Your Guide to Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) (2024)

Written by Chris Banyard

A Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) is one of the approaches used by some UK Research Councils to fund and train doctoral students in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This guide will explain what CDT studentships are, how they work and how to apply for a PhD funded in this way.

What is a Centre for Doctoral Training?

Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) are formed by a group of research organisations (universities and industry partners) combining research and expertise to support and train PhD students. They are sometimes referred to as Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs).

They are funded by one or more Research Councils within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI, previously Research Councils UK). A CDT offers its PhD studentships through its university and research organisation partners to postgraduate students.

Centres for Doctoral Training studentships are similar to Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs), though there are a couple of differences.

Key features

As with other UKRI-funded studentships, a CDT programme is typically a fully-funded four-year studentship providing financial support for doctoral tuition fees and a doctoral stipend for the full course of study. In some cases, there may also be an integrated Masters during the first year (a 1+3 award programme).

Research organisations, including universities and industry partners, can establish a Centre for Doctoral Training either alone or by forming a consortium. This can bring together diverse areas of expertise.

PhD students are trained in cohorts of varying sizes. Cohort-based doctoral training can be very different to a standard PhD. You will take part in cohort-wide training modules as part of a more structured programme, rather than training in specific research-based skills as an individual or as part of a small research group on a traditional PhD. This also aims to provide a supportive environment with plenty of opportunities for collaboration.

A CDT is intended to specifically train PhD students, unlike universities which have additional aims. So, CDT-trained students should receive high-quality training in practical skills as well as acquiring academic knowledge and confidence for their future career.

Who can study in a CDT?

Each CDT receives funding from at least one Research Council. The CDT awards a number of studentship places for prospective doctoral researchers on an annual basis. These studentships are highly-sought after, so only the most promising and talented postgraduates are accepted.

Applicants must have at least a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant subject, or equivalent. Some studentships are only available to UK students and EU students who meet UK residency requirements. However, since 2021, international students are also eligible for UKRI funding. Make sure to check the eligibility of the specific CDT studentship webpage you're interested in.

You can find more information about eligibility here.

Can I train within a CDT without a studentship?

It may be possible to train within a CDT without a studentship. This would require the student to be self-funded for their PhD. However, this depends on the CDT in question, and the strength of your application. You should always check the conditions of the CDT.

Comparisions to other studentships

CDTs have many things in common with other UKRI-funded studentships, such as Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs), industrial CASE (iCASE) studentships, and Collaborative Training Partnerships (CTPs). However, there are some key differences outlined below.

Centres for Doctoral Training

CDTs tend to have more specific research goals, and the PhD students funded in this way are trained in ‘priority’ areas. There are many CDTs based around the UK. Each has a focus on training doctoral researchers in a specific area of priority.

Typically, PhD students within a CDT will be encouraged to make links with industry more than some other forms of PhD study.

Doctoral Training Partnerships

DTPs train PhD students in research areas relevant to the Research Council’s remit. Although this is similar to CDT studentships, the projects available and the training given tend to cover a broader range.

Like CDTs, a DTP programme can be formed by research organisations, either alone or in a consortium, but may also have industry partners. However, the industry partners tend to play a lesser role.

Unlike other studentships, DTPs usually include an internship or placement element within their training. They are usually self-organised and last for the equivalent of up to three months.

Industrial CASE studentships

An iCASE (formerly Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering) studentship is focused on Science, Technology and Engineering subjects. They involve stronger collaboration with an industry partner. Each studentship is allocated directly to an industry partner by a Research Council. The industry partner then defines an appropriate PhD research project and affiliates with an academic partner. Because of this specificity, there is flexibility in the number and nature of iCASE studentships awarded to prospective doctoral researchers.

iCASE studentships are very similar to DTPs. In fact, iCASE PhD students are often placed within a DTP funded by the same Research Council. This incorporates the student within the same DTP cohort and provides access to the same training opportunities. iCASE studentships are typically awarded annually at the same time as DTP studentships.

The big difference between an iCASE and a DTP studentship is the industry placement. Where a DTP internship last up to three months, an iCASE placement at the industry partner lasts a minimum of three months. If particular conditions are met, a DTP studentship may even be converted to an iCASE studentship.

The training on an iCASE studentship may also develop more business-related skills, such as finance and project management.

Collaborative Training Partnership

CTPs, also known as Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDPs), are very similar to iCASE studentships. In some cases, there is very little distinction between the two. However, they are typically allocated to a non-academic industry organisation with experience of postgraduate research. This industry partner collaborates with an academic partner, but the industry partner generally has more autonomy in the PhD project selection the PhD student will be primarily based at the industry organisation.

Currently, a limited number CDP / CTPs are only offered by the AHRC and BBSRC.

What does a Centre for Doctoral Training provide?

A CDT PhD has several key benefits over a traditional PhD. The cohort-based approach and collaborative environment are significant advantages. Most importantly, a CDT offers generous funding and training opportunities.

Funding

A Centre for Doctoral Training studentship can fully fund a doctoral student through their study. For 2023-25, this includes:

  • Full UK PhD tuition fees – up to £4,712 is paid to the university each year for your full-time study (you won’t be charged any extra)
  • A doctoral stipend – a minimum of £18,622 to cover living expenses each year of study (may be higher for London-based studentships)

This funding lasts for the full four years of the PhD study.

Depending on the studentship award, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) of around £5,000 may also be awarded. This is used to cover the costs of equipment, travel, additional fees, facilities and specialist training over the course of the PhD programme.

Your Guide to Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) (1)

Research Council studentship funding

PhD studentships funded by Research Councils can have additional support dependenig on the nature of the PhD and the studentship. You can find out more about Research Council funding on our guide.

Training

In addition to monetary support, a CDT will also provide research training throughout your PhD. This can vary between training centres, but it will teach technical and transferable skills relevant for a doctoral researcher. Training in core professional skills – project management, teaching, writing and presenting – aims to enhance employability and is useful for future careers in both academic and industry.

The training provided by a CDT studentship may have several advantages over a traditional PhD programme. The collaborative nature of a CDT means there may also be emphasis on multi-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary knowledge, training and research. Due to CDTs being dedicated for specific research output, the training will be tailored to address the skills needed at the doctoral level. In a CDT, students may work more closely with industry, and therefore develop in industry-relevant skills. The cohort-based approach may also mean that there should be shared training and development.

Applying for a Centre for Doctoral Training studentship

The application process for a CDT studentship can be highly variable, depending on the funding Research Council, the university you study at and the CDT itself. As a result, you should find and follow the application guidelines for the specific CDT studentship you apply for.

In any case, a prospective postgraduate student will not apply for a CDT studentship to the UK Research Council directly. Instead, you will apply either directly to the CDT or to the ‘host’ university you will be based at.

CDT studentships are awarded annually, although the deadline for applications can differ depending on the CDT studentship. Studentships are allocated in open competition for a pre-set number of awards.

For some CDT programmes, you will need to be accepted for PhD study at a university first and apply for funding afterwards. In other cases, you may apply for both a PhD position and CDT funding in parallel – this could be pre-funded or require you to coordinate the PhD and funding applications yourself.

Likewise, the CDT studentship may be a pre-set PhD project or your own project proposal – both will require different application processes.

Again, depending on the PhD discipline, the studentship and the university, different application materials may need to be supplied. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • An application form
  • A research proposal
  • A personal statement
  • A CV
  • References
  • Previous degree transcripts
  • A statement of purpose

You may also need to contact a potential PhD supervisor if you have not already been accepted onto a PhD programme.

All CDT studentships provide generous funding and training. As result, they are very competitive. Studentships are only awarded to the best applicant with strong applications. Generally, applicants need to show academic achievement in a relevant field, excellent skills and ability, and an aptitude or potential to succeed in doctoral research. Remember to check specific eligibility requirements for your desired CDT studentship.

Find out more about applying for a Research Council studentship.

Your Guide to Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) (2)

Research Council studentship applications

The application process and eligibilty requirements can vary between studentships. You can find out more about applying for Research Council funded studentships on our guide.

The pros and cons of studying with a Centre for Doctoral Training or Doctoral Training Partnership

If you’re wondering whether a Doctoral Training Partnership or CDT project is for you, we’ve put together some pros and cons:

Pros

  • DTPs and CDTs are fully funded: DTP and CDT projects are almost always fully funded by research councils, meaning all course fees are paid directly to the university and you’ll receive a tax-free stipend each month. Depending on your project and subject area, your university might also receive a consumables budget to be spent on your books or lab equipment. Some even provide students with laptops.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to learn core skills: CDT and DTP projects include various training activities. These could include modules in core skills relevant to your research such as statistics or data collection.
  • Cohort activities and networking opportunities: DTPs and CDTs take on many students per year who go through the training year together and continue to meet over the course of the four years at annual symposiums and conferences. Being part of a cohort means you’ll really get to know others in similar fields, even across universities if the DTP or CDT covers several institutions. This is great for future collaborations – or just to discuss the progress of your research.

Cons

  • Your PhD will take an extra year: Due to the extra training you’ll receive, a full-time PhD at a DTP or CDT typically takes four years instead of three. If you have a Masters degree, you might cover content during the training year that you already studied in your Masters. For some, covering some of this content again is a nice refresher but others may feel ready to dive straight into their PhD project without any more training.
  • Less freedom in project choice: DTPs and CDTs tend to have advertised projects that you apply for, with less opportunity to propose your own research. That said, it is well known that no PhD project ends up exactly like the initial proposal. If there is a project similar to your interest advertised, chat with the supervisor – you may be able to sculpt it more towards your interests.
  • DTPs and CDTs are highly competitive: DTPs and CDT projects have some great advantages and so are popular and very competitive. The application process will be very rigorous and is likely to involve an interview and possibly some tests.

Finding a Centre for Doctoral Research studentship

You can search for UKRI-funded CDT and DTP studentship opportunities here on FindAPhD! Different Research Councils prefer particular studentship formats, usually a CDT or DTP:

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) DTP opportunities
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) DTP opportunities
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) CDT opportunities
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) DTP opportunities
  • Medical Research Council (MRC) DTP opportunities
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) DTP opportunities
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) CDT opportunities

The UK Research Councils also provide links to the networks they fund on their websites:

Your Guide to Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) (3)

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