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Before applying

It is strongly recommended that prospective applicants for all kinds of funding should contact potential supervisors within the Department, prior to submitting an application, to determine the availability of the member of staff concerned and to discuss the projects that may be available.  

Our research interests are described within our Research webpages.  Candidates should identify prospective supervisors in the application form, but at this stage it is not necessary to provide a fully worked up research proposal unless a research proposal is required for a particular funding scheme as part of the application criteria; a few sentences summarising a candidate’s research interests is usually sufficient.

Contacting prospective supervisors

Making contact with a prospective supervisor(s) is extremely important so that the nature of the research projects available can be discussed, along with any funding that may already have been secured.

When you contact prospective supervisors you may wish to include:

  • your intended research focus
  • funding you have available, or for which you intend to apply
  • a short CV detailing any research experience and your academic track record including courses and grades
  • any contextual factors, which might be help a prospective supervisor fairly assess your suitability as a PhD student

The Department receives many speculative enquiries about admission to PhD studies and it is wise for candidates to bear in mind the application deadlines for each course and the competitive funding schemes offered by the University, Cambridge and Gates Trusts and associated organisations.

Making an application

Students who wish to be considered as candidates for the competitive funding available from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Trust, Gates Trust and related organisations should note the funding deadline of 1 December 2022 for admission in the 2022-23 academic year.

Applications are made through the application portal. The process is described within the University of Cambridge's Postgraduate Study website.

Offer process

All applications are formally considered only once a full application has been received through the applicant portal.  Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview on the basis of the information that has been included in the application.

Academic excellence and research potential are the main criteria on which a conditional offer of admission is made. We consider all the evidence provided in a full application, including academic transcripts, references, research potential and the availability of a suitable research supervisor and project.  As part of these considerations, we also take into account contextual factors which can include circumstances that have adversely affected a student’s ability to devote themselves fully to their studies, or a background of educational or social capital disadvantage.  We strongly encourage people from groups which are currently underrepresented in STEM research to apply for our PhD programme and associated funding streams.  More information on widening participation efforts for postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge is available on the postgraduate study widening participation webpages.

A summary of the postgraduate application process is available online.

Advice on how best to complete the application form

Students who apply before the deadline of 1 December 2022 and also indicate that they wish to be considered for the competitive funding offered by the University, Gates and Cambridge Trusts will be automatically be considered as candidates for the schemes for which they are eligible.  Applicants are ranked by the Department according to a set of systematic criteria which have been drawn up to assess prospective students on the basis of their academic merit, strength of referees' support, and research potential.  You should therefore make sure that you include as much relevant information and evidence as possible to maximise your chances of being awarded funding.  Details include:

  • academic achievements, highlighting particularly high marks on your transcript
  • place in your class each year
  • awards and prizes that have been received
  • short description of any research experience
  • particularly relevant research skills, explaining the relevance of those to your PhD research interests, and of the supervisor(s) whose group(s) you wish to join
  • broader, transferable knowledge and skills gained, that are also relevant to your research interests
  • publications, conference presentations and posters

In addition, we will take into account 'contextual factors' such as personal circumstances that have adversely affected a student's studies and/or background of educational or social capital disadvantage or other factors related to academic performance so you should include relevant details if you believe that they apply to your application for postgraduate study.