PhD study

© Martin Bond

© Martin Bond

We house over 30 research groups working in fundamental science, engineering, and mathematics fields, with an overarching drive to deliver real impact in the areas of sustainability and healthcare. Our multidisciplinary expertise is centered on five key competencies: biology, materials, reactions and processes, sensor technologies and big data. Most of our research groups accept applications for PhD study.

Entry requirements

You are normally expected to hold, or to be about to achieve, a First Class or high 2.i Honours Degree (or the equivalent from an overseas institution, please see the International Qualifications page) in chemical engineering, engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, applied mathematics, physics, biological science or related subjects. Alternatively, candidates with an appropriate Master's qualification may be considered, but please be advised that we would still normally expect a First Class or high 2.i Honours (or overseas equivalent) undergraduate degree.

In addition, if English is not your first language, you may need to take a language proficiency test. You do not need to take a test before you apply, but if you are made an offer, it could be a requirement that you obtain a passing score. To determine if you are likely to need an English test, please see 'Will I Have a Language Requirement'.

How to apply

University of Cambridge Postgraduate Admissions

To study for a PhD in Chemical Engineering or Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge, you must formally apply to University of Cambridge Postgraduate Admissions. Please see their website for more information about applying online : University of Cambridge Postgraduate Admissions.

All first-year PhD research students are registered for no formal registration (NOTAF) until satisfactory progress has been made. Offer letters from the Board of Graduate Studies to such students will say that they have either been registered for a PhD (Probationary) or NOTAF in the first instance.

Research students are registered for the PhD only after a satisfactory progress assessment at the end of three terms.

Close the Gap and AIM


The Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology welcomes applications from underrepresented groups, and we are proud to participate in Close the Gap, the Oxford and Cambridge University's initiative to transform doctoral student selection to develop a socially and epistemically just and inclusive environment for world-leading research.

We additionally participate in AIM, a 6-month online programme to assist applicants from underrepresented groups with their application to doctoral study at the University of Cambridge. Eligible applicants receive personalised support from admissions staff and students who have been through the application process themselves, giving you the confidence to make a competitive application to Cambridge.

Please see the University of Cambridge's AIM PhD website for further information.

Completing the Graduate Admissions Application Form

Please note that the postgraduate admission process can take 2 - 3 months.

Proposed Supervisor, Title of Research and Research Summary

Before choosing a research area, please see the Department's Research Group page to become familiar with our current research. Prospective applicants are expected to contact potential supervisors before applying. The purpose of this initial contact is to understand the process, develop an application, and enquire on a supervisor’s capacity and willingness to supervise/see if there is a good fit between your interests and theirs. When you contact a supervisor, please be sure to include your CV, a statement of your research interests/proposal, and any other relevant materials.

Before applying, please carefully review the information available on our website; familiarize yourself with the work conducted by our department and the research interests and projects of potential supervisors. This will help you identify the academic staff whose expertise aligns with your own research interests. In your proposal, demonstrate your familiarity with related academic work in the field. Identify and describe a novel research direction, considering why it is both interesting and relevant to pursue research in that particular area. Write clearly and concisely. Your proposal should be approximately 300 words and written in English. Structure your proposal with sections such as introduction, prior research/gaps, problem/proposed research, and methodologies. Provide some specific details of what is expected of each section. Demonstrate feasibility and an anticipated plan/schedule of work for the first year. Strive for precision in what you intend to do in your PhD.

When you are ready to apply, you must enter the name of a prospective supervisor; we are unable to consider applications without one. A degree of flexibility on both sides (the department and you) is helpful. Students frequently come to the department and work in a slightly different area to their original preference.

Research Groups Offering Part Time Study 

Some groups are able to consider applicants for part-time study; please see the list below: 

Sebastian Ahnert’s research group -- Structural Complexity

Graham Christie’s group  -- Molecular Microbiology

Adrian Fisher’s group  -- Electrochemical and Microengineering

Séamus Higson’s group  -- Bio-analytical Chemistry and Energy Systems

Markus Kraft’s group -- Computational Modelling

Ewa Marek's group -- Energy Reactions and Carriers

Róisín Owen’s group -- Bioelectronic Systems Technology

Sam Stranks’ group  --  Optoelectronic Materials and Device Spectroscopy

Axel Zeitler’s group  --  Terahertz Applications

Please see the University's Postgraduate Prospectus for details on funding opportunities and deadlines. Scholarship rounds at Cambridge are highly competitive, and we encourage all our applicants to search for funding sources that are external to the University.

Reasons for applying
We would like your reasons for applying to Cambridge itself, for example, why Cambridge is an ideal fit for your proposed research.

Statement of interest
Let us know why you're interested in the course, why you feel you're an ideal candidate for it, and what you would do with your degree after its completion.

College preferences
The application form asks you to indicate a choice of College; the Postgraduate Admissions website has information on the College system and choosing a College.

Letters of Reference
When selecting referees, please refer to the guidelines provided by Postgraduate Admissions on who to nominate to be your referees.

What happens after you apply

Please note that it normally takes 2-3 months for a decision to be made.

Your most current information on your application will be on the Applicant Portal; please check there regularly for the latest updates.

Before your application is sent electronically from the Postgraduate Admissions Office to the Department, two academic references and copies of your transcripts must be provided by you via the Applicant Portal. You should notify your referees immediately that you have applied for admission to Cambridge, and they should expect to receive an email that will contain instructions on uploading the reference. Please ask them to check their spam/junk mail folders for this email. In addition, you must upload copies of your most recent transcripts from all your previous degrees. Please note that if you are made an offer of admission, you will be asked to send original hard copies of your final transcripts.

Once your application is submitted, and all required supporting documents uploaded, your application will be sent to the Department for consideration. If we recommend an offer of admission, your application will be considered by the Degree Committee in Engineering and then the Postgraduate Admissions Office. Provided your application is fully approved, admissions will issue a Conditional Offer, which will outline all the steps you must take to obtain a Confirmation of Admission. You will be able to track each step via the Applicant Portal.

Receiving a conditional offer

In your Conditional Offer, you will see the conditions you must meet before your admission is confirmed. You should complete the tasks associated for each condition as soon as you are able, you do not need to wait until you are able to meet all of them. For example, you can accept your offer, upload a photograph, and complete and upload the Visa Status form (if applicable) straight away. Many applicants will also be able to upload a passport copy immediately. The more conditions you can meet early, the greater your chances of getting a confirmed offer in good time.

Please be advised that when you upload a document onto the Applicant Portal, or if delivery of your original hard copies is signed for at the Postgraduate Admissions Office, your condition will not be automatically met. Your uploaded or hard copies of documents will join a queue with other students' documents to await processing. Once the document is considered by staff at the Admissions Office, they will either update the condition as complete, or they will issue a note on your self-service as to why the condition was not met and the steps you need to take. It normally takes 1-2 weeks, or longer during busy periods such as late summer/early autumn and in December/January, before the document is processed by the Admissions Office.

Withdrawing your offer

If you determine that you will be unable to take up your place at Cambridge, you will need to log-in to your self-service and formally withdraw your application. This will alert the Admissions Office, the Department, and your College of your intentions.


Your fees will vary depending on your nationality (UK or overseas) and your choice of college. Your living expenses (maintenance fees) will also vary depending on the number of dependents accompanying you. For more detailed information on the costs you will incur, please visit the Student Registry.


A full list of deadlines is published on the Deadlines Page of the University's Graduate Admissions Office. Please note that an offer of admission does not guarantee a scholarship, and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology does not provide funding support towards fees and maintenance from its own resources. Also, under University regulations, it is not possible for students to work as a teaching or research assistant while studying for a PhD.

Due to the highly competitive nature of scholarship opportunities at the Universitywe encourage all applicants to search for funding outside of the University, i.e., government scholarships offered by your home country.


Students at Cambridge are members of both the University and a College. If you are offered a place of study on one of our graduate courses, you will obtain a place at a College as well. You do not have to be a member of the same college as your supervisor.

The Department is where you will attend lectures, conduct research, etc. The Colleges provide: on-going academic and pastoral support from your Tutor and Graduate Office; accommodation and catering; financial advice and assistance; and social, cultural, and sporting facilities. Colleges administer formal processes, including matriculation (formally joining the University and College), monitoring international students' status for visa purposes, and graduation.

Choosing a College

As you are completing your application for admission, you may indicate your first and second choices of college, or you may leave your application 'open'.  If your application for study is approved, but neither your first nor second College choice will be able to offer you a place, your application will be sent to a randomly selected college. When determining your college choices, it's especially useful to visit the University's Choosing a College page. Here, you will find advice on how to choose a college (and how not to!). You should also look at their Key Facts and Figures link to help you choose.

Visa requirements

The most up-to-date information about visa and ATAS requirements for applicants can be found on the International Student Office's website.

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies for a Healthy and Sustainable Future

Sensor CDT logo

We are home to the EPSRC funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies, established in direct response to an identified training need articulated by major UK industries, SMEs and the academic sector. The Sensor CDT delivers an interdisciplinary, research-focused training programme to outstanding students, ranging all the way from physical concepts of sensing, interpreting, and managing sensory data, to application-focused sensor development.

The Sensor CDT course is a four-year interdisciplinary and research-focused training programme. It introduces our students to the breadth of sensor technologies and applications while providing depth in key topics. The programme ranges from the physical concepts of sensing via the interpretation and management of sensory data to modern developments in sensor applications.

The programme is structured as a one-year Master of Research (MRes) course followed by a three-year PhD research project.

Find out more about the programme on the Sensors CDT website.

Contact us

While we are happy to help you with any queries about the application process and conditions of admission, we do ask that you please read the University's Postgraduate Prospectus in the first instance, as it provides information about fees and funding opportunities, entrance requirements, deadlines, and the application process. If you have already been made an offer, you should consult the Offer Booklet for guidance. If you feel that you need assistance, please email

© Martin Bond

© Martin Bond

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