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Full-time science PhD studentships - Frequently Asked Questions

What are the minimum qualifications I need to apply?

The Institute of Cancer Research is one of the world’s most influential cancer research institutions. As such, we receive applications from hundreds of candidates each year. At a minimum, candidates for full-time science PhD study must have:

  • An upper second-class honours degree (2:1) in a relevant subject (either expected or obtained) or an overseas qualification to the equivalent level,

OR

  • A Master’s degree or MPhil in a relevant subject. Please see our full eligibility criteria here.

I am not from the United Kingdom. Can I apply?

At the ICR, we are committed to attracting and developing the best minds in the world. All ICR-funded studentships are open to candidates irrespective of nationality, subject to meeting the minimum entrance criteria.

Occasionally there are nationality restrictions placed on studentships by Research Councils and alternative funding streams, but this will be clearly stated on the advert and ICR website. If there are no comments about candidate nationality, please assume the project accepts international applications.

If you are applying for a studentship with specific criteria and restrictions such as ITN or iCASE programmes, please help us to ascertain your eligibility by making it clear in the ‘Additional Information’ part of the application. For example, you might want to include some of your employment history to confirm eligibility.

My qualifications are from overseas how can I best fill them out in the application?

While it can be difficult to make comparisons between international qualification systems, we do get hundreds of overseas applications each year. The supervisors that are reading your applications are used to considering overseas candidates and different education systems. The Registry team can support supervisors using resources such as NARIC (The National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom) to provide guidance on overseas qualifications and education systems. You can also use the ‘Research Interests’ and ‘Additional Information’ parts of the application form to explain anything about your qualifications that may be unclear, or to highlight results that you think deserve notice. You will also have the opportunity to upload certificates and transcripts to help our supervisors and the Registry team clarify anything.

Do I need to be a fluent English speaker?

All applicants who do not have English as a first language must have one of the following:

  • A formal English qualification to the equivalent of an IELTS score of 7.0, with a minimum of 6.0 in any one component.
  • To have completed education in English (for a minimum of one year).
  • Or to have worked in an English-speaking environment (for a minimum of 18 months) in a majority English speaking country within the last two years.

It may be possible to make a conditional offer to candidates whose IELTS score is less than the minimum, subject to further study and re-examination, and to UK visa requirements. The qualification would need to be in place before we sponsor a visa application. 

I am worried that I don’t have enough experience or the right employment history. What should I do?

Providing you meet the eligibility criteria, your application as a whole will be assessed to determine whether you will be invited for interview. PhD students are often recruited straight from university so don’t let this put you off applying.

As the guidance states, if you did not have an undergraduate project please explain this and instead provide some other sample of your practically-oriented scientific writing or a piece of work relevant to the qualification you achieved. You can use the free-text space in the ‘Research Interests’ part of the application in the same way that you might use a covering letter, or personal statement: to describe what makes you a great candidate for a PhD at the ICR.

Some of my preferred projects have additional restrictions and eligibility criteria. How can I address this in my application?

If you are applying for a studentship with specific criteria and restrictions such as ITN, iCASE or other relevant programmes, please carefully check your eligibility against the criteria specified on our website. You can also help us to ascertain your eligibility by being accurate in your answers to screening questions in the application forms, such as your requirement for a visa to study in the UK and the MRC iCASE and ITN eligibility questions. You can provide clarity by using the ‘Additional Information’ part of the application. For example, you might want to include some of your employment history to confirm eligibility.

We will not be able to interview candidates for projects for which they are not eligible.

Why do I need to include both my exam results and a university transcript in the application?

The information you provide is down to personal preference. Some students input all their results, others manage to summarise these across the year or simply provide final year results. The supervisors that are reading your applications will be looking to see if you have studied applicable subjects during your degree, whether you obtained good results in those subjects and at the strength of the application as a whole. You should therefore complete this section in the way that best highlights your achievements.

The associated documents that we ask for alongside the application form, such as your university transcripts and project summaries, are provided to supervisors in a separate document. This means they may only review them if they wish to confirm something, or are impressed by the information presented in the application form. You should not attach personal photos of yourself to documents that you upload to the student recruitment system. Where you are shown in a document, such as a transcript, please obscure the image.

What should I include in my Research Interests when it asks ‘Why do you want to do a PhD, and why do you wish to do it at our institution?’

The information you put here helps our recruiting supervisors understand what would make you a great PhD student and what about the ICR appeals to you, or suits your research interests. You can use this part of the application in the same way that you might use a covering letter, or personal statement. Usually this will be around one page long and, while it can be longer, please remember our supervisors are often reviewing applications in their hundreds and may not be able to read all of a very long piece.

If your degree, or technical experience and expertise make you a good fit for the ICR then please use this space to explain why. You should also remember there are a large range of skills that contribute to making a good researcher. The vitae.ac.uk researcher development framework is a good guide for these. Many of the skills included in this list – such as problem solving, resilience, enthusiasm, great communication, time management, public engagement, team working – can be demonstrated outside of a work experience or laboratory setting and you may have personal experiences that demonstrate these qualities. Please use this space to explain your motivation for studying for a PhD and what would make you a great student.

What happens with my project preference choices? How do these impact my application?

When applying for a PhD at the ICR our recruiting supervisors are assessing the quality of candidates during the application sifting and shortlisting stages. In general, they will be looking at if you would be a great PhD student at the ICR. As such there is no implied order of project preference.

If there are particular projects that have strongly motivated your application, please detail this in the free-text space in the ‘Research Interests’. Your application will not be disadvantaged if you do not wish to do this.

If we progress with your application there will be opportunities to change your preferences after panel interview, and again after one-to-one interviews after you have had a chance to meet with and learn more about recruiting supervisors and the projects they are offering.

If you are applying for the ICR and Imperial Convergence Science PhD programme your project choices will be used to inform the shortlisting process and used to plan the recruitment process if you progress to the interview stage. 

What happens to my application? Who will read it? What are they looking for?

After the reference deadline, applications are directly read by at least one, but usually many of our recruiting supervisors in the round you have applied to. At the ICR we also have senior tutors reviewing applications to spot candidates that would be a great fit for a PhD. Often our supervisors are looking for degrees that are relevant to the work you’ll be doing in their project and whether you have selected their project as a choice. They will also be looking for relevant experience you have (both inside and outside of a research setting) that can demonstrate the qualities that make a great PhD student. Please also see the answer to ‘What should I include in my Research Interests when it asks ‘Why do you want to do a PhD, and why do you wish to do it at our institution?

Can I contact supervisors if I am interested in their project?

Please do not contact our recruiting supervisors at this stage. All our studentships are recruited using our online Student Recruitment System apply.icr.ac.uk and only applications we receive through this system can be considered. The recruiting supervisor will see your application there. You should not send CVs to supervisors outside of our recruitment system. This helps us to ensure fair recruitment.

Any questions you have about the recruitment process, or your application can be addressed to [email protected].

We do provide detailed project proposals which should answer many of the technical questions you might have. There will be opportunities for networking and questions for recruiting supervisors further on during the application process. As a result and we discourage contact at this stage.

Should I submit supporting evidence such as a CV or a degree certificate with my application?

You do not need to send or attach a CV as the information you will complete in the Student Recruitment System is sufficient for us to evaluate your application as a whole. There is an opportunity to provide detail about your employment history in the ‘Additional Information’ part of the application. You can also use the free-text space in the ‘Research Interests’ part of the application to highlight where your degree, or technical experience and expertise make you a good fit for research at the ICR, or on a specific project. It can be useful for supervisors to see your university transcripts to understand more about the specific content of your degree. The Registry team can also use this information to check your eligibility.

I am an overseas applicant. Will a studentship at the ICR cover the university tuition fees for the full four years?

Please see the UK Council for International Student affairs (UKCISA) website for clarification on what your fee status is.

For all projects, except those that are funded by the CRUK Convergence Science Centre, if you are offered and accept a fully funded four-year PhD Studentship at the ICR, annual university tuition fees will be covered for the duration of your studies.

For studentships that are part of the convergence science programme, we can only offer these to non-UK candidates where self-sourced funding is in place to cover international tuition fees. MRC-funded iCASE projects are not open to overseas candidates.

Can I apply for more than one recruitment round? Can I still apply if I have been previously unsuccessful?

You can apply for multiple recruitment rounds. You can apply where you have been previously unsuccessful. Your application will not be disadvantaged in either case.

How will I know if my application has been received?

Your application will be acknowledged by an automatically generated email from [email protected]

Who should I include as a reference? What will they be asked?

Both referees should be individuals that can comment on your suitability as a PhD student. You should include at least one academic reference. This will be someone who can comment on your academic ability and suitability for further study. You should use someone who would expect to give a reference for you, such as someone that has had input in, or has supported your most recent degree or research project. When selecting a referee, consider how well the individual knows you and your work.

It is a good idea to ask your referees if they can provide a reference for you. We do not accept references from employment agencies as they are not able to comment on your suitability for a PhD project.

Referees will be asked to comment on things such as examination performance, practical work, time management, your ability to express ideas orally and in writing, reliability, initiative, independent work, and self-motivation. 

Will my suggested referees be contacted straight away for a reference?

Yes. When you submit your application, an email will automatically be sent to both your referees with full instructions on how to provide your reference. References are sought prior to the sifting and shortlisting process. 

My referee has not been contacted, or cannot find the email. What shall I do?

Please check you have inputted the correct email address for your referee into our system. They should have received an email from [email protected] with the subject line ‘Reference request from The Institute of Cancer Research – CONFIDENTIAL’. Please ask your referee to check their spam. If you are certain your referee has not received the email we can resend it.

I am applying to two concurrent rounds. Do I need to input my referees again? Will my referee have to fill out the information twice?

When applying to concurrent rounds (i.e. accepting applications at the same time) and using the same referees, you should input the referee details in exactly the same way as for the first application you filled out. Ensure the contact details and names are identical. As with the first application, your referees will be emailed to ask for a reference via a link. However, when they click on the second link they will have the option to automatically pull through the previous reference they submitted for you. It can be worth explaining to your referees this is how it will work and that they should follow the new link to enable the second application to be populated.

I have applied in a previous round. Do I need to input my referees again? Will my referee have to fill out the information twice?

When applying for the main recruitment round in October/November, the system is cleared of all previous applications to enable us to start again for the new academic year. If you are applying outside of the main round, we are able to re-use references where they have been requested in previous rounds. However, this has to be within six months and with the referee's permission. The system is set up to do this automatically if you input the same reference with identical details within six months. As with the first application, your referees will be emailed to ask for a reference via a link. However, when they click on the second link they will have the option to automatically pull through the previous reference they submitted for you. It can be worth explaining to your referees this is how it will work and that they should follow the new link to enable the second application to be populated.

If the previous application was made longer than six months ago you should contact your referees and ask them to email us at [email protected] with permission to re-use a reference.

We can only re-use a reference with direct 'permission' from the referee in one of those ways.

My referee has not filled out my reference. What can I do?

We would suggest you contact your referee to check whether they are able to fill out the reference for you. If they are unable to do this, or you have problems contacting your referee, we can change your referee details to another individual. Please send this request along with the full name and contact details for your new referee to [email protected] and we will change this on the system as soon as we can. Your new referee will be emailed immediately. 

My references will not be in by the deadline. What can I do?

Ideally, we should receive your references by the reference deadline. Your referees can continue to add the reference to your application after the deadline, however your application will be under review by recruiting supervisors with whatever references have been submitted by this time. Your application may still be considered if references are not received by the deadline. However, no applicant will be invited to interview unless both references have been received. If necessary, we can change your referee details to another individual. Please send this request along with the full name and contact details for your new referee to [email protected] and we will change this on the system as soon as we can. Your new referee will be emailed immediately. 

Can I alter the interview date if I am unable to attend?

Interviews are complex to organise and dates are set well in advance to accommodate this. In the majority of circumstances, and in particular for the main recruitment round in January and February, we are unable to alter interview dates. If you are offered an interview outside of the main recruitment round and you are unable to attend on the given date, please contact the ICR’s Registry ([email protected]) as soon as possible.

When will I know if my application has been successful?

We will contact shortlisted candidates for interview by email as soon as possible after the deadline date. This date will vary depending on the time of year that we are recruiting. After submitting your application, you will have received a date by which shortlisted candidates will have heard. If you are not contacted by the date specified in the email then please assume we are not progressing with your application and you have not been shortlisted.

Will I be contacted if my application has been unsuccessful?

No. Our studentships are highly competitive and we receive large volumes of applications. It is not feasible to contact unsuccessful applicants, unless you have attended for interview.

If my application has been unsuccessful, can I ask for feedback as to why?

Unfortunately, because we receive so many applications, it will not be possible to provide feedback as to why you have not been successful, unless you have attended for interview.

For more information, please view the ICR Admissions Policy (PDF).

I have been shortlisted. What happens next? What is the interview process like? How can I prepare?

If you applied for the main recruitment round in October/November, the interviews will be scheduled for January and February with dates clearly detailed on the website. Panel interviews happening in 2021 will be conducted remotely. Candidates that progress to the interview stage will get the opportunity to see videos of all the recruiting supervisors explaining their projects and giving an insight into working with their team.

You will be invited to attend a panel interview, which is the first part of our recruitment process. We will ascertain if you need any adjustments before the event.

Full details will be provided with your invite but, as an overview, it will include a panel interview lasting approximately half an hour with three or more individuals. During this you will be asked to present and you will be assessed on criteria that are the same for all candidates.

There will also be the opportunity hear about the ICR and our PhD programme from the Deputy Dean. Current students will be available to explain what it is like to study with us and there will be opportunities to network with recruiting supervisors.

Candidates who are successful at the panel interview will be invited to participate in further one-to-one interviews on a different date. These will be with individual supervisors and specific to the projects you are interested in. As such, you may be invited to more than one interview as part of the second round interviews. 

How will Brexit impact recruitment of PhD students?

The Institute of Cancer Research will continue to pay tuition fees for most students that have been competitively awarded fully-funded studentships. The exception to this is non-UK students applying for studentships that are funded by the CRUK Convergence Science Centre and MRC-funded iCASE projects. These projects can only be offered to international or EU candidates where self-sourced funding is in place to cover international tuition fees.

EEA students will now need to apply for a visa to study in the UK. The Institute of Cancer Research has been granted a Student sponsor licence by the Home Office and can issue you with a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies to support Student route immigration applications. The Registry team is contactable at [email protected] and will support you through the visa process as far as possible. Additionally the UKCISA website is a good source of information on Brexit and its impact on international students. For the avoidance of doubt, it is your responsibility to apply for a visa and to ensure that you have a correct visa before travelling to the UK.

How has Covid-19 impacted recruitment of PhD students?

Panel interviews happening in 2021 will be conducted remotely. We hope if possible to be able to hold one-to-one interviews in-person but will be guided by safety and distancing measures. 

General queries

If these FAQs do not answer your questions about studying for a PhD at the Institute of Cancer Research, please contact us at [email protected] (Queries will only be answered Monday - Friday 09:00-17;00 UK Time)

 

To find out more about student experiences and alumni, see our student profiles and alumni profiles.

 

For more information about postgraduate life at the ICR, please click here.