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Interested in doing a PhD at SLCU?

Mirroring the multidisciplinary nature of the SLCU, we have PhD students representing diverse fields, such as plant sciences, applied mathematics or biochemistry.

Most information about the application process, including your wish for a certain college can be found here:

To start the process please contact your potential supervisor (list of SLCU Research Group Leaders) to register your interest and ask for support.


Read about the experiences of SLCU PhD students


Madeleine Seale

I carried out my PhD with Ottoline Leyser investigating how hormones control shoot branching. I became interested in Plant Development during my undergraduate studies so approached Ottoline to ask if I could work in her lab for a few months to gain more experience. I worked as a technician for 3 months before beginning a PhD with her which was a really good way to find out more about the lab and the subject area before starting. I was one of the first PhD students in the institute so it took some time for the lab to build up its infrastructure.  By the end of my time there it was a very exciting and vibrant environment with excellent support staff keeping the lab well organised.

At first working on my own project was quite daunting as there was a lot I didn’t know and many new methods to learn. It was also difficult working out which direction to take with my research plan. Everyone in the Sainsbury Lab was very supportive with this and helped a huge amount. Whenever there was a new piece of equipment I needed to use or a technique I had never tried before, the post-docs and technicians were always prepared to set aside time to show me.

I particularly enjoyed some excellent seminars that took place from both external and internal speakers as part of symposia and seminar series. The quality of science taking place is extremely high which creates an environment of good research and training for PhD students. I was allowed to pursue my own research directions without being limited by the availability of equipment and never felt under pressure from my supervisor.

My experience at the Sainsbury Lab allowed me to become much more independent and the interdisciplinary research environment gave me a much broader range of knowledge and inspiration with which to investigate research questions in the future.


Patrick DickinsonPatrick Dickinson

I did a PhD in Phil Wigge's group at SLCU from 2012 to 2016. SLCU is a great place to do a PhD. The lab is really well equipped, the support and facilities are excellent, and the lab is full of people with a wide range of expertise across plant science so there's always someone to ask for help. When I started there were only four PhD students however the lab has grown since then and now has a large and friendly student community. 


Giulia Arsuffi

I joined the Sainsbury lab as a rotation student in 2015 before coming back in 2016 as a PhD student. I also had the chance to do a second rotation in Plant Sciences for a short time and I found that both departments are great places to work and there is plenty of crosstalk between them. My research interests overlapped more with my SLCU rotation, however, so I decided to remain here for my PhD.

The way the SLCU is organised and equipped makes the flow of ideas and expertise across disciplines easier. The presence of so many on-site facilities – and people who know how to use them to do great science! – means that the step from commenting on ideas at the coffee machine and actually doing the experiment is very short.

My own PhD experience developed across the Braybrook and Schornack groups, one focussing on growth mechanics and the other on plant-microbe interactions, and I got exposed to everything from mathematical models of growth to RNA-Seq infection time-courses. This and the high quality of seminars you can attend at the lab, at Plant Sciences and at the university has enormously boosted my evolution as a young researcher. During your time here you will be affiliated with another university department and able to take part in the life of both.

The lab does not just encourage academic exchange, but also has a bunch of social activities to make your time here a really good one. As a student, you can take part in our games nights, sport days, ‘SLCU Grad Pub’ and countless support sessions (writing, bioinformatics, project discussion, etc) in additions to the events organised by your other department.

Martin van Rongen

I have just finished my PhD, studying the role of the plant hormone auxin in the regulation of shoot branching in Ottoline Leyser’s group. I arrived at the Sainsbury laboratory at the end of 2012 to do an internship as part of my MSc at Leiden University, the Netherlands. At that point, the lab was very much still inventing itself and it was a very exciting time to be there and see the lab develop from a large building with just a hand full of people to the vibrant place it is today. Having completed my MSc, I was fortunate to be able to continue my research in the form of a PhD project. I find that the lab is extremely accommodating in giving PhD students the freedom to pursue their own research interests within their PhD projects, which is also supported by the incredible amount of equipment that is available within the lab. The open-plan design of the lab encourages lab members to engage in conversation - something that works really well in practice. Having members of different groups mixed up in both the lab space and write-up areas has allowed me to be in contact with people working on a wide variety of topics, which has helped to spike interest in topics in plant development I did not know much about.

During my second year life changed quite a bit, since my daughter Lily arrived. My supervisor Ottoline has always been a very strong advocate of enabling people to pursue an academic career, whilst also having a family and this really gave me the confidence to start a family whilst doing my PhD. From the outset, I have felt nothing but support in getting the space and opportunity to combine my two goals: to become a good researcher and a good dad. The first few months after her birth I worried a lot about not being able to give enough attention to either my daughter or my research. I realised that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself finding a “work-life” balance, pretending these things were somehow unconnected. Obviously “work” and “life” flow into each other and looking at it that way, things got a lot more relaxing. Being at the Sainsbury Laboratory certainly helps: flexibility in working hours takes away a lot of stress in trying to fit everything in between regular working hours and having the Botanic Garden around keeps the entire family entertained if experiments need attention at weekends! So, if you’re a student thinking about starting a family, don’t let anyone put you off. Yes, it’s hard work but it is very rewarding and a lot of fun. This goes for both the PhD and being a parent and I would not want to miss out on either of them!