Introduction to our PhD Programme
Understanding how neuronal activity supports brain function and redressing aberrant dynamics when the brain goes awry in diseases requires a trans-disciplinary and cross-species approach, integrating experimental and clinical investigations with engineering and computational frameworks. Our PhD programme at the Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit (MRC BNDU) trains a future generation of neuroscientists to combine these diverse techniques in innovative research projects serving both foundational, theoretical and translational neuroscience. Ours is a vibrant community of scientists and students drawn from around the world.
PhD students at the MRC BNDU can choose among diverse yet complementary research projects that leverage from a substantial array of research techniques. They benefit from the guidance of two supervisors and the feedback from the outstanding research community, locally in the Unit and in the wider intellectual environment of the University of Oxford. Students also have opportunities to further their knowledge and skills through seminars, including our Unit “Methods meetings” and practical tutorials.
Students apply for one or more of the research projects made available each year. Projects involve the intensive use of a focussed set of trans-disciplinary methods but students also become familiar with the full range of approaches taken within the Unit. These include:
- Behavioural experiment paradigms with rodents and humans
- Advanced signals analysis, including statistical analytical techniques, mathematical modelling and machine learning.
- Cell type-specific monitoring including electron microscopy, optogenetics and fast-scan cyclic voltammetry.
- Computational modelling.
- System and cell type specific brain stimulation using closed-loop approaches and magnetic, electrical, pharmacological and optogenetic stimulation.
In addition, to the above we actively develop novel research tools for neuroscience discovery, and better disease treatments.
“The Unit has provided three keys ingredients to kickstart my scientific career: a constant source of inspiration, the freedom to explore my ideas, and frequent opportunities for feedback.”
Career Development is central to the Unit’s ethos. Every student at the Unit benefits from all the resources the MRC BNDU offers, as well as those offered by our host department, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, the Medical Sciences Division, and the student’s own college. Within the MRC BNDU the Training, Career Development and Capacity Building Strategy Committee meets regularly to oversee training for our students and early career post-docs. Regular events in the Unit include the biannual science day, which offers a chance for the whole unit to come together and share new and exciting results in a collegiate atmosphere. We run an annual training day which is open to all and focusses on different aspects of career development for academic and non-academic careers. Recent sessions have included developing a patient and public involvement strategy, combining a career with caring responsibilities and a workshop on delivering grant pitches. Previous students at the Unit have all gone on to careers in Academia, Medicine, or Industry.
“Previous students who completed their PhD in the Unit have gone on to successful careers in a wide range of job roles. The challenging yet rewarding research in the Unit is a great start to your career and I would definitely recommend working here!”
Use of bioelectronic systems to improve the treatment of neurological disorders
Bioelectronic systems are used currently for deep brain stimulation (DBS) in Parkinson’s and epilepsy. While sleep disorders are a common co-morbidity of these neurological disorders, DBS does not currently account for diurnal or circadian rhythms in therapy optimization. Emerging data suggests that circadian rhythms, and chronobiology in general, might prove important in the treatment of disease states. Chronobiology is defined in this project as time-based cycles in physiology, arising from evolutionarily preserved internal temporal rhythms, along with their modulation upon anticipation of environmental change.
The studentship will develop responsive brain stimulation algorithms that apply chronobiology using a novel DBS research system, the Picostim-DyNeuMo. The Picostim-DyNeuMo is a highly-configurable, implantable bioelectronic platform for studying human subjects with neurological disorders. This project is a collaborative effort with Bioinduction Ltd., and builds upon their existing Picostim implant. The DyNeuMo variant adds scientific instrumentation to this implant to determine how electrical stimulation impacts the nervous system and to develop novel stimulation strategies tailored to patient’s needs.
The specific objective of this project is to characterize the impact of neural stimulation on subjects’ diurnal symptoms and side-effects, and thereby optimize responsive therapies with a consideration for chronobiology. Using the research toolkit provided by the Picostim-DyNeuMo system the DPhil student will 1) acquire and analyze data from the implant and characterize how physiological markers linked to symptoms, side-effects and sleep respond to stimulation, 2) model these responses and prototype therapy algorithms 3) working with clinicians, test circadian rhythm responsive stimulation protocols in investigational trials.
The project will take place in the Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford and students will benefit from the extensive generic and transdisciplinary skills training and career development opportunities available within the Unit. Focusing on the basal ganglia and partner brain circuits, studentship holders will harness cutting-edge methods in mice for identifying, monitoring, accessing and manipulating neurons in vivo. As an integral part of these projects, you will receive advanced training in several of the following research techniques; electrophysiology, anatomy, optogenetics, photometry, and mouse behavioural assays, together with rigorous data analysis. You will also be offered opportunities to work with sophisticated mouse models that capture genetic/proteinaceous burdens of relevance to Parkinson’s.
This Ph.D. (D.Phil.) studentships are funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), a part of UKRI. All successful applicants are entitled to receive a tax-free stipend and, as a minimum, tuition fees paid at the Home level, regardless of whether they are Home or International students. Please see further details about MRC/UKRI studentships and updated guidance regarding Home and International eligibility. Successful applicants can also be considered for University scholarships.
Interested candidates should possess, or expect to receive, a 1st class or upper 2nd class degree (or equivalent) in a related scientific discipline, e.g. control engineering, engineering science, biological or physical sciences, medicine, computer science, mathematics. Previous experience in brain computer interfacing, electronics or neuroscience research is desired.
We strongly encourage candidates to contact the project supervisor before submitting an application. To find out more about these MRC-funded studentships, the research project, and the application process, please contact Professor Tim Denison by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
To be considered for one of these MRC-funded studentships, please submit an application for admission to the D.Phil. in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences (course code RD_CU1), following the guidance. On the application form, in the section headed ‘Departmental Studentship Applications’, please indicate that you are applying for a studentship and enter the reference code for a MRC BNDU studentship "21CLINNEURO01WEB".
The closing date for applications is 12.00 midday UK time on Thursday 6th May 2021.
Interviews for short-listed applicants will be held in late May 2021.
Applications are invited from both Home students and International students to join a multidisciplinary team of scientists studying bioelectronic systems to provide novel therapies by sensing and electrically stimulating the nervous system. The studentship is available from the start of academic year 2021/22 for 3 years and will be primarily supervised by Professor Tim Denison at the Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford (MRC BNDU).
Applications & Funding
Applications & Funding
The MRC BNDU has its own MRC-funded Ph.D. (D.Phil.) studentships, which are typically awarded for three years in the first instance. Applicants to these MRC-funded studentships can also be considered for University scholarships. The Unit will also consider hosting PhD students funded by Departmental scholarships and other doctoral training programmes at Oxford. In addition, the Unit sometimes recruits for iCASE studentships in collaboration with industry. Information about University funding is available and an A-Z of Oxford scholarships. Students with their own independent funding will also be considered.
The MRC BNDU is one of the six divisions of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, and as such we benefit from the excellent student services and streamlined application process provided by the Department. The Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences provides general information for prospective students, advice on entry requirements, and information about potential costs. There is also specific advice for prospective Home and International students.
Students considering applying for one or more of the PhD studentship projects available in the MRC BNDU should first contact the supervisor(s) named in the project description using the email provided in the project summary. You are encouraged to contact the supervisor(s) as soon as possible to find out more about the project and the application process. We look forward to hearing from you.
To be considered for a MRC-funded studentship following contact with the supervisor(s) of your proposed project, please submit an application following the online guidance for the D.Phil. in Clinical Neurosciences. On the application form, in the section headed ‘Departmental Studentship Applications’, you must indicate that you are applying for a studentship and enter the reference code for a MRC BNDU studentship.
In the special instance of an iCASE studentship, please contact the named supervisor(s) directly for advice on the application process.