Graduate Research & Training
UKRI MRC Human Genetics Unit

PhD projects for International Quantitative Scientists at the MRC Human Genetics Unit

Will open for 2024/25 applications in December 2023.

"Are you a graduate level physicist, mathematician, statistician, engineer, computer scientist, bioinformatician or similar, seeking PhD training to make a difference in medicine and biology?" If so, we want you! No previous biological experience required.

To understand how our DNA works to control the function of molecules, cells and tissues in people and populations we need to combine research in multiple disciplines. Quantitative skills developed in other sciences can be readily applied to the large and complex datasets generated in the latest biomedical research. Examples include but are not limited to designing new drugs to target cancer, developing new statistical approaches to find mutations that cause disease, and modelling molecular interactions that underpin human health.

Our PhD programme harnesses strengths in the latest computational and experimental technologies and relates fundamental research to human disease. We are committed to provide high quality training, mentorship and research excellence to help quantitative scientists direct their skills to solve biomedical problems. The Institute runs a successful cross-disciplinary fellowship (XDF) program to train post-doctoral level quantitative scientists to become leaders in quantitative biomedicine, and we will provide similar support and training to help our successful candidates at PhD level to transition into big data biomedicine. This will enable you to think critically, undertake mechanistic research and make new discoveries.

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with quantitative training to apply their skills to solve the big questions in medicine and biology by joining an MRC funded 4-year multi-disciplinary PhD programme at the MRC Human Genetics Unit (HGU), part of the Institute of Genetics and Cancer (IGC) at the University of Edinburgh.

We have a wide variety of research groups who need your computational and analytical skills. Projects will be developed with individual research groups following 2 mini-projects and places are available for up to six successful candidates. Projects will typically include strong quantitative components such as artificial intelligence, Bayesian statistics, genome-scale data analysis, developing computational tools to analyse high throughput biological data, mathematical analyses of single molecule or single cell data etc. Projects for Human Genetics, Genomics and Disease PhD students at MRC HGU are also available to successful applicants; some wet lab projects can be adapted to provide stronger quantitative components.

Programme structure (shared with MRC HGU Human Genetics, Genomics and Disease PhD students):

First 6 months: students participate in structured teaching covering key topics in areas such as genome regulation, disease mechanisms, disease models and biomedical genomics. This is combined with computational and statistical training and a journal club. At the same time students participate in 2 mini-projects to experience different laboratory environments.

Subsequent years: Students then develop a PhD project for the remaining 3.5 years.

Who should apply?

Applicants should have a 1st class or 2.1 degree or a Masters in any relevant discipline including physics, mathematics, statistics, engineering, computer science, bioinformatics or similar. Applicants with UK or international degrees are welcome to apply. Importantly we are seeking motivated students excited by new opportunities who are keen to discover new disciplines and work across multiple fields.

Applicants from a biological background with a 1st class or 2.1 degree or a Masters in biological or biomedical sciences similar should follow the instructions on the MRC four-year International PhD programme: Human Genetics, Genomics and Disease website.

Why Edinburgh?

Edinburgh University is consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities. We are a major center of biomedical research and have strong collaborations to other disciplines including informatics, mathematics, chemistry and physics, providing an exciting environment for ground breaking multi-disciplinary research projects. Edinburgh has often been voted as the UK city offering the highest quality of life and is renowned for its affordability and rich cultural life.

Application procedure

Up to 6 studentships are available to start in September 2023 for outstanding applicants with a stipend of £19,700 p/a.  You should hold at least an upper second-class degree in a relevant subject and comply with English language requirements (see application page).  Applications are open to all individuals irrespective of nationality or country of residence. Closing date: 9th January 2023.

For informal enquiries or if you’re unsure about eligibility or background, then please contact Ian Adams ( or Chris Ponting (


Example projects (shared with MRC HGU Human Genetics, Genomics and Disease PhD students):