skip to content

Sainsbury Laboratory


Q&A Information Session

SLCU Director Henrik Jönsson and Group Leaders Edwige Moyroud and Alexander Jones recently hosted an online Q&A Information Session for people to ask questions about the application process and find out more about working at SLCU. They talked about what it is like running a research group at SLCU and Cambridge, the facilities available, environment and culture, and collaboration opportunities.

The session recording is publicly available below:


Captions will be added to the video soon.



We have also include a FAQs below from questions asked during the Q&A session. If you want to learn more about SLCU and the positions we are offering, please contact


How does the Sainsbury Lab define plant development?

Plant development is quite broad and if you asked our Group Leaders they will each have a slightly different answer. But at its core it is understanding the multicellular process of how a plant is growing and developing and including the regulatory processes controlling this. We take a multi-scale approach, from the molecular level looking at genes and proteins, up to how cells talk to each other to create a tissue and how tissues talk to each other to create a functional organ, and then how to create an entire organism. We are also interested in how plants interact with their environment and with other organisms. A lot of the questions we investigate also look at the question from an evolutionary perspective and how evolution has changed the developmental process to create the diversity that we observe.


What is the term for Group Leader positions?

Group Leader positions at SLCU have 5-year cycles for evaluation and they become tenured at the University of Cambridge after passing the first SLCU 5-year evaluation. David Sainsbury Career Development Fellowships are non-tenure track and non-renewable, though CDF’s can submit applications for open Group Leader positions as they become available.


Are university departments involved in selecting the candidates, or does this association develop later, like a college appointment? 

The selection panel is chaired by SLCU Director Henrik Jönsson and includes SLCU group leaders and an academic from another Department within the University of Cambridge. The SLCU Management Board, Gatsby Charitable Trust, SLCU Group Leaders and wider SLCU community will also be asked for input on the final selection of the preferred candidate. 


How does departmental and college affiliation/teaching work? 

You are not automatically assigned to a teaching department or college when you are hired at SLCU. After you join SLCU you will be encouraged to form an affiliation with one of the University’s teaching departments, but it is up to you which department you choose. There is a great diversity of departments across the university and that is a real advantage of working at SLCU that you also have the opportunity to form connections with other departments.

Not all SLCU Group Leaders have college affiliations, but some do, and they find these affiliations valuable for forming networks with people working in different disciplines across the University and being part of the wider collegiate university community. Joining a college is often an informal process. For many, the college affiliation is the result of meeting other academics at Cambridge and being invited to visit their college to discuss possible fellowship opportunities. Sometimes a college is looking for a new fellow in a specific subject area and they will advertise the college fellowship. Colleges are now also invited to submit an expression of interest when new permanent roles at the University are advertised.

Having an affiliation with a Department and College also provides you with additional opportunities for teaching, through lecturing, small group supervisions, as a director of studies, or mentoring students, and otherwise contributing to the wider collegiate university community. But this is very flexible and it is up to you what affiliations and connections you would like to form.


Can you describe your Microscopy Facility?

SLCU has a comprehensive range of equipment that covers techniques from macro-imaging/photography through to stereofluorescence, confocal, raman and scanning electron microscopy. Support facilities include a well-equipped prep room, sample incubation growth chamber, uninterrupted back-up power supply (for high-end confocal and SEM systems) and data storage on a central server. An advanced workstation contains various tools for 4D analysis including Imaris (4D rendering and tracking), Huygens (deconvolution and 3D rendering) and offline versions of the software used to run the facility microscopes.

We are also very responsive to needs from our research groups. We discuss needs and if there more than one group that needs a certain piece of equipment, we have access to central funds to look at investing in new equipment. We also work closely and have access to facilities across the University, including with the Cambridge Advanced Imaging Centre.

Find out more about SLCU’s Microscopy Facility


What are your main selection criteria?  

SLCU is a research institute and we want to do state-of-the-art internationally competitive science on plant development incorporating quantitative aspects. We have 5 criteria listed for the professorship positions and these are also used for our 5-year evaluations, so they are important for selecting candidates. Fostering a supportive and collaborative environment is highly important for achieving the goals of SLCU. We are a relatively small research institute and want to work closely together. Mentoring of early career researchers is also a very important aspect of the role and we want group leaders to support their team members to develop their own projects and collaborations and Professors at SLCU to mentor the more junior Group Leaders.


How will the Sainsbury Lab make sure that documented inequities (for example, lower funding rates for people of colour, fewer collaboration opportunities for women) do not disadvantage applicants from these groups? 

When assessing applications for role, we look at the applications wholistically and consider people as a wholistic summation of their experiences, not just their list of publications or grants. If you would like to include information about yourself, such as inequity, disability, career interruption, disadvantage or other information that you would like us to know, please feel free to include that in your cover letter or contact Henrik. We are striving to improve our diversity as an institute at all levels and that is a big part of our philosophy when hiring.

This is part of the reason that we held this Q&A to encourage people who may not have previously considered applying for these roles to apply. Cambridge has an elite reputation that may turn people off or feel like it would be a place that they would not feel welcomed and comfortable. We wanted to show that at SLCU we are inclusive, welcoming, and value and celebrate diversity. When you join us you are in effect joining a supportive and caring family where we all work together and where all voices are listened to and ideas welcomed and acted on. Our group leaders meet weekly to discuss things, make decisions for the whole Institute collaboratively and they also support each other with writing grant applications etc. It is this culture that we think makes SLCU a very special place.

We take this very seriously at SLCU. We put a lot of effort into getting better and improving consistently over time. We are part of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programme in the UK called the Athena SWAN, which is a charter framework that helps higher education and research institutions develop good practices and advancement of gender equality: representation, progression and success. We currently hold a Silver Award for this charter and have a very detailed plan of actions that we have developed to make improvements. These actions are overseen by SLCU’s EDI Committee with representatives from across all staff and student groups and from which working groups have been formed, which include even more SLCU members, to work on specific actions for improving EDI at SLCU. The working groups include family and carers, careers and development, researchers, students, wellbeing and communications. This is not a one-off thing that we do once a year, it is an ongoing conversation every week at every level, whether it is a discussion about seminar speakers or a specific reflection about what we are doing and how we can do better. We also expect all Group Leaders to participate in EDI – joining the committee or working groups to make real progress.  

And it is not just talk, it has led to very practical actions, for example we have a lactation room, baby/toddler facilities and now have a dedicated Reflection Room that can be used by people for a quiet space and for prayer. We are doing well in terms of diversity at the PhD and postdoc level, but we are also very aware that this is not being reflected in our Group Leader level and that is something that we want to improve over time.


Do you expect to hire at the Group Leader level in the near future? 

We just had a recruitment search close for a David Sainsbury Career Development Fellowship (DSCDF) and are currently advertising two Professorships. We are also expecting to hire new group leaders in the near future, and we advertise for a DSCDF every fall. We are happy for people to apply for more than one position. And if you are not successful in one role, we welcome you to apply for any new roles that might come up.


Can I be considered for multiple positions with one application? 

Yes, you can definitely apply for multiple positions. We only ask that you apply for each position separately – you cannot apply for multiple applications in a single application. Your research statement and plans will likely be the same or similar, but you might like to put in a new cover letter to acknowledge the different role you are applying for.


Would the interview panel for Group Leader positions consider applicants from non-plant backgrounds?

Yes. Many of the people working at SLCU did not necessarily come from a hardcore plant development or developmental biology background. There is some flexibility, so if you are not a core quantitative plant development biologist you can still apply. The key thing is that you should be interested in moving into the conceptual framework of plant development whilst at SLCU and that your research question is a plant development question. We value people coming from a completely different background with new perspectives as this makes it more likely that we are going to make more interesting discoveries in research. We want to bring people to SLCU who have their own vision, but that it is a vision that also contributes to the direction of SLCU and that your vision grows and develops over time as you get a chance to work with people at SLCU in disciplines that you might not have had the opportunity to work with before.

It’s not a rule that you only have to do research in plant development. You may want to do some research strands in other more general areas that are not plants or not development, but a large component of your research at SLCU needs to be directed at plant development.


Where should I address the criteria? Cover letter or Statement of Research? For example, my experience mentoring students and postdocs?

Your Statement of Research is really focused on your research – what is your research question, what is your vision, how do you plan to approach it. So we recommend that you address the selection criteria, for example, demonstrating your approach and experience mentoring students and postdocs in the cover letter. You can elaborate on different aspects that you bring to SLCU in the cover letter. While we appreciate letters that get to the point well, there is no word limit on the cover letter. You can also incorporate this in your CV and include a statement about your mentoring and teaching philosophy, for example.


What are you looking for in applications to demonstrate they have an outstanding research record, international stature and raising the profile of plant science?

One thing that we have taken to heart at SLCU is that we are not looking for H-index or some sort of falsely quantitative metrics applied to publications or what journal you have published in. We are not looking at numbers and want to look at the applicant in a wholistic sense as outstanding research cannot be measured by the traditional metrics. For the professorship roles we would expect you to have a track-record of publications where you have made a contribution and your contribution has made an impact on the field and to also see some evidence that the field of research regards your contribution positively. We have a 5-year funding cycle and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation really wants us to tackle some of the big questions. This gives us a unique opportunity with more flexibility and to take a bit of a risk. You may not get to the answer in 5 years, but you should have a clear plan of how to progress. Your vision, the potential and the ideas that you propose for your contribution over the next 10 years are just as important as your past research record. We definitely like ambitious work, and are particularly open to projects that may take a long time to conclude or would be difficult to fund through traditional methods. We also are looking for people who can raise the profile of plant science and so we are looking for people who will be leaders in their field.


My current research is similar to one of SLCU’s current Group Leaders – is this a problem?

Not necessarily, but we do want you to be able to interact in a really productive way. So if you are working on something similar but working towards a different angle or from a different perspective, that can be quite synergistic. So please do not exclude yourself and not apply just because there is a similarity. We absolutely want interaction, and we are an institute looking at plant development and so there will always be some overlap and that is by design. Consider if there will be a synergy that would be exciting for you and also exciting for the other group leader and think about how to enhance this.


Could you tell me how decision-making takes place at SLCU in regard to decisions shaping the institute?

We are very collaborative and our Directors have always promoted a culture where everyone at all levels is encouraged to contribute to the decision-making of the institute. We have seen many ideas coming from all levels that have actually changed the institute. Henrik is the Director and so formally he has to sign-off on many of the decisions, but decisions are made collectively in a shared leadership model. Group leaders meet every week and discuss institutional issues and contribute to the direction of SLCU. Everyone can have a say in how we run SLCU – we have a regular Friday slot where people can drop in to come chat with the Director about any aspect of the Institute, from small things to larger ideas. We hold All Hands meetings to bring the whole community together in an open platform discussion and we have ways to feedback anonymously.

We also have an excellent Management Board, which also provides advice and input on important decisions.


Can I bring my research team or a number of postdocs and students with me and do I need to include this in my application?

For the professorships, we assume that you may have some people working with you in your current position that you would like to bring with you. You are welcome to list in your application who you plan to bring if that is useful to outline as part of your research statement, but it is not strictly necessary to provide that detail. You don’t have to bring a ready-made team and will be able to build your own team here.

We do have a maximum limit of 12 team members per group. However, you can have more than 12 team members if you share them between groups. Shared postdocs and students is something that we sometimes do at SLCU, which encourages collaboration and works really well.


In my research statement should I list who I want to collaborate with?

Yes in the sense that it is useful to show awareness and for us to see that you have looked at who we are and you have started to think about some ideas as a starting point for future collaborations and why SLCU is the place for you. However it's not binding and does not mean that you absolutely have to do those things when you come to SLCU. We won’t dismiss an application because it does not list future collaborations. You will find it really useful when you come on site as part of the interview process to meet people to discuss collaboration opportunities then. Lots of collaborations happen organically and from the bottom-up where your postdocs chat and come up with proposals and are not necessarily something that the group leader has planned from Day 1.


When do you want the role to start and is there some flexibility if I want to finish a current grant/fellowship?

Absolutely, we are very flexible and understand that you may be running projects and finishing grants at your current workplace and so might like to negotiate a transition. There is no reason to cancel anything and we can have a discussion about a transition period. We don’t expect you to start immediately and on day one to have a whole team set-up and running. SLCU is very flexible and supportive in accommodating complicated career paths and transitions.


What will my teaching load be?

There is not a specific teaching requirement, but you will have opportunities to contribute to university undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. You do this mainly through the Department that you become affiliated with or through your College if you choose to join one.

SLCU is a non-teaching department. This means that we do not run undergraduate or postgraduate courses. We do have undergraduate and postgraduate students undertake research projects with us, including PhD students undertaking their research within SLCU groups, but all students are officially enrolled through a teaching department.


What is the typical timeline for hearing if I am successful? 

After the positions close the Board of Electors will review applications and put together a shortlist of candidates that they invite for interviews and to visit SLCU to meet people and deliver a seminar. Depending on the availability of candidates and the interview panel, interviews may be held over a period of weeks. We aim to provide candidates with feedback within a couple of weeks at the end of interviews to let them know what is happening in the process and if they are the preferred candidate. Then there are a couple of extra steps. We will ask for feedback from our Management Board and then the Gatsby Charitable Foundation will send the fellowship out for external review. This does add some extra time to the process, but we try to get back to candidates as quickly as possible.

For the two professorship positions we hope to shortlist by with about a month after the closing date and then have the shortlisted candidates visit SLCU in the following month or two, depending on visas and the candidates’ availability. We hope to have the formal interview with the Board of Electors in a similar time frame, or 2-3 months after the closing date. In our experience with recruiting at a senior level that there may be some negotiations and that it may be some time to work through these.


What are the expectations for securing external funding?

While we do expect that people will get external funding, there are no rules or expectations for how or what level of external funding you must secure.  One of the great things about SLCU is that we have core funding. We apply for external funding, but it is very easy to keep projects going in-between external funding grants because of this core funding. There is also University and external funding available for students and we support our postdocs in applying for fellowships and grants.


What are the long-term career paths available for David Sainsbury Career Development Fellows? How long is the contract and what progression opportunities are there? Can I go on to a tenure track position?

In principle these positions are 5-years, like many fellowships in the UK, and there is no promise of an extension after this.  If a Group Leader position becomes available, clearly the CDFs can apply for this or any other tenured positions in Cambridge. Every CDF we have had so far has moved on before the end of their 5 years to very good positions in academia and industry. After a few years in the CDF role, they found they were in a very strong and competitive position to then apply for a tenure track or group leader position as their next role.


What type of publications can I include? Pre-print? Reviews?

Yes, absolutely please include pre-prints, reviews, patents or book chapters and anything that you feel is relevant for the selection committee.


Will my job interview seminar be publicly advertised as being a job application seminar?

If you are shortlisted, you will be invited to visit SLCU, to give a seminar to the SLCU community, and meet with SLCU group leaders and facilities managers. We also ask the SLCU community for feedback on candidates. However, you can choose whether to have your seminar publicly advertised to the wider University. In all cases, your seminar will be listed as an external seminar only and no reference will be made to the seminar being as part of a position application.


What sections should my statement of current and future research plans include? 

There is no explicit directive on what you have to include, but you should clearly articulate your long-term vision, your over-arching question and what excites you the most about your future research project. Include a summary of your past research, but it is most important to focus on what direction you want to take your research and include a rough timeline, especially when there are multiple research strands, and possible funding that you will apply for. It is also good to include some of the practical stuff, for example how you plan to implement the project, what facilities/equipment/resources you need and how many postdocs and students your team will have and what projects they will work on. You also need to include a summary of your research aim written for a general audience.


Further information

If you want to learn more about SLCU and the positions we are offering, please contact