Neural Dynamics (Wellcome Trust)

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Run by Faculty of Life Sciences Faculty of Engineering Faculty of Health Sciences
Awards available PhD
Programme length Four years full-time
Location of programme Clifton campus
Part-time study available No, full-time only
Start date September 2019

Programme overview

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 that enables all aspects of behaviour, including learning, memory, homeostasis and sensorimotor control.

The Wellcome Trust PhD programme is different to a traditional PhD route, in that it provides you with a year of taught units and two extensive research projects before you embark on your primary research focus. This innovative structure presents an opportunity to explore several areas of neural dynamics research, giving you a broad understanding of the foundations underpinning your core interests. This means that you will be able to make a fully informed decision about the major research focus of the remaining three years of your PhD.

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

Fees for 2019/20

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2018/19 are as follows:

UK/EU: full-time
Overseas: full-time
Channel Islands/Isle of Man: full-time

Bench fees: For postgraduate research students who are not funded by UK Research Councils or (specific) UK charities, it is usual to charge a bench fee. A bench fee covers the costs of laboratory consumables, specialist equipment and other relevant costs (e.g. training) for the duration of the programme. The bench fee charged can vary considerably depending on the nature of the programme being undertaken. Details of specific bench fee charges can be provided on request and will made clear in the offer letter sent to applicants.

Fees are subject to an annual review. For programmes that last longer than one year, please budget for up to a five per cent increase in fees each year. Find out more about tuition fees.

Alumni scholarship

University of Bristol students and graduates can benefit from a ten per cent reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate study. Check your eligibility for an alumni scholarship.

Funding for 2019/20

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. Applications are welcomed from international students and the University has agreed in some circumstances to waive the international fees.

Further information on funding for prospective UK, EU and international postgraduate students.

Programme structure

First-year training

Your first year comprises taught units and related seminars, along with two research projects that last four months each, with a student conference concluding the year.

The taught units are:

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

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

Second to fourth years

From the second year, one of the two research projects you completed 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 visit an international lab for one to three months or, in the final year, visit an industrial lab for three to six months.

Entry requirements

A first or upper second-class honours degree or master's degree in a biomedical or life science discipline. Other closely related disciplines can be considered (eg 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).

See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you need to meet this profile level:
Profile B
Further information about English language requirements and profile levels.

Admissions statement

Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.

Admissions statement

Research groups

Bristol has a large concentration of neuroscientists and is a major centre for basic and clinical neuroscience. We specialise 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 Department of Engineering Mathematics, the Department of Computer Science, the School of Mathematics and the Bristol Robotics Lab, we can provide considerable scope for ground-breaking, integrative research projects.


Researchers with a background in both experimental/clinical neuroscience and computation are rare and much sought-after in academic research and in industrial research in neuropharmacology and medical engineering.

Staff profiles

Learning and memory

Dr Michael Ashby, (Lecturer), The development of brain circuitry early in life, when anatomical and synaptic plasticity coordinate dramatically to produce functional circuits in the mammalian cortex.

Professor Zafar Bashir, (Professor), Alzheimers disease, learning and memory.

Dr Pete Brennan, (Reader), Pheromones and olfactory learning.

Professor Malcolm Brown, (Emeritus Professor of Anatomy), Investigations into the neural bases of recognition memory.

Professor Graham Collingridge, (Professor), Plasticity in the hippocampus.

Dr Liz Coulthard, (Consultant Senior Lecturer), Dementia and cognitive neuroscience.

Dr Jon Hanley, (Reader), Learning and memory, AMPA receptors.

Professor Jeremy Henley, (Professor), Regulation of synapses in health and disease.

Dr James Hodge, (Senior Lecturer), Changes in excitability of neural circuits underlying behaviour and disease.

Dr Matt Jones, (Reader), Neuronal networks in cognition and disease.

Professor Risto Kauppinen, (Chair in Imaging), Biophysical basis for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signals in living systems.

Professor Astrid Linthorst, (Professor), Neurochemistry and neuroendocrinology of stress and behaviour.

Professor Seth Love, (Professor), The pathogenesis of nerve cell damage and death in neurological disease.

Professor Jack Mellor, (Reader), Synaptic plasticity and its role in learning and memory.

Professor Andy Randall, (Professor), CNS Neurophysiology in health and disease.

Professor Emma Robinson, (Reader), Neural and neurochemical mediators of behaviour and their role in psychiatric disorders.

Professor Clea Warburton, (Professor), Neural and cellular substrates of learning and memory.

Mathematical and Computational Biology

Dr David Barton, (Lecturer), Mathematical modelling, the dynamics of nonlinear systems,systems with delay, numerical methods for dynamical systems.

Dr Rafal Bogacz, (Visiting Fellow (based at the University of Oxford)), Computational neuroscience, computational models of brain circuits.

Dr Colin Campbell, (Reader), Machine learning, including probabilistic graphical models and kernel-based methods, algorithm design and the applications of machine learning techniques in bioinformatics, particularly medical bioinformatics.

Professor Alan Champneys, (Professor), Applied dynamical systems, numerical bifurcation theory, localised phenomena.

Professor Mario Di Bernardo, (Professor), Analysis, synchronization and control of complex networks; hybrid and piecewise-smooth dynamical systems; mathematical modelling and industrial applications of mathematics; nonlinear control theory; systems and synthetic biology.

Dr Luca Giuggioli, (Senior Lecturer), The theoretical development of models of moving and interacting entities, from animals and molecules to more abstract objects such as random walkers, movement ecology.

Dr Thilo Gross, (Reader), Dynamics of biological networks.

Professor John Hogan, (Professor), Complexity sciences, nonlinear mathematics.

Dr Martin Homer, (Senior Lecturer), Hearing mechanisms in mammals and insects; high-speed atomic force microscopy; impact and friction in mechanical oscillators; noise and vibration in gearboxes; temperature-mediated architectural adaptations of plants.

Dr Conor Houghton, (Senior Lecturer, Reader), Understanding information processing and coding in the brain and, generally, in mathematical and computational approaches to neuroscience.

Dr David Leslie, (Senior Lecturer), Game theory, reinforcement learning, models of human decision-making, stochastic approximation, Bayesian statistics.

Professor Tanniemola Liverpool, (Professor), Biological physics; theoretical soft matter physics.

Professor Christopher Melhuish, (Professor), How can robots safely co-operate with humans in shared tasks and how can robots help humans; robots that look after the infirm or aged, or in flexible assisted manufacturing are examples of this type of interaction.

Dr Jonathan Rossiter, (Reader), Soft robotics and intelligent systems.

Dr Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova, (Research Associate), Mathematical neuroscience, mathematical neuroendocrinology, dynamical systems.

Sensory and motor systems

Professor Richard Apps, (Professor), Inferior olive, climbing fibre, motor control, cerebellar Purkinje cells.

Professor Iain Gilchrist, (Professor), Active Vision, decision making, eye-movements, visual cognition, visual spatial neglect.

Professor Steven Gill, (Honorary Professor)

Dr Helen Kennedy, (Senior Lecturer), Signal transduction, deafness, intracellular calcium.

Dr Casimir Ludwig, (Reader), Human vision, decision-making and action.

Professor Bridget Lumb, (Professor), Central nervous system mechanisms of nociception and pain.

Professor Alan Roberts, (Senior Research Fellow in Biological Sciences), Overall organisation of neuronal control systems and the cellular and synaptic properties that underlie this.

Dr Stephen Soffe, (Senior Lecturer), The neuronal circuitry of Xenopus locomotion, whole-cell recording.

Dr Alan Whone, (Consultant Senior Lecturer)

Professor David Wynick, (Professor), Understanding the nature and actions of galanin.

Stress and homeostasis

Dr Jon Brooks, (Senior Research Fellow), Pain research and neuroscience, functional neuroimaging, magnetic resonance spectroscopy and diffusion weighted imaging.

Professor Kei Cho, (Chair of Neuroscience), Molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the brain, pathological aspects of the central nervous system, electrophysiological recordings, calcium imaging, molecular biology, cell culture, gene transfection, immunocytochemical techniques and MRI-brain imaging.

Professor Graeme Henderson, (Professor), The acute and chronic effects of opioid drugs such as morphine, investigating the protein-protein interactions that take place following opioid receptor activation.

Professor Stafford Lightman, (Professor), The mechanisms through which the brain recognises environmental stress and disease, and the pathways it uses to initiate appropriate responses in physiological regulation and gene transcription.

Professor Craig McArdle, (Professor), Cell signalling and reproductive endocrinology.

Professor David Murphy, (Professor), Gene discovery and transfer techniques to study the neuronal regulation of the cardiovascular system in health and disease.

Professor Julian Paton, (Professorial Research Fellow), What changes within the central nervous system during the aetiology of neurogenic hypertension.

Professor Hans Reul, (Professor), How the organism responds and adapts to stressful events.

Professor James Uney, (Professor), The coding and non-coding genes that regulate neuronal function.

How to apply
Application deadline:

9 January 2019

International students

Find out more about becoming a student at Bristol, applying for a visa and the support we offer to international students.

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