Norwich gets new research training programme focused on major health challenges

8 July 2021

The UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) is investing in a new programme in Norwich to train researchers of the future to address major societal health challenges such as infection, antimicrobial resistance and studying the microbiome.

The new Microbes Microbiomes and Bioinformatics Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the MRC, will bring together world-class strengths in microbial research and informatics provided by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Quadram Institute and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. The new doctoral training programme will also benefit from strong links with associate partners Public Health England and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

The strategic importance of these health challenges could not be clearer given the ongoing pandemic where analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes has proved vital in understanding how the virus has transmitted and evolved and helped inform public health responses. The skills the students will learn on the Norwich Research Park will be relevant in the future as society seeks to understand and manipulate the microbes we live with.

The programme will be inclusive and offer opportunities for entry to a broad range of potential students. Appointments will be made with skills and aptitude as primary considerations rather than background or experience, with the aim of opening access to underrepresented groups. The programme will fund five four-year studentships on the Microbes Microbiomes and Bioinformatics Doctoral Training Partnership.

Professor Charles ffrench-Constant, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Medicine and Health Sciences at the UEA, said: “The University of East Anglia is immensely proud to host this highly prestigious PhD training program. Building on the world-leading expertise in microbes, microbiomes and bioinformatics on the Norwich Research Park, the program will train the brightest minds of the next generation in this vitally important and rapidly expanding field of research. Our clear ambition is to deliver a step change in knowledge and capacity, and so enhance human health by enabling the ever-changing interactions between microbes and humans to be exploited or harnessed for global benefit.”

Professor Mark Pallen, Programme Director, said: “Through this programme, we will ensure that tomorrow’s research leaders in microbiology will be equally comfortable in front of a computer terminal as in the laboratory, fully capable of exploiting the huge opportunities providing by fast and cost-effective microbial genome sequencing. By working with front-line government agencies, we will equip our students for real-world impact.”

Quadram Institute group leader Dr Mark Webber (Deputy Programme Director) said: “I am delighted the MRC have chosen to support our programme as students will benefit from our outstanding research and training environment. I look forward to welcoming the first cohort to Norwich.”

The MRC has committed £79 million nationally to support doctoral training for the next three years, through their Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) competition.

The MRC will fund 17 DTP awards across 34 UK Research Organisations, including the Norwich Doctoral Training Partnership for student intake 2022 onwards. MRC’s vision for these DTP awards is to support high-quality doctoral training programmes that take a student-centred approach, focusing on scientific excellence, positive research culture and wider training opportunities.

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair, MRC, said: “We are thrilled to announce our funding for the next generation of MRC PhD researchers through 17 new UK-wide Doctoral Training Partnership awards. Outstanding research is only possible when we invest in people to conduct that research. Our new awards are student-centred, setting out to increase the diversity of individuals pursing research careers and providing opportunities for students to widen their horizons during and post-PhD.”