Doctorate in Research (PhD) - Years 2 to 4


To facilitate high quality PhD research and in doing so provide a platform for a new generation of multi-disciplinary thinkers and innovators. PhD research project proposals are developed in collaboration with industry, through a competitive bidding process involving all departments, institutes and centres associated with the Centre. Selection of PhD research projects takes place toward the end of the first year of the course.

Participation in relevant technical courses, road mapping and business electives takes place throughout the PhD training.


Students who are awarded an MRes will then be permitted to progress onto the first stage of PhD programme. For your PhD you will join one of the large research groups at either UCL or Cambridge University. There will be opportunities to collaborate with external partners and to align your research with larger multi-disciplinary consortium projects with which the groups are involved. This will offer an immediate audience for your research and improve the prospects for publishing and employment. This applied research is agreed between the student and the Centre. Contact is maintained between the student and their supervisor, flexible to their needs and progress. Lectures are attended as necessary to support the student's research and personal development, but there are no mandatory courses required at this stage. Viva exams are completed to gain the PhD qualification, but no additional exams.

Choosing a PhD research project

PhD projects for this programme are formally proposed by academic supervisors. During the MRes year students may develop a PhD research proposal with help from the CDT Management Team or Research Groups at UCL or Cambridge. All proposals are then then reviewed by the Centre's Research Strategy Committee. 

Students are provided with an approved list of available PhD projects during their MRes year. They meet with the project supervisors to discuss their interest before submitting their PhD project choices. Supervisors provide feedback to the Committee on student's suitability. The Committee then allocate research projects to students who are continuing from MRes to PhD.

A list of recent research projects can be found on our Projects page.

Supervision and mentoring

With guidance from the Centre Directors and academic supervisors students will identify suitable supervision arrangements - which will depend on the nature of the research project. You will be registered at the university of your first (principal) supervisor. Your principal or first supervisor, along with the Research Group Leader, will act as a mentor with regard to wider welfare issues. The Centre Director will also undertake an annual review of progress with every student in the form of a one-to-one tutorial.

Over 100 potential supervisors have been identified across the two universities so the range of potential topics that can be supported is large. Being multi-disciplinary in nature, most projects will have supervisors from different disciplines and cross-campus supervision teams will be the norm. 


You may also have the opportunity to spend time seconded to one of our partner universities overseas or external industrial partners. The potential added value of this placement to your research should be taken into consideration. It is an opportunity to access additional advanced facilities, to acquire new research skills, to get advice from, and form a closer working relationship with, leading international researchers. The placement will also  provide you with insights into different research and working environments and cultures.

Personal development and dissemination

During your PhD you will present your work at our Annual Colloquium and at conferences. Towards the end of the programme you will also be expected to give lectures, mentor younger students, and contribute to the academic life of the centre. Project research funds are available to allow attendance at conferences, workshops and summer schools both in the UK and overseas. As your research develops you will also be expected to speak at such events and to publish scientific papers.

Further learning opportunities

A programme of wider skills training will be developed between you and your supervision team. You may also be advised to attend other MSc modules or lectures in a non-assessed mode to support your research. Both UCL and Cambridge have many other generic skills training courses open to doctoral students.

Final assessment

Final assessment will be by thesis and viva.

Career Opportunities

The PhD in Photonics enables students to gain the skills required for jobs in the rapidly expanding photonics industry. The course provides unrivalled contacts, with access to top photonics industry professionals and the best academic and career development resources.