Rotation PhD – further details


Why do a PhD at the JIC/TSL/EI in Norwich UK?

The John Innes Centre (JIC), The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) and the Earlham Institute (EI) are three prestigious institutes that share a campus and have closely linked scientific programmes.

The JIC is one of the world’s premier research institutes in plant and microbial sciences with an illustrious history going back over a century. It came top in a world survey by Times Higher Education in 2010 of plant and animal institutes in terms of average citations per paper over a 10 year period. TSL is a world leader in plant-microbial interaction research. EI is the newest institute, focused on exploring living systems by applying computational science and biotechnology.


Why do a PhD on the Rotation Programme?

A traditional PhD studentship has a pre-defined research project and supervisor. By contrast, a rotation PhD programme allows you the student to select several mini-research projects in the first year before choosing a topic and supervisor for your main research project. A key objective of any PhD is to train students to become independent thinking scientists. The empowerment of the student on the rotation programme instils independence of thought right from the start. This programme is therefore suitable for the very best students who are ready to embrace independence together with a thirst for training in a broad range of multidisciplinary skills in order to develop their own PhD project and launch their research careers.


What is special about the Rotation Programme at JIC/TSL/EI?

Our rotation programme was the first in plant and microbial science in the United Kingdom, having been established in 2003. It is designed for outstanding applicants with excellent academic records who show the potential for research at the highest level and at the cutting edge of biological science and biotechnology.

This multidisciplinary programme is open to students from any country and from a wide range of scientific backgrounds ranging from genetics, genomics and cell biology through to molecular biology, computational biology, microbiology, biological chemistry, applied mathematics and systems biology.

The expected outcomes from the Rotation PhD Programme will be: well-rounded multidisciplinary training in research methodologies; the timely completion of an excellent thesis; publications in high-ranking international refereed journals; and a firm foundation for a distinguished scientific career.

The Rotation PhD Programme is sponsored by the John Innes Foundation, together with the three partner institutes. The studentships benefit from a generous stipend to reflect the prominence and prestige associated with the Rotation PhD programme. The studentship also covers university registration fees and research/training costs. It is expected that up to five studentships will be available each year. It is open to International students as well as UK/EU students.


Journal Club

What happens during the first rotation year?

Year one begins with a three-week period of intensive training and orientation. This is designed to introduce all the research programmes currently being pursued at JIC, TSL and EI. You will attend departmental presentations, the JIC Annual Science Meeting, a Rotation Students’ Retreat for all year groups, and a range of one-to-one meetings of your choice with supervisors whose research particularly interests you. You will be guided by a faculty-mentor, a student-mentor from the previous year-group and the programme tutor who will help you to select your three rotation projects.

You will then undertake 10-week mini-research projects with three different supervisors located in any of the three partner institutes. You will learn from fellow rotation students in this multidisciplinary programme through a fortnightly journal club where you will present and discuss key papers from researchers at the three institutes. After each rotation period, you will write a brief report and give a short oral presentation to the other rotation students. You will rapidly become familiar with a wide range of scientific approaches. The objective of the first eight months is to gain broad technical and theoretical training prior to the selection of a main research project and supervisor.


Our plant and microbial research is organised into the following scientific areas:

Biological Chemistry

Cell & Developmental Biology

Computational & Systems Biology

Computational Science & Biotechnology

Crop Genetics

Metabolic Biology

Molecular Microbiology

Molecular Plant Pathology


What happens after the first three rotations?

By June of the first year, you will have selected the supervisor with whom to embark on the main research project. What is effectively a fourth rotation period of 16 weeks, you will conduct exploratory experiments and write a research proposal. The emphasis should be on clearly framing the questions to be addressed in the thesis so as to create a scientifically interesting but technically feasible research project. The outcome will be the submission of a high quality PhD thesis within a total of four years. You will be registered for a PhD degree at the University of East Anglia.


What evidence is there for excellence in the science and training provided on our Rotation Programme?

The achievements and subsequent career paths of previous rotation students illustrate the excellence of this programme as a springboard for an illustrious career in research.

Click here to read achievements of  Rotation Alumni


What do current and recent rotation students say about the programme?

Yang Zhang

“The 4-year Rotation PhD Program is perfectly designed for students who have broad interests in plant and microbiology. We are encouraged to try different short-term projects before designing our own PhD research proposal. The experience of gaining a broad-based multidisciplinary training, of communicating and interacting with a wide range of scientists and of making important strategic decisions in research planning are important components of our training which together provide a unique foundation for our scientific career.”


Philippa Borrill

“The rotation programme was a fantastic opportunity to gain experience working in a range of different labs and in diverse scientific fields. Working in different areas has given me the confidence to interact with scientists from a wide range of disciplines and the contacts made during my rotation year made me aware of the world class expertise available at JIC. But maybe the best part has been the chance to formulate my own project based on shared interests with my two chosen PhD supervisors Cristobal Uauy and Alison Smith.”


Nik Adamski

“The rotation student programme is a great opportunity for students to gain valuable experience in different research areas. During the rotation year, students learn a wide variety of skills, which will form a toolbox that they can utilise throughout their career. Furthermore, the students can quickly and easily create a professional network during their rotations between different labs, which will prove invaluable for future collaborations and discussions. For me, the best thing about the rotation student programme is to experience working in three different research groups with very different research topics. This enables a student to “sample” the width and breadth of science at JIC.”


Scott Berry

“The rotation year provided a fantastic opportunity to work with researchers from around the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory, providing an invaluable introduction to world class research in plant and microbial science. Like many students on the rotation programme, my main project combined aspects from two of my rotations to establish a multidisciplinary collaboration with both experimental and theoretical supervisors. I have found staff at the JIC and TSL to be extremely approachable (even project leaders!) and with the diverse range of expertise available on site, there has always been someone to go to for a helpful and thought-provoking discussion.”


Programme Directors

Dr Stephen Bornemann

Dr Wilfried Haerty

Professor Sophien Kamoun