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Department of Plant Sciences


We hope to provide a supportive environment for the development of research careers, with Fellows and Research Associates participating in individual Research Group meetings, as well as "supergroup" meetings in closely related subjects (e.g. Epigenetics, Ecology, Evolution and Development, Metabolism, Molecular Biology of Photosynthesis). Participation (and perhaps organisation) of Departmental seminars (Thursday 13.00 in term time) also leads dissemination, discussion and development of research themes.

The Department maintains a friendly, supportive, informed and enthusiastic environment for our undergraduate students, which is particularly important for recruitment into more advanced degree programmes (e.g. second year IB Plant and Microbial Sciences, and final year, Part II). The support of fellows and postdocs is vital to this continuity. Senior Fellows will be expected to make some contribution to Departmental research administration, and within the portfolio of undergraduate teaching (see below) and Tripos examining. We believe that this can enhance job prospects and career development, although if problems do arise when this teaching commitment impacts excessively on a research programme this will be reviewed with the Senior Fellow and his/her mentor and the Head of Department. A Senior Fellow may be asked to help with teaching/examining in the ways listed below. These duties are unpaid (but payment for any undergraduate supervisions given can be claimed from the relevant Colleges). More junior Fellows and Post doctoral researchers may be asked to contribute to some aspects of this teaching support, for which payments may be available for certain duties. It is the policy of the Department to encourage post-doctoral scientists to develop their careers by acquiring teaching experience in at least some of the following ways:

Part I (first and second year undergraduate) practical courses

Junior fellows and Postdocs are welcome to demonstrate practical classes for 1st and 2nd year students (Part IA NST Biology of Cells, Physiology of Organisms and Evolution and Behaviour; Part IB NST Plant and Microbial Sciences and Cell and Developmental Biology). Practical classes normally run from 10 or 11 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. and depending on the subject, demonstrators should aim to undertake one day a week. Demonstrators assist a Senior Demonstrator (normally a UTO/Senior Fellow) who will ensure that you are familiar with the principles and equipment before you start. Demonstrators (Postgrads, Postdocs and Junior Fellowships) are paid by the Department on an hourly basis at University defined rates.

Part II (third year undergraduate) projects

Part II Plant Sciences students are required to carry out a research project of 12 weeks duration in either Michaelmas or Lent Terms. Established Senior Fellows (i.e. after two years in post) should supervise research projects to the same degree as UTOs. Post-doctoral scientists usually take responsibility for much of the day-to-day supervision of students working on topics closely related to their own interest. In addition to the training in overseeing a research project, supervisors receive up to a maximum of 8 hours per project which can be reclaimed from the student's college upon completion of the reporting system (CamCors) assessments.

College supervisions

Colleges are responsible for providing small group (usually 2-5 students) tutorial teaching for one hour each week in each subject. Because of the numbers of students taking the major biomedical courses there is always a demand for supervisors to take these groups for IA Biology of Cells, Physiology of Organisms and Evolution and Behaviour (first year), and IB (second year) Plant and Microbial Sciences (PMS) and Cell and Developmental Biology (CDB). Generally supervisors take on groups for part of the year - and the Department of Plant Sciences helps to co-ordinate supervisions for our IB PMS and for the Lent Term plant component of the IA Physiology course in blocks, so as to ensure consistency in interest, expertise and enthusiasm. The department maintains supervision resources to help individuals obtain the balance between remedial work and extension in each supervision. Colleges pay supervisors at a rate per hour/student. The rate per student and the number in the group will vary. The Teaching Administrator is the point of contact for supervision work organised withing the department, whilst the Mailing Lists for College Directors of Studies or course organisers is often used to seek supervisors in specific subjects.


Senior Fellows can be expected to lecture, usually in Part II Modules closely related to research interests, but also at Part IA or Part IB, particularly if an associated host UTO is taking a sabbatical or leave of absence.


This will normally involve marking answers based on Part IA, IB or II that the Senior Fellow has given. On occasion, a Senior Fellow may be invited to be a Part I examiner.

PhD Advising and Supervising

Senior Fellows will be expected to act as Advisors to 2 or 3 PhD students. This is an important role and helps to develop academic careers and broaden research supervision expertise. PhD progression and supervision is co-ordinated and guided by the Departmental Postgraduate Education Committee (PGEC), with formal advisors and assessors providing a support network for supervisor and postgraduate throughout. For more details on Postgraduate supervision, see below).

Postgraduate recruitment, funding and monitoring of progression

This Department provides a framework to ensure that postgraduate students (PhD and MPhil), their supervisory teams and the Department of Plant Sciences work well together during graduate studies. A Concordat provides a qualitative summary of opportunities and expectations for postgraduate students and their supervisors, and is not a substitute for the detailed explanations formally provided within key documents, which include:

The Department recognises that graduate students within the Department are drawn from a variety of backgrounds and countries, and are supported by a number of funding mechanisms, which differ in the level of support for fees, subsistence and consumables, and the period of support also varies (between 3 and 4 years for completion). Historically, UKRI have operated a rigid rule that PhD submissions must occur within a 4 year period following registration for all postgraduates within an annual cohort (both UK and overseas), to preclude sanctions being imposed on individual Departments.

Postgraduate Administration system:

To co-ordinate admissions, progression and completion, the Postgraduate Administrator monitors routine reporting of progress towards thesis submission, and uptake of additional training opportunities within the Department and Graduate School of Life Sciences. The framework for monitoring training and progression is formally co-ordinated through the Postgraduate Education Committee (PGEC), and regular termly reporting via CAMSIS, and annual mechanisms (reports, seminars) to monitor progression to facilitate timely completion within a maximum of 4 years for typical PhD programmes, but supervisors must recognise the length of funding (3, 3.5 or 4 years) for various scholarships must to be factored into the overall progress towards completion.

In their first year, each postgraduate must complete a brief review and project proposal within their first 6 weeks, and give a first year seminar and complete a substantial first year report within 9 months. The report is examined by viva with the Departmental Postgraduate Advisor and PGEC Advisor, and the outcome determines whether the student progresses to full PhD registration with the agreement of the Supervisor. Masters' students by Research (MPhil) undertake a similar monitoring progression and submit a short thesis summary at 9 months. In second and third years, PhD students give a formal presentation to their associated Research Supergroup, which is assessed by the supervisory team, as well as a thesis and write up plan at the start of their final year of funding. A third year poster should be presented at the Departmental Research Day, and a final year thesis plan submitted.

Recruitment and funding sources for Postgraduate Scholarships:

Summaries of potential research projects are posted on the Departmental website, and cross linked via Research Group and Research Theme. Those for the NERC Doctoral Training Programme (C-CLEAR DTP) also co-ordinated centrally by the DTP. The Postgraduate Administrator, with advice from the PGEC Chair, monitors formal applications to the University via the Gradsaf portal: The Department tries to ensure that all applicants should initially have approached a potential supervisor to discuss a mutually agreed research project. The Postgraduate Administrator will pass the application papers to the potential supervisor, and if the applicant is deemed suitable, they should contact a member of the PGEC for assessment and to arrange the appropriate form of (remote) interview (e.g. Skype or Zoom, if not in person). If after interview, both agree to recommend acceptance, the application, with scores for various attributes based on academic performance and background, should be returned to the Postgraduate Administrator who will then enter the decision on CamSIS.

Students can apply throughout the year, but to be considered for various funding schemes the GAF must be submitted by particular deadlines, and usually no later than 7th January; please see the 'Graduate Funding Competition' document. The criteria for University funding are extremely stringent (e.g. for PhD only those scoring 26 or more out of 30 will be considered).

Sources of Postgraduate support:

UKRI and SBS DTP Schemes: We are contributing to intermediary co-funding of SBS DTP awards to sustain an equivalent BBSRC cohort, which will hopefully be fully restored in 2022. Currently, these awards are being co-ordinated through individual Departments, although a future BBSRC scheme will probably operate recruitment more centrally. Awards from the NERC C-CLEAR DTP system can be focussed around Climate Change and Environmental Processes, of Biology and Conservation theme.

The Cambridge Trusts and Gates Scholarships  offer highly competitive awards for the strongest applicants. The Trusts offer a range of awards generally for international students, some of which are targeted towards specific overseas countries. The Gates awards are normally processed in two cohorts, one for US applicants, and one for other overseas applicants. Each Department prepares and submits a ranked list of their gathered field, based on supervisor assessments and interview scores. Some deadlines are as early as December 3rd each year.

International government scholarships- some applicants will approach holding, or about to apply, for a national award, and may need formal acceptance through the Postgraduate application process for their scholarship to be approved. Occasional self-funded overseas applicants will also apply, and the procedure for acceptance should be as stringent as for those considered for Trusts' awards.

Supervisory teams:

Expert and informed supervisory teams, (including the primary supervisor and any co-supervisor, as well as Departmental and PGEC Advisors), are appointed to assess research progression through both formal meetings, and informal interactions. The supervisory team should ensure that appropriate health and safety advice and training has been provided and can also direct to appropriate authorities offering welfare guidance at Departmental or College level when required.

Facilities for research:

Each supervisor initially confirms that the research programme can be supported using existing group funds. As far as possible the Department will ensure that modern analytical approaches can be undertaken, or accessed, through the provision of wet-lab bench space as and when required. Within the physical limitations of existing buildings, the Department will endeavour to offer appropriate quiet office areas which allow access to relevant literature, data analysis and focus for drafting of reports, publications and theses.

Departmental financial support:

The Department recognises the differing levels of resource provision across contrasting funding schemes. When possible, the Department will use appropriate Trust Funds and reserves to support research engagement and more equable allocation of resources in response to reports of need, provided that research promise is being fulfilled. Financial resources are provided each year to promote Graduate Forum activities to promote social inclusion and build bridges between research groups and across the postgraduate cohort.

Intermission and Leave to Work Away:

For periods longer than two weeks: a non-medical intermission is an authorised break from study for such things as maternity or paternity leave, family emergencies and internships or placements; a medical intermission is a complete break from study for medical reasons. Applications seeking approval made via CamSIS, and the period of registration may be extended by the length of an intermission, although a graduate stipend may be limited to part of that period.

Students may also apply to undertake research away from Cambridge (e.g. fieldwork), or for health and welfare reasons (such as during the Covid-9 pandemic). A fieldwork fund is maintained by the SBS and funds allocated with advice from the PGEC, after completion of an application form with appropriate health and safety assurances.