Structural and Molecular Biology MPhil/PhD

London, Bloomsbury

The UCL Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology (SMB), within the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) conducts world-class research in the areas of modern biology, biotechnology and medicine, while providing a stimulating interdisciplinary postgraduate training and vibrant environment.

UK students International students
Study mode
UK tuition fees (2024/25)
Overseas tuition fees (2024/25)
3 calendar years
5 calendar years
Programme starts
October 2024
February 2025
May 2025
Applications accepted
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class Bachelor's degree in biochemistry, cell biology, chemical biology, molecular biology, physics, chemistry or similar subjects from a UK university, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard. Our studentship places are limited and highly sought after; previous research experience would provide a competitive edge to prospective candidates.

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.

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 Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology provides a leading-edge research environment, superb access to technical resources, and world-recognised research expertise in areas such as ageing, algal biology and biotechnology, bacterial secretion, bioinformatics, computational biology, cellular protein trafficking, drug metabolism, cellular respiration, molecular microbiology, RNA and transcription biology, signal transduction, synthetic biology, protein biogenesis and folding, protein structure and dynamics and protein aggregation in disease.

We use state-of-the-art facilities in X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, cryo-electron microscopy, optical tweezers, single-molecule imaging, biophysical and biochemical analysis, molecular and cell biology.

Who this course is for

Our PhD programme will provide you with the opportunities to develop the analytical and research skills you need to answer the scientific questions of our time.

What this course will give you

The department pursues its research aims through high-level external research funding, excellent research facilities, up-to-date equipment and state-of-the-art technologies, coupled with the recruitment of high-calibre staff. SMB maintains industrial contacts and fosters collaborations with investigators from other prestigious UK and international institutions.

Our students particularly benefit from the links that we have with the Department of Biological Sciences at Birkbeck, University of London, the London Centre for Nanotechnology, the Department of Chemistry, and the Frances Crick Institute. In a well-supported mentoring environment we challenge every student to excel in their research and to develop transferable skills enhancing their career development.

The foundation of your career

We place strong emphasis on high-quality student training, interdisciplinary approaches to research, and on providing students with a considerable range of opportunities to develop transferable skills.

Our students are highly successful in obtaining research positions in academia and industry owing to the range of technical expertise that they develop, as well as their deep understanding of fundamental biological processes. They are also successful in gaining positions in other professions where, in addition to a scientific background, our students are able to offer presentation, communication, numerical and data analysis skills (e.g. clinical trials, knowledge transfer and teaching).


Our recent graduates have become researchers at leading UK universities and research centres including Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, King's College London, University of Manchester, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK; and highly reputable international academic institutions such as Cornell University, Yale, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of the Western Cape.

Others have entered employment in the civil service and National Health Service, or have found senior roles in industry with companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis, UCB Pharma and Genzyme.


We embody a truly international environment as many of our academic and research staff have joined UCL following a career path through other world-recognised research centres. Projects frequently include collaboration with researchers in the UK and abroad and students are strongly encouraged to present their work at UK and international research conferences. We regularly host lectures by eminent scientists and students are able to interact with guest speakers over an informal lunch. ISMB research retreats and research symposia provide other opportunities for students to network and establish important contacts for their future research and career development.

Teaching and learning

PhD students work closely with their supervisor and the research team, usually in daily contact. The considerable deepening of knowledge and understanding of the research area that is characteristic of PhD study requires constant self-directed study and participation in the discussion of research methods, data analysis and interpretation.  

Throughout the PhD programme, regular scheduled progression points are used to review academic progress. This will take the form of either a report or a meeting and is overseen by a Thesis Committee, comprised of a secondary supervisor and a thesis chair. The student is also expected to meet regularly with their supervisor and/or supervision team to oversee progress.

Students are required to undertake training in statistics, transferable skills, research ethics, and skills appropriate to their studies. These are provided by the Faculty or through the UCL Doctoral School.

The student would be expected to commit to a minimum of 36.5 hours per week, as consistent with a full-time post at UCL, or the equivalent timing for a part-time position. This time frame also includes self-directed learning. The demands of a PhD may also necessitate additional out-of-hours work to accommodate a project’s need, e.g., data collection.

Research areas and structure

Research environment

The Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology conducts cutting-edge fundamental and applied research ranging from improving our understanding of human health and disease to developing genetically modified algae to produce food and medicines.

We are committed to carrying out the highest quality science and providing the highest quality scientific training. Our PhD programmes are designed to attract the brightest scientific minds, and present a fabulous opportunity for highly motivated and exceptionally talented individuals to embark on their research careers.

We offer a stimulating and supportive training environment for students to carry out their PhD research project. Students are guided by their primary supervisor (a departmental research group leader) and their thesis committee, which comprises a secondary supervisor and a thesis chair.

A full-time PhD is undertaken over a 3- 4 year period. SMB PhD students spend most of their time within their research group working on their PhD project, but also take part in a number of important training and networking activities.

The PhD programme starts with an induction week, to give the new students a head start in getting to know each other, their university, faculty, division, department and the PhD programme. The importance of organising and recording your research, keeping on top of the literature, designing experiments and research integrity is emphasized.

Student progression points
Throughout the PhD programme, there are regular scheduled progression points to review academic progress. The progression points allow the student to discuss how their project is progressing and receive guidance on their research from their supervisory team – their primary supervisor and the rest of their thesis committee. A set of requirements is provided for each progression point (e.g. writing a literature review or methods chapter, doing a presentation). The written reports develop writing skills which contribute directly to the final write-up of a PhD thesis in the final year. Constructive feedback is provided on each report by the supervisory team.

Student presentations
Students develop their presentation skills by presenting their research to their research group and supervisory team in each year of their PhD as well as to the department. This takes the form of an annual graduate research symposium where students give an oral or poster presentation depending on the stage of the PhD they are at. Students who are part of particular cohorts (such as the MRC doctoral training programme or LIDo) also have symposia at which they are expected to present. As part of the “Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology” (ISMB, a joint institute with Birkbeck), students also present short informal talks at “Friday Wraps”.

Skills training 
Throughout the PhD programme, students receive training provided by the department (e.g. in use of specialist equipment), the faculty (courses related to general life sciences topics) or provided by the Doctoral School (e.g. scientific writing, writing with LaTeX, programming, statistics). There is also access to ‘Software Carpentry’ and UCL’s acclaimed SysMIC and L2D training courses.

Seminars, workshops, lectures and conferences

The ISMB, of which our department is a part, hosts an extensive range of seminars by both internal and external speakers. Students have the opportunity to meet with visiting speakers over lunch to discuss their work. With so many world-leading institutions in London, there are also opportunities to attend to attend seminars at these neighbouring sites. In alternate years, the ISMB hosts a retreat (usually held in Cambridge) and a symposium where internationally renowned scientists give presentations. Students have access to funding to allow them to present their work at national and international conferences, providing valuable exposure to the wider scientific community, and an exciting and important learning experience.

Career development
Students are encouraged to plan ahead and think about what they would like to do next. To help with this, the retreat includes external speakers, working both within and beyond academia, who talk about their own careers and offer advice to those interested in pursuing a similar

A part-time PhD can be undertaken over 5 to 7 years and the student benefits from the same opportunities as listed above for a full-time PhD.


All students funded by the BBSRC London Interdisciplinary Doctoral (LIDo) Programme need to undertake a two 3 month placements as a part of their PhD. In order to develop a new set of skills and gain experience in a non-academic sector. The placement work cannot relate to a student's PhD research project.

The placement is organised by the student.


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 Part-time
Tuition fees (2024/25) £6,035 £3,015
Tuition fees (2024/25) £34,400 £17,200

Route code RRDBISSSMB01

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

Additional Fee Element - AFE

Research programmes at UCL may be subject to an Additional Fee Element (AFE). The AFE is applied to cover additional costs related to consumables, equipment and materials and other items (excluding student visas) which are not included in the composite tuition fee listed in the fees schedule and is, therefore, applied to a minority of programmes.

As each PhD programme is unique in its nature, the AFE is calculated on a student by student basis and is determined by the supervisor. The AFE is banded into four fixed amounts: £1,000, £2,500, £5,000 and £10,000, with one further band for variable sums over £10,000. Please contact your supervisor directly for advice.

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

Students interested in carrying out postgraduate research under the mentorship of a member of staff could gain funding and scholarships through several available routes. There are four-year PhD programmes funded by the MRC, BBSRC and NERC, as well as BBSRC CASE (industrial collaboration) three-year and four-year studentships. There may also be funding opportunities through individual research grants.

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

Research degrees usually start on 1 October, but may also start on 1 February or 1 May. Deadlines and start dates can be dictated by funding arrangements for studentships and scholarships. In most cases you should identify and contact potential supervisors before making your application. For more information please see our How to apply page.

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: 2024-2025

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