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BHF 4-year programme structure

Programme Structure 

The programme has a 1+3 year structure, with the specific aim of introducing students to several different experimental approaches and research environments in year 1, leading to a collaborative, interdisciplinary PhD project in years 2-4.

Year 1 – Programme Year 1 will start a 2 week induction period comprising courses organised by the Graduate School of Life Sciences on safety, science ethics, starting a PhD, keeping laboratory notebooks and intellectual property, and introductory lectures on both cardiovascular disease and research techniques.

Laboratory stream: During the induction period, PIs will present outline projects for 10-week laboratory attachments to students. Following discussion with their mentor and the proposed supervisors, students will select 3 complementary projects, spanning different biomedical problems, experimental techniques and laboratory environments.

Students will rotate through their three laboratory-based miniprojects, and throughout the first year will attend a programme-specific course alternating discussion sessions on core research themes delivered by PIs and senior postdoctoral fellows and seminars on advanced biomedical techniques delivered by expert local practitioners. Some of these sessions will be shared with existing 4 year PhD programmes (Infection and Immunity, Developmental Biology, Metabolic and Cardiovascular Disease, Stem Cells, Biochemistry), and Institutional programmes (Cancer Research Institute, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Sanger Institute).

During this time, students will additionally have access to modules from established courses within the University and Sanger Institute. At 9 months, students select a specific 3 year PhD project with two selected supervisors providing complementary expertise, and prepare a detailed research proposal before commencing the project itself. This research proposal and the three mini-reports will be submitted for an MRes award and examined by internal and external examiners as well as oral examination. Candidates not achieving a satisfactory pass will be unable to continue their studies towards a PhD.

Quantitative Stream: Following the induction period, students in this stream will attend one of two existing and internationally recognised one-year MPhil courses: in Epidemiology or in Public Health at the Institute of Public Health. The core MPhil course will be supplemented by special sessions and advanced workshops on human genome analysis, functional analysis and genetic-based association studies, involving expertise at the Sanger Institute and elsewhere in Cambridge (e.g. the Cambridge Computational Biology Institute).

The structure of these existing MPhil courses will enable the training of all students in core quantitative areas (e.g. epidemiology, biostatistics, genomics), as well as access to optional modules in the second half of the first year to enable pursuit of specialist interests (e.g. nutritional epidemiology, biomarkers). Students will receive lectures by PIs in the programme (who will provide lists of potential PhD projects) and prepare two major essays and a summer dissertation as part of the usual training leading to an MPhil degree in Epidemiology or in Public Health. Students will then select a 3-year research-based PhD topic. Candidates not achieving a satisfactory pass will be unable to continue their studies towards a PhD.

Years 2-4: Years 2-4 will emphasize research with concurrent training in generic and transferable skills provided in the form of workshops (for example in genomics, genetics, bioinformatics, metabolomics, imaging). Students will continue to have access to departmental teaching and seminar series, and a journal club. All students will be jointly supervised by at least two principal investigators with complementary expertise, ensuring that cross-disciplinary training is a central element of the programme. Where necessary a laboratory supervisor will also be appointed to provide day to day guidance at the bench.

All students and current supervisors will be expected to attend an annual symposium of oral and poster presentations. This event will provide participants with a broad view of the programme and should help to facilitate further collaborations.

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