from laboratory studies focusing on a single domain (e.g., language processing) and sacrifice real-world context to achieve experimental control (e.g., recognition of isolated words rather than face-to-face communication). At the other end of the spectrum, scholars studying real-world phenomena often sacrifice experimental control in order to conduct studies in naturalistic settings. Laboratory experiments, however, often have limited external validity, while naturalistic approaches are descriptive, and therefore do not address causal relationships between brain, behaviour and the environment. To explain the inherent richness of human experiences, a radical change in approach to brain and behavioural research is needed that enables future leaders to harness and further develop new methods and technologies - part of the digital revolution - to measure behaviour and brain activity in the wild (e.g., wearable devices and wireless electroencephalography), to bring real- world complexity into the lab (e.g., virtual and augmented reality, large-scale modifiable real- world facilities) and to analyse the wealth of data these methods produce (e.g., blind signal source separation, graph- theoretic analysis). ECOLOGICAL BRAIN proposes to deliver such a change, moving from established patterns of working within single disciplines to an integrative science approach that brings together psychology, neuroscience, education, geography, computer science, engineering and architecture to bridge the gap between basic scientific discovery, and the application of this knowledge. The programme is 4 years, including a first year in which students will carry out rotation projects in three different PI’s groups.

Who this course is for

If you are fascinated by the interdisciplinary study of the interactions between human brain function, behaviour and real-world environments, this Doctoral Training Programme may be the right fit for you. Students enrolled in the ECOLOGICAL BRAIN DTP work using cutting-edge technologies (e.g., VR, mobile recording), facilities (e.g., malleable environments such as PEARL and PAMELA where the complexity of the real-world can be reproduced in the lab, or our scanning facilities at BUCNI) and methods for data analysis. You must have achieved (or expect to obtain) at least an upper 2:1 in your undergraduate degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, Computer Science, Civil Engineering, Geography, or related discipline within the remit of the ECOLOGICAL BRAIN.

What this course will give you

Our DTP specifically supports students to undertake advanced training, visit labs in the UK and overseas, and provides rare opportunities to develop transferable skills that enhance career prospects in and outside academia.

The foundation of your career


Ecological Brain graduates will be highly competitive for academic posts, having been trained in novel approaches to the scientific study of the brain and behaviour, they will also be competitive outside academia, in jobs dealing with Data Science and applications deriving from knowledge of human behaviour in specific real-world settings. 


Ecological Brain students take a prominent and active role in the programme, including organising seminars and involving outstanding external guests. Our PhD students give presentations at high-profile national and international meetings and supervisors have a strong history of research relationships with industry, providing abundant networking opportunities.

Teaching and learning

Students admitted in the programme come from a variety of disciplines and therefore have very different knowledge. There are three areas that are essential for the successful completion of the PhD for all students, these include: statistics, programming and neuroanatomy. Depending upon the academic background of each individual student (and their specific interests for the PhD) they are required to attend modules in any of these three areas in any of the participating departments. In addition to the three areas above, all students are required to attend the Research Ethics and Integrity module offered by the Doctoral School (see: https://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/list-training.pht).

Once a week students attend the EcoBrain Seminar where a guest speaker will give a lecture on research related to the Ecological Brain programme.

End of Year 1: short viva to ensure satisfactory progress through the rotation year
End of Year 2: upgrade from MPhil to PhD
End of Year 4: submission of PhD thesis. Viva in due course after submission

Research areas and structure

Research environment

ECOLOGICAL BRAIN is an interdisciplinary programme that works towards an integrative science approach that brings together psychology, neuroscience, education, geography, computer science, engineering and architecture to bridge the gap between basic scientific discovery and the application of this knowledge. There are seven research departments involved and also a number of research centres/institutes. We currently have a pool of 41 supervisors across the participating Faculties. Supervisors cover a broad range of areas including:

  1. basic behavioural brain sciences (sensory systems, cognitive science and neuroscience);
  2. applied sciences (education, human-computer interaction, built environment);
  3. methodological advances (computational modelling, data science, VR development).

Criteria for supervisors’ selection are research excellence, commitment to high quality training and alignment with our scientific goals. The Executive Team monitor the supervisor pool annually, assessing overall balance and number. As of 2021 the supervisors came from the following research departments/centres: Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Planning (4), Birckbeck/UCL Centre for Neuroimaging (1), Clinical, Edu & Hlth Psychology (1), Computer Science (5), Dept of Civil, Environ &Geomatic Engineering (1), Ear Institute (1), Experimental Psychology (13), Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging (2), Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (2), IoE (3), IoN (5), Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering (1), UCLIC (2). To encourage interdisciplinary thinking each student will have a supervisory team (thesis committee), with at least one subsidiary supervisor from a different faculty than their primary supervisor. Students are encouraged to participate in thesis competitions and poster conferences.

Year 1.

Students are required to attend modules from existing M-level courses covering statistics, programming, neuroanatomy. They are also required to attend bespoke training delivered by members of the DTP as well as research ethics and integrity training. They are asked to indicate their preferences for mini-projects at admission, decisions concerning mini-projects will be finalised by the end of the first term in Year 1. Crucially, during the first year, students identify their supervisory team and project for years 2-4. The supervisory team system encourages students to work across disciplines, selecting complementary supervisors. Each supervisor is allowed to take no more than one student in any one year to ensure a strategic spread of students, supervisors and projects. In July of the first year students are required to submit a short summary of their proposed project and supervisory team and undergo a brief viva to ensure satisfactory progress.

Years 2-4.

Progress through the second year to submission of a final PhD thesis follows the existing University regulations. Year 2: Full time research. The student registers for a PhD with UCL. They are expected (now and throughout their PhD) to attend national/international conferences (conference attendance is supported by Faculties). End of year 2: Preparation of an ‘upgrade report’ of ~10,000 words including literature review, description of the first PhD year’s work on the main project and proposals for further research. The students give an oral presentation before they are examined orally by two assessors, one of whom is not part of the Supervisory Team. The assessors provide a report to the Supervisors on the outcome of the assessment. UCL then approves the student to continue in their PhD. Year 3: Full-time research. Year 4: The student continues their full-time research and prepare their thesis for submission. The final viva follows standard UCL procedures. Student work and supervisor meetings are logged and monitored (by DTP and Faculty) using UCL’s compulsory on-line Research Student Log. This includes sections for regularly updated research plans, identifying targets, recording achievements, assessing skills needs and pinpointing gaps in training.


Details of the accessibility of UCL buildings can be obtained from AccessAble accessable.co.uk. Further information can also be obtained from the UCL Student Support & Wellbeing team.

Fees and funding

Fees for this course

UK students International students
Fee description Full-time
Tuition fees (2023/24) £5,860
Tuition fees (2023/24) £32,100

Additional costs

There are no additional costs for this programme.

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

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

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.

Choose your programme

Please read the Application Guidance before proceeding with your application.

Year of entry: 2023-2024

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