Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation scholarships

The scholarship provides the opportunity for an undergraduate to gain a paid, first-hand experience of research working in cutting-edge research facilities at the University of Sheffield.


Applications for projects taking place in summer 2022 are now open. Closing date for receipt of application is 12 noon, 13th May 2022


The University is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a grant to provide Wellcome Biomedical Vacation Scholarships for the summer vacation periods of 2020-2024. The Scholarship provides the opportunity for an undergraduate to gain a paid, first-hand experience of research working in cutting-edge research facilities at the University of Sheffield.

The University of Sheffield will aim to host six of these scholarships each year.

We recognise that financial, socio-economic and other circumstances can make it difficult for some to continue studying beyond an undergraduate degree. A key priority of the Biomedical Vacation Scholarship is to provide research opportunities for groups that are currently underrepresented in postgraduate research. As such, we aim to award at least 50% of these scholarships to individuals currently underrepresented.

Applicants who do not meet any of these criteria are still eligible to apply.

Projects must take place at the University of Sheffield over a six to eight week period during the summer vacation. All potential applicants must apply to one of the projects advertised as part of this scheme.

The scholarship

The Wellcome Biomedical Vacation Scholarship provides the successful applicant with knowledge and experience in a professional research setting, useful for supporting applications for postgraduate study and postgraduate employment.

It also provides:

  • a basic salary at the real Living wage (currently £9.90 per hour) plus holiday pay and National Insurance contributions for the duration of a six to eight week project
  • working hours of 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday
  • up to £1500 to cover or subsidise accommodation and travel if required
  • £500 towards the cost of materials and consumables provided to the host research group

Successful applicants will be registered as employees at the University and will be required to complete eligibility to work checks before the project starts.


  • The full list of projects available for summer 2022 scholarships:
Dr Selina Beal, Development of a co-culture system including astrocytes, motor neurons and T regulatory cells.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal disease which affects the neurons responsible for muscle movement, i.e., the motor neurons. Although the motor neurons found within the brain and the spinal cord are the cells that degenerate in disease, other cell types that surround the motor neurons have been involved in the pathology.

These cells are called astrocytes and are normally responsible for the correct function and health of the motor neurons. However, in ALS patients it is known that astrocytes are involved in the death of motor neurons through the acquisition of toxic functions. Within the laboratory it is possible to model this and show that astrocytes from a person with ALS can cause motor neuron death in culture.

The cell types that form the immune system that help to fight off infections such as a cold, include cells called T cells. These cell types are involved in inflammation, where the immune system responds to an identified foreign body and reacts to remove it. Inflammation has been shown to be linked to ALS and therefore these T cells may be important to understanding this disease further and potentially developing a treatment.

This project will aim to study the result of culturing T cells with astrocytes and motor neurons to investigate whether the T cells can reduce the motor neuron death caused by the ALS astrocytes. As a secondary aspect, media from the T cell cultures will also be placed on the astrocytes and motor neuron cultures to identify whether the T cells release items in the media that can influence the motor neurons survival with the T cells being present.

Dr Fiona Macleod, Role of JAK/STAT signalling in polycystic kidney disease pathogenesis

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited disease that leads to end stage renal failure, in which kidneys can no longer function and require dialysis or transplant for survival. Over time, the kidneys develop fluid-filled cysts which grow and disrupt normal kidney function to the point of renal failure. There is currently no cure, and there are limited treatment options to slow progression of disease to prevent kidney failure, which highlights the importance of understanding mechanisms behind the disease to find targets for treatment.

Disruption of cell signalling pathways offers insight into the mechanisms behind PKD and how the disease progresses. The JAK/STAT signalling pathway is involved in multiple cell processes including cell division (proliferation) and cell death (apoptosis). In PKD, proliferation is increased above normal levels and is a key driver in the growth of cysts and progression of disease.

In this project you will get the chance to investigate a potential therapeutic strategy for PKD by inhibiting JAK/STAT signalling using a small molecule STAT inhibitor. Cytokines are a group of molecules that can stimulate the JAK/STAT pathway, and these will be tested in cellular models of PKD alongside the STAT5 inhibitor to gain further understanding of JAK/STAT signalling in PKD.

This project will provide the opportunity to gain hands on laboratory experience in cell culture and other

fundamental techniques, such as western blot for protein analysis and qPCR for RNA analysis. These techniques will be used to determine the impact of cytokine stimulation and JAK/STAT inhibition on proliferation in cellular models of PKD, looking specifically at downstream targets of the pathway known to be involved in proliferation

Dr Mirre Simons, The role of alternative RNA splicing in anti-ageing treatments

Ageing is an intriguing and growing field. The study of ageing is increasingly recognised as useful in medical science. To apply pro-longevity treatments in humans provides a major logistical challenge however, as many of these have been identified in model organisms using treatment throughout adult life. A clinical trial for such a length is infeasible and provides additional challenges with safety. We therefore require anti-ageing treatments that work at old age and have their effects near immediately. In one model organism, the fly (Drosophila melanogaster) we know of two established pro-longevity treatments that fit these criteria (mTOR suppression and dietary restriction).

In my lab we recently identified that alternatively splicing (the change in use of mRNA isoforms that code multiple proteins from one gene) of a shared array of genes might underlie these effects. Targeting splicing could therefore provide a fruitful and translational route into anti-ageing therapies. You will study this using a combination of functional genetics (manipulating the expression of genes and measuring longevity thereafter) and transcriptomics (the measurement of RNA expression across the whole genome) using state of the art techniques in the fly.

Evelyn Smith, Development of robust protein standards for fluorescent single molecule assays

Our cells rely on the dynamic nature of their protein machines to carry out the vast array of biochemical tasks they need to survive and thrive. The flexibility of proteins is essential to their ability to catalyse reactions and perform their function. Methods that enable the tracking of single proteins have recently emerged as powerful tools to shed light on how proteins carry out their roles inside cells. One new method in particular, single molecule fluorescent resonance energy transfer or smFRET, allows us to spy on the shape changes proteins undergo while they carry out important reactions. A key advantage to the technology is the very small amounts of sample that are needed to take accurate measurements. This makes it applicable to the vast array of the human proteome, even when proteins cannot be purified in large quantities. Ultimately the development of this method will enable the discovery of small molecules that influence protein dynamics and could act as potential drugs. However, the broad application necessary for single molecule methods to reach their full potential requires well-established and accessible protocols for sample preparation. This project uses modular protein design to compare sample preparation techniques across different model systems typically used by biomedical scientists. This will demonstrate the robustness and reproducibility of smFRET measurements and help make the method accessible to the biomedical research community.

Dr Irina Vazquez-Villasenor, Characterising the senescent phenotype of glial cells in an ageing-brain cohort

Damage to the DNA of cells can activate a mechanism known as senescence. Senescent cells are also known as “zombie” cells because they exist in a state in between normal function and apoptotic death: they stop proliferating, they experience changes in morphology and metabolism, and they secrete damaging molecules that reinforce their “zombie” state and cause damage to the DNA and activation of senescence in neighbouring cells. Senescent cells accumulate as we age; they have been found in the ageing brain and could be involved in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia. This project will focus on characterising the different populations of senescent glia, the immune cells of the brain, that are present in the ageing human brain and will establish whether these senescent glial populations are related to increased DNA damage and to pathology. For this, we will use immunohistochemistry, a technique that allows for detection of specific proteins in fixed human tissue sections, to identify the populations of senescent glia in the ageing brain based on the expression of two well known markers of senescence: the cell cycle regulatory proteins p16 and p21. The aim is to identify glial cells co-expressing both proteins, glial cells expressing only one of the two proteins, and glial cells that do not express either. We will then use microscopy to study the expression pattern of these markers and quantify the distinct glial populations using a computer-based program called QuPath. Finally, we will perform statistical analysis to determine if there is a predominant population of senescent glial cells, and we will use correlation analysis to study the relationship between the different senescent glial populations, DNA damage and pathology. This project will increase our understanding of glial senescence in the ageing brain and its role in neurodegeneration and dementia

Qiang Zhang, Sample size estimation for clinical trials with an adaptive design.

When NASA launches a rocket to mars it does not point it in the general direction of the planet and hope it hits the target. It adapts and changes in the course to accommodate emerging information. The same applies to a traditional clinical trial. Here, a fixed sample size is calculated and then a sufficient number of patients are recruited which will enable the study to meet its objectives. A study can take several years to undertake and cost many millions of pounds.

A study design which is starting to be applied more and more is an adaptive design. These allow the study to adapt and change its trajectory using the evidence from the study being undertaken. This kind of flexibility does bring new challenges to the integrity and reliability of the study which makes them more complex. However, the benefits may far out way the potential risks.

One of the challenges of an adaptive design is to estimate the number of patients required to be studied (sample size). Unlike a traditional design, the sample size is not fixed in advance. Thus, when you start the study, you will not be 100% sure what the final sample size will be or how long the study will take. However, it is important at the start of the study to have an estimate of the sample size as from this. For this project, the main objective is to review what methods are used in actual clinical trials which have used an adaptive design to estimate the sample size and what information about the sample size is communicated in research documents such as trial protocols and grant applications.

To accomplish the objectives the student will work to compile a database of clinical trials with adaptive design and capture the methods that were used in their estimation of the sample size. This will help to understand current practice and research gaps that should be addressed in future research.

Eligibility and suitability

To apply you must:

  • be in the middle years of your first degree;
  • be registered on a relevant undergraduate course in the UK or Republic of Ireland. Relevant subjects include science (biomedical, natural, computing or physical sciences), medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, engineering, mathematics and psychology;
  • either have home status or be an EU/international applicant with evidence of your right to work in the UK;
  • have not yet undertaken a substantial period of research.

We are particularly interested in applications from students who meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • You have been in public care for a minimum of three months since the age of 11.
  • You are from a low-income background evidenced by receipt of maintenance grant and/or a higher rate of maintenance loan during undergraduate studies. Consideration will be given to the number of years that a maintenance grant was received and the amount awarded, or the rate of maintenance loan received (if you started your undergraduate course following the phasing out of maintenance grants).
  • You come from one of the most deprived areas of the UK as indicated by ACORN and LPN data. This is based on home postcode before attending university.
  • You are/were in receipt of a Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) as part of your undergraduate studies or are receiving/received support from your undergraduate university's disability office.
  • You have been recognised as a refugee or asylum seeker or been granted humanitarian protection status by the UK government, or are the partner or child of someone who has been granted refugee, asylum seeker or humanitarian protection status.
  • You are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
  • You are the first generation in your family to attend university and be studying an undergraduate or equivalent qualification (neither of your parents has a BA, BSc or equivalent undergraduate degree).
  • You are studying at a non-Russell Group university.

Applicants who do not meet the above criteria are still eligible to apply to the scheme.

You are ineligible to apply if you:

  • Are in your first or last years
  • Have previously undertaken a vacation scholarship from Wellcome or another funding body, or have had significant research experience
  • Have completed or are currently undertaking an intercalated year
  • Have completed or are currently undertaking a one-year placement in research as part of a degree (eg a sandwich year)
  • Are a graduate-entry medical student who has completed a previous undergraduate degree in a science-related subject
  • Are enrolled on a course outside the UK or the Republic of Ireland.

Successful applicants will be registered as a member of staff at the University of Sheffield for the duration of the project and will be required to complete eligibility to work checks before the project commences.

How to apply

You will need to complete an application form and obtain a reference from your tutor.  These must be completed on the templates available to download below. 

Completed application forms and references must be uploaded to this google form.  The google form also contains equality and diversity and widening participation information.  

All applications will be assessed based on academic merit and potential to do research in biomedical sciences, as evidenced on academic record and answers provided in application form (e.g. motivation, contribution to host lab, skills to be gained).

Deadline for receipt of applications is 12 noon, 13th May 2022.  Applications received after this will not be considered.  We will be in touch on the outcome of your application by email.  Please ensure that your email is entered correctly.

Any queries regarding the application process, please email WTVacation@sheffield.ac.uk.


22.04.22 - 13.05.22 (12 noon) Projects advertised to undergraduates and applications invited
Week commencing 16.05.22 Project supervisors review and shortlist applications
Week commencing 23.05.22 Shortlisted candidates invited to interview
Week commencing 30.05.22 Successful candidates notified
01.06.22 - 30.06.22 Completion of pre-employment checks
04.07.22 - w/c 22.08.22 Projects start w/c 04.07.22 and no end no later than w/c 22.08.22

Privacy information

The University of Sheffield takes the security and integrity of all the personal data it holds seriously. Read the University's privacy notice

For all applicants, your data will be kept for the duration of the scholarship programme (a minimum period of five years) for planning and reporting purposes. It will not be published or used in a way that identifies you.

If you are successful in securing a place on the scholarship programme, your personal data will also form the basis of your record of employment.

The University makes certain statutory disclosures of information and your data may be used for those purposes. Your data will be used to report specifically to Wellcome on the scholarship programme.


Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation scholarships downloads

Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship application form 2022

Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship tutor reference 2022

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