Wellcome Trust PhD Neural Dynamics

Neurons and supporting cells in a brain

Neural Dynamics: from synapses to systems in health and disease

Application deadline: Closed now for 2014 entry

What is neural dynamics?

Neural dynamics is the study of the nervous system's remarkable capacity to change, and, at a systems level, the dynamic interplay between integration and segregation of brain regions enables all aspects of behaviour, including learning, memory, homeostasis and sensorimotor control.

The mechanisms that underpin this activity can be explored at multiple levels, from the molecular level of epigenetic changes through to dendritic remodelling, synaptic plasticity and neural networks. These may be very rapid at molecular and synaptic levels through to days at the network level and even years for the development of new motor skills.

Why study neural dynamics at the University of Bristol?

A different kind of postgraduate education

The Wellcome Trust PhD programme is different to a traditional PhD route, providing you with a year of taught units and two extensive research projects before you embark on your primary research focus. Through this innovative structure, you have the opportunity to explore several areas of neural dynamics research, allowing you a broad understanding of the foundation that underpins your core interests. This structure gives you the confidence to make a fully-informed decision on your major research focus for the remaining three years of your PhD.

There are a wide choice of projects to choose from, which can be tailored to your own interests. Projects will include the opportunity to combine the very latest molecular and systems level techniques, with computational and engineering methods.

Our programme also includes the option for an industrial placement or an overseas training visit to one of our many international collaborators.

A concentration of neuroscience research

Bristol has one of the largest concentrations of neuroscientists in Europe and is a major centre for basic and clinical neuroscience. We are an acknowledged world leader in many key areas of neural dynamics research, from both an experimental and theoretical perspective, spanning molecular, cellular and systems levels of neuroscience. Together with experts in systems dynamics, based in the Departments of Engineering Mathematics, Computer Science, the School of Mathematics and the Bristol Robotics Lab, we can provide considerable scope for ground-breaking, integrative research projects.

A lively community

Bristol is also a fantastic place to live with a lively neuroscience student community that creates and is involved in several groups and activities.

What funding does the programme provide?

This programme is fully-funded by the Wellcome Trust. The Trust provides funding to cover PhD programme fees at UK/EU student rate, research expenses, a stipend for living expenses, contribution towards travel and a contribution towards transferable-skills training.

Further information on fees and funding is available.


We have designed this programme to be highly flexible, in order to enable you to develop a project that most suits your research interests. 

First-year training

Your first year comprises five taught units with related seminars, as well as two research projects lasting four months each, with a student conference concluding the year.

The taught units are as follows:

  • Foundations in Neuroscience
  • Mathematical Modelling
  • Computational  Neuroscience
  • An optional unit

Through these units you will be equipped with the necessary understanding and skills to fully engage with the major research that will be the focus of your remaining three years, regardless of your academic background. A precise training plan will be drawn up for you by the programme directors and yourself, to take into account your background and interests.

Second to fourth years

From the second year, one of the two research projects you undertook in your first year will be developed into your full PhD project, co-supervised by at least one experimentalist and one theoretician.

During this period you will have the option to:

  • Make an international lab visit for one to three months;

Or, in the final year

  • Make an industrial lab visit for three to six months.

You will be able to discuss these options with your supervisors once you start the programme.

Further details on the structure of the programme can be found on the 'Information for current students' website.

Project topics and techniques

You will be able to select from an extensive choice of multidisciplinary and integrative research projects from an academy of world-leading basic and clinical neuroscientists.

All projects have a focus on combining mathematical and computational methods with experimental approaches and are jointly supervised by one mathematician and one experimentalist.

Projects will study a wide range of brain functions and disorders, including:

  • addiction;
  • Alzheimer’s disease;
  • autism;
  • hypertension;
  • learning and memory;
  • cognition;
  • movement control;
  • obesity;
  • pain;
  • respiration;
  • schizophrenia;
  • stress.

The experimental techniques used throughout the programme include the latest developments in:

  • molecular and cellular recording and imaging;
  • viral gene transfer;
  • radio-telemetry;
  • brain and nerve stimulation (including optogenetics) and recording in anaesthetized and awake behaving animals;
  • microdialysis;
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging;
  • genetically modified animal models;
  • behavioural testing;
  • pharmacology;
  • neural pathway tracing.


Informal enquiries are welcome, please contact one of the following:

Participating research groups

Supervisors Research area
Professor Richard Apps Sensory and motor systems
Professor Iain Gilchrist Sensory and motor systems
Professor Steve Gill Sensory and motor systems
Dr Helen Kennedy Sensory and motor systems
Dr Casimir Ludwig Sensory and motor systems
Professor Bridget Lumb Sensory and motor systems
Dr Tony Pickering Sensory and motor systems
Professor Alan Roberts Sensory and motor systems
Dr Stephen Soffe Sensory and motor systems
Dr Alan Whone Sensory and motor systems
Professor David Wynick Sensory and motor systems
Dr Michael Ashby Learning and memory
Professor Zafar Bashir Learning and memory
Professor Malcolm Brown Learning and memory
Professor Pete Brennan Learning and memory
Professor Graham Collingridge Learning and memory
Dr Liz Coulthard Learning and memory
Dr Jon Hanley Learning and memory
Professor Jeremy Henley Learning and memory
Dr James Hodge Learning and memory
Dr Matt Jones Learning and memory
Professor Risto Kauppinen Learning and memory
Professor Astrid Linthorst Learning and memory
Professor Seth Love Learning and memory
Dr Jack Mellor Learning and memory
Professor Andy Randall Learning and memory
Dr Emma Robinson Learning and memory
Dr Clea Warburton Learning and memory
Dr Nina Balthasar Stress and homeostasis
Dr Jon Brooks Stress and homeostasis
Professor Kei Cho Stress and homeostasis
Professor Graeme Henderson Stress and homeostasis
Professor Stafford Lightman Stress and homeostasis
Professor Craig McArdle Stress and homeostasis
Professor David Murphy Stress and homeostasis
Professor Julian Paton Stress and homeostasis
Professor Hans Reul Stress and homeostasis
Professor James Uney Stress and homeostasis
Dr Rafal Bogacz Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr David Barton Mathematical and Computational Biology
Professor Mario di Bernardo Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Colin Campbell Mathematical and Computational Biology
Professor Alan Champneys Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr David Coyle Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Luca Giuggioli Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Thilo Gross Mathematical and Computational Biology
Professor John Hogan Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Martin Homer Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Conor Houghton Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr David Leslie Mathematical and Computational Biology
Professor Tanniemola Liverpool Mathematical and Computational Biology
Professor Chris Melhuish Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Jonathan Rossiter Mathematical and Computational Biology
Professor Sriram Subramanian Mathematical and Computational Biology
Dr Krasi Tsaneva-Atanasova Mathematical and Computational Biology

Eligibility criteria

You will have gained a First Class or Upper Second Class undergraduate degree or Master's degree in a biomedical science discipline or a relevant theoretical discipline (mathematics, computer science or physics).

You should also have some background in mathematics or computer science, eg A-levels or application of mathematical modelling / computational methods in undergraduate research.

Crucially, we are looking for talented and motivated students willing to take up the many varied challenges in neural dynamics and who are open to learning about new disciplines and working across different fields.

International students

International students are eligible to apply for this programme, and we welcome and encourage applications. However, please be aware that, if you are an international student, you will only receive funding to cover PhD programme fees at the UK/EU student rate; the remainder must be self-funded by yourself.


Apply online

Please select 'Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences', and 'Wellcome 4-year PhD in Neural Dynamics'.  Please ensure you upload a CV and a covering letter outlining your own neural dynamics interests, and include two referees, by 6 January 2014.

If you would like any clarification or further information on this programme, please contact us:

Lindsey Watson
Graduate Office
Medical Sciences Building
University Walk
Bristol BS8 1TD

+44 (0)117 331 1535