4 ways that PhD programmes are improving their training culture

The new PhD programmes in science that we’re funding combine scientific excellence with a commitment to improving the working environment for trainees.

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Credit: Wellcome

Anne-Marie Coriat

Anne-Marie Coriat

Today we’re announcing the awards for our relaunched PhD programmes in science. £127m is going to 23 programmes in 15 institutions across the country. 

For the first time, when we were assessing the programmes, we challenged ourselves to consider not only the excellence of the science that programmes would provide, but also the culture of the research environment that students would be trained in.

Like any new way of working, this had its challenges. But it also made two things clear. 

Excellence in science and culture can exist side by side. Each of the funded programmes is built on high-quality research training that will explore a wide range of exciting topics, from understanding the inner workings of distinct cell types to public health economics, from plant-based nutrition to health data science.

At the same time, we've seen new ways that we can work together as a community to bring science and culture together, placing both firmly at the heart of what we do.

1. A supportive research environment 

Successful programmes evidenced thoughtful approaches to diversity, and showed how they would integrate holistic support for the personal, professional and technical development of students from all backgrounds at recruitment, during, and after their PhDs.

We funded programmes that most effectively evidenced how students will be supported to develop broad research knowledge through a range of partnerships and networks, including ‘silo-switching’ and collaborative opportunities.

2. Quality supervision 

Successful programmes all prioritised high-quality student-supervisor relationships. In all of them, there was a strong ethos of equal partnerships between students and their supervisor. 

There were also plans for supervisory and support teams to receive training and for the effectiveness of this to be evaluated. And there was a focus on personalised development planning and transition support for students.

3. A student-centred approach 

The best way to improve programmes and make sure they meet students' needs is to listen and work with the students themselves.

Successful programmes evidenced robust plans to integrate student feedback into the ongoing development of the programme and to evolve support for mental health and well-being, for example through confidential feedback reporting and exit interviews. And all programmes committed to openly publish student data.

4. Share practice 

Our group of funded programmes has committed to being part of an evolving community of practitioners who will develop and share practice. We want to be open about successes but also about the challenges too.

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This article is part of our campaign to build a better research culture – one that is creative, inclusive and honest.

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Evaluating the approach 

This is a new approach for Wellcome.

We’ll be evaluating the way we assessed the programmes. We’ve also commissioned independent research to look at how we developed our strategy, how we communicated the call, and the decision-making processes. 

We’ll share what we learn. Keep an eye on our website, and on our social media channels, especially Twitter.

And we’re always delighted to hear and learn from others. Please do contact me at a.coriat@wellcome.org to discuss further.

Funded programmes 

  • Dynamic molecular cell biology (University of Bristol)
  • Molecular genetic and lifecourse epidemiology (University of Bristol)
  • Stem cell biology and medicine  (University of Cambridge)
  • Integrated molecular, cellular and translational biology (University of Dundee)
  • Plants, food and health (University of East Anglia)
  • Hosts, pathogens and Global Health (University of Edinburgh)
  • Integrative cell mechanisms (University of Edinburgh)
  • One Health models of disease: science, ethics and society (University of Edinburgh)
  • Translational neuroscience (University of Edinburgh)
  • Integrative infection biology: mechanisms and control of disease (University of Glasgow)
  • Health data science (Health Data Research UK)
  • Advanced therapies for regenerative medicine (King's College London)
  • Neuro-immune interactions in health and disease (King's College London)
  • Genomic epidemiology and public health genomics (University of Leicester)
  • Immunomatrix in complex disease (University of Manchester)
  • Drug discovery and team science (University of Nottingham)
  • Cellular structural biology (University of Oxford)
  • Chemistry in cells: new technologies to probe complex biology and medicine (University of Oxford)
  • Genomic medicine and statistics (University of Oxford)
  • Health data in practice: human-centred science (Queen Mary University of London)
  • Assessing the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of policies and prevention strategies that reduce non-communicable disease burden and health inequity (University of Sheffield)
  • Optical biology (University College London)
  • Mental health science (University College London)

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