David Welchman, 1st generation (2000)
As a home student, the 4-year PhD programme really opened my eyes to the possibilities of academic life and afforded me the chance to meet an incredible group of bright, enquiring people from all over the world. The rotation year provided a unique opportunity to experience the research environment of three different laboratories and learn the techniques of three different fields of study as well as broadening my academic network (which helped with my first Post-Doc job!). We were the first intake and so didn't have the benefit of previous years students’ experience to guide us, but as the programme matured the growing pool of students provided an extended family for us all with all the opportunities for social gatherings and sharing of highs and lows that family implies. Had I gone straight into a "normal" PhD position within a single lab, I don't think I would have been inspired to move to Switzerland for my main Post-Doc, which was a really wonderful experience. After almost 10 years in research I have decided to move on and am re-training as a Primary School teacher, but I will always cherish the exciting times I had in Cambridge and the worldwide network of friends that I made.
Magdalena Koziol, 4th generation (2003)
Honestly, this was the best time of my life. (I know it sounds cheesy, maybe I have been in the States for too long now, but it is true.) The scientific community is amazing, PIs are just wonderful, and I am so lucky to have been accepted into the programme. I have met the most amazing people both on a scientific and personal level. With our course mates, I still keep in touch and try to see each other whenever possible, although not as frequent as we wished since we dispersed all over the world. Also, the rotations give the best opportunities to experience different model organisms and ideas and this extra year is a wonderful investment. I still use my experience from that as a postdoc.
Vincent Pasque, 7th generation (2006)
I strongly recommend the Wellcome Trust 4 Year PhD Programme in Developmental Biology at the University of Cambridge to anyone interested in Developmental Biology-related questions. The first year of the Programme allowed me to meet and work with many students and expert developmental biologists in Cambridge, working on varied developmental issues from the establishment of egg polarity to organogenesis and this using a wide variety of model and non-model organisms. Moreover, a series of lectures by world experts in their field brought me up to date with the important questions and current paradigms in Developmental, Cell and Stem Cell Biology. This was backed up by intense literature reading and presentations, allowing me to gain expertise in critical analysis of the literature as well as presentation skills. During the first year, I gained a lot through writing rotation reports, a review and a PhD proposal in English, which I had no expertise in before starting on the Programme. All in all, I feel that the first year prepared me very well for the PhD itself (year 2-4 of the Programme). During these, it was immensely useful to present my progress on a yearly basis in front of the Programme Management Committee, the other PhD students and their supervisors. The Programme also allowed me to attend a number of international scientific meetings, including the annual British Society for Developmental Biology Meetings. Being on the Programme, and thanks to my PhD supervisor, I was also able to follow the Woods Hole Embryology course (http://www.mbl.edu/education/courses/summer/course_embryo.html), which made a wide impact on my understanding of developmental processes, and this especially in a context of metazoan evolution. The analytical and writing skills acquired during the first year on of the Programme proved to be extremely useful for the preparation of research manuscripts to be submitted for publication. Clearly, the Wellcome Trust 4 Year PhD Programme is the best place to be if you are passionate and want to get expert training in Developmental Biology.
Jonathan Lawson, 11th generation (2010)
I really enjoyed the opportunity this programme provides to get involved with a broad range of world leading labs studying the full spectrum of developmental biology. It has really helped me to identify my interests within the field but has also given me an extensive knowledge base upon which to draw. The taught elements of the course provide an excellent complement to the research during the first year, helping you to make decisions about where you might want to work next. The selection of research groups offered by the developmental biology programme is also beyond comparison. It has been thrilling to interact with so many pre-eminent scientists throughout the year, as well as to be provided with the ability to get involved with the wider scientific community. The programme is also highly supportive of personal development, encouraging participation in courses and activities which help to develop new skills beyond the purely research based. You are also provided with numerous opportunities to develop skills as part of the course, including understanding of the latest techniques and how to work most effectively within a lab group and with your PhD supervisor. One of the best aspects of the first year is the chance to work closely with an actual journal editor to plan, develop, write and edit a mini-review article. This is a uniquely exciting feature that allowed us to develop stronger scientific writing skills in preparation for the papers we hope to write and our eventual PhD theses. Having thoroughly enjoyed my time in the rotation year, working with myriad new people, organisms and techniques, I now feel well prepared for the challenges of a PhD and am enthusiastic about advancing into the unknown.
Above: structured-illumination imaging of cortical neuronal cultures (Peter Kirwan, Livesey lab)