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 summer 2024 projects are now open.  Closing date for applications is 12 noon, 8th April 2024


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 2020-2025. 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 at least 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 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 University of Sheffield minimum hourly rate (currently £12 per hour) plus holiday pay and National Insurance contributions for the duration of a six 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 right to work checks before the project starts.


  • A full list of projects available over summer 2024.
Zhe Bao, Investigating the Impact of the Vps34 on Macropinocytosis-Mediated Extracellular Matrix Uptake in Breast Cancer cells

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and is often associated with a condition known as fibrosclerosis. This is characterised by the presence of collagen fibers and fibroblasts. The tumour microenvironment plays a crucial role in supporting tumour growth, and is characterised by the accumulation of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Due to rapid cancer cell growth and limited blood supply, the microenvironment often lacks essential nutrients, prompting cancer cells to find alternative ways to obtain nutrients. 

We have recently shown that the ECM supports breast cancer cell growth, under nutrient starvation conditions. (Nazemi et al., 2024, PLoS Biol). This is mediated by the ability of cancer cells to ‘eat’ ECM components, which are then transported to specific organelles within the cells which are responsible for degrading the ECM and extract nutrients (Martinez et al., 2024, bioRxiv). Lipid kinases of the PI3K family plays a key role in controlling are proteins are trafficked within the cell and our preliminary data suggests that the Class III PI3K vacuolar protein sorting 34 (Vps34) might play a role the internalisation of ECM and the subsequent growth of breast cancer cells, especially under nutrient starvation conditions. Additionally, Vps34 has recently been shown to be involved in the growth of breast cancer cells in three-dimensional environments (Donato et al., 2022, Int J Mol Sci.). 

This research aims to characterise the role of Vps34 in ECM internalisation and ECM-dependent cell growth in breast cancer cell. Understanding how ECM components are taken up and transported throughout the cell might provide new therapeutic targets for limiting the growth on highly fibrotic tumours.

Dr Anne-Gaelle Borycki, Analysing a mechanism controlling the activity of skeletal muscle stem cells

Skeletal muscle is amongst the few adult organs capable of repair following injuries or other insults (diseases, ageing or exercise). This is due to a special population of stem cells that resides in skeletal muscles and remains dormant until they are needed. The biology of these stem cells is complex and tight control is required to generate enough cells to repair muscles while maintaining a pool of stem cells for future needs. Controlling this balance is essential to maintain healthy muscles into ageing. The project aims at investigating how a cellular organelle called primary cilium contributes to ensuring that skeletal muscle stem cells are activated when needed and that a pool of stem cells is maintained. During the course of the project, the student will characterise a genetic model in which the primary cilium is lost in muscle stem cells to determine the role of the primary cilium. These studies will inform our current understanding for how skeletal muscle stem cells are regulated.

Thomas Cozens, Morphological adaptations to excess activity in single Drosophila Kenyon cells

When building a brain, you might think neurons should be wired together very precisely and accurately to ensure optimal performance. But nature is never perfect, and developmental variability is inevitable. One type of neuron where surprising variation occurs is the “Kenyon cells”, a population of ~2000 neurons that store olfactory associative memories in the fruit fly Drosophila. Our computational models suggest that variability among Kenyon cells in how much excitatory input each cell receives should increase overlap between Kenyon cell odour responses. This would potentially result in confusion for the fly, as they would be unable to distinguish between different odours. One way to reduce variability between Kenyon is a process called “homeostatic plasticity”. This is when neurons adapt to deviations from a set point to bring their activity back to a certain target level. In this project you will use the model organism Drosophila to study how single neurons adapt their morphology as a potential homeostatic mechanism. You will investigate the Mushroom Body, an area of the brain that is involved in memory formation in insects. Odours are represented by the activity of a small fraction of neurons called Kenyon cells; there are 3 distinct subtypes, γ, α/β and α’/β’. Our recent experiments have revealed that single γ Kenyon cells respond to prolonged activation by decreasing their number of dendrites, potentially as a mechanism for reducing their activity. However, α/β Kenyon cells demonstrate no such adaptation. This project will study the α’/β’ subtype to determine what morphological adaptations, if any, they demonstrate. Single cells will be artificially activated with TrpA and whole brains will be dissected, immunolabeled and imaged on a confocal microscope. Images will then be analysed to determine the number of dendrites and other morphological features like length and volume. 

Dr Andrew Fenton, Combating antibiotic resistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae

The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae is a leading cause of death in the world responsible for diseases like pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis. People suffering from these infections are often prescribed penicillin, or a similar drug, to kill the bacteria and cure the patient. However, a growing number of antibiotic resistant strains are emerging globally. These threaten patients suffering from these diseases in the long term. To safeguard patients from penicillin resistance we must discover new ways of preventing antibiotic resistance in S. pneumoniae.

Our recent work has revealed nine genes which are essential for S. pneumoniae to maintain its penicillin resistance. This new discovery offers an exciting opportunity to identify the molecular processes underpinning resistance. It also raises the possibility of developing medical interventions to ensure penicillin’s effectiveness when needed. Towards this goal, the Fenton lab is developing innovative ways to study penicillin resistance. This includes the use of cutting-edge microscopy equipment and analysis, next-generation sequencing techniques, lab evolution methods and state of the art screening approaches. 

This project will focus on one of these nine penicillin sensitising genes called bel1. We will carry out a lab-evolution approach to analyse the function of this new gene. We will measure its effect on cell growth and division using live-cell florescent microscopy compared to the other nine genes. Finally, we will measure how effective bel1 is in maintaining penicillin effectiveness using clinical isolates taken from the local Sheffield hospital. This project will build on our characterisation of the bel1 gene, increasing our understanding of how this gene functions and allowing us to create a strain to screen for new drugs in future studies.

Dr Ada Jimenez-Gonzalez, Investigating C9orf72-related ALS and its impact on the next generation in a zebrafish model

In this project we will investigate amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an uncurable fatal disorder that causes loss of motor neurons and progressive paralysis, and its impact on the next generation mental health. Although the exact disease mechanisms remain unknown, approximately 10% of all cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis carry inherited mutations. Among these, the expansion of a six-nucleotide repeated sequence (GGGGCC) in the C9orf72 gene is the most frequent genetic cause. The pathogenicity of this mutation has been associated to its RNA and the formation of dipeptide repeats (DPRs) during translation. However, their mechanisms are not well understood. Interestingly, the first and second-degree relatives of C9orf72 -expansion carriers are at increased risk of ALS and psychiatric disorders even when they do not inherit the mutant C9orf72 allele. This phenomenon could point to a non-genetic origin of the disease.

We hypothesise that there is a non-genetic aspect to ALS, affecting the mental health of patient families. To test this, we plan to use zebrafish embryos injected with genetic material containing the ALS-related mutation and compare their behaviour with zebrafish that inherited the mutation naturally. We will also use advanced analysis techniques to study their behaviour and examine where specific DPR products are located during embryo development.

As a student in this project, you will have the opportunity to learn about zebrafish biology and development and answer specific questions on the impact of inheriting C9orf72 repeats. During the study you will be introduced to zebrafish embryo handling, behaviour analyses and preparation for tissue staining, immunohistochemistry and imaging. You will also learn to apply custom pipelines for behaviour data analysis.

We hope that this project will provide valuable insights into ALS, potentially uncovering aspects of the disease that go beyond genetics.

Satwika Rahapsari, Neural correlates of the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on adolescents’ cognitive control: An EEG Study

Understanding the Impact of Early Experiences on Teenagers’ Minds: A Summer 2024 Research Project

We’re embarking on an exciting journey this summer to explore how early life experiences shape the way teenagers’ brains function. Our project focuses on a crucial aspect of adolescent neurocognitive development–cognitive control, which is like the brain’s superhero that helps teenagers make good decisions, focus on tasks, and resist distractions.  Specifically, we’re investigating the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) exposure.

Adverse Childhood Experiences encompass a range of challenging circumstances that young individuals may face, such as trauma or family disruptions. We want to understand how these experiences might influence not only the way teenagers think but also the actual patterns of activity in their brains.  

To do this, we’ll be employing cutting-edge technology called electroencephalography (EEG). Imagine it as a cap fitted with electrodes that can read the electrical activity happening in the brain. Our goal is to compare the neural patterns of two groups: those who have encountered ACEs and those who have not.

Throughout July and August 2024, we’ll conduct research at the Department of Psychology, specifically in the Solly Street Laboratory. Teenagers from both groups will participate in cognitive control tasks while wearing the EEG cap, allowing us to capture real-time information about their brain activity.

We predict that teenagers who have experienced more challenging early life situations might show differences in cognitive control abilities compared to their counterparts with no exposure to ACEs. This could manifest as changes in the measures of cognitive control performance, such as reaction times and accuracy. Additionally, our EEG data will reveal unique neural signatures associated with these experiences.

Understanding these connections is not just scientifically fascinating but also holds significant real-world implications. Unraveling the links between ACEs, cognitive control, and their neural correlates could pave the way for targeted intervention and support systems to help teenagers thrive despite challenging beginnings. 

Join us on this exciting journey as we delve into the minds of teenagers and strive to make a positive impact on their futures.

Dr Mirre Simons, Mechanisms of Taurine regulation

Dietary interventions require precision to work and be implemented. Interactions with existing morbidities and heterogeneity between individuals in lifestyle and physiology are expected. Mechanistic understanding of these interventions can ultimately aid translation by optimising benefits and reducing possible side-effects. We know there are interactions between amino-acid sensing and overall metabolism. In its most extreme form single amino-acids added to a sucrose only diet result in whole animal depletion of fat resources. Perhaps fitting with this observation, recent work suggests a single amino-acid Taurine, declines with age and when supplemented increases lifespan in C. elegans and mice. Understanding the mechanisms of how Taurine affects physiology will be key to translate this more precise nutritional intervention to elderly. We will conduct an in vivo screen in the fruit fly using the established DGRP (Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel) supplemented with additional lines we generated in my lab. As phenotypes we will use taurine levels at Dietary Restricted (which extends lifespan and improves health) and Fully Fed diets. Furthermore, we will investigate the reported (and confirmed in my lab) but not well understood toxicity of taurine during Drosophila development that could also serve as a high-throughput phenotype. These efforts will pinpoint genes involved in Taurine regulation which will ultimately help translate Taurine supplementation as a possible intervention in the elderly.

Professor Robert Storey, Study of the binding kinetics of ticagrelor to human platelets

Patients with heart attacks are treated with anticlotting drugs to prevent further heart attack, generally consisting of aspirin and another class of medication known as oral P2Y 12 inhibitors. Ticagrelor is one type of oral P2Y12 inhibitor that has the advantage of being reversible, which can improve safety if patients develop serious bleeding or require major surgery. Different ways of reversing the effects of ticagrelor that are being explored include an antidote that can be administered intravenously and a device that can be used to remove ticagrelor by pumping blood through it.  However, most of the ticagrelor in blood is hidden from platelets as a resulting of binding to proteins in the blood and only the ‘free’ ticagrelor interacts with platelets. It is important to understand how quickly this free ticagrelor interacts with platelets and also how quickly ticagrelor dissociates from platelets when the free ticagrelor level is low in order to work out the best methods for reversing ticagrelor’s effects. We will use state of the art methods to assess this.

Dr Piece Yen, Novel Approach to Investigate the Structural Damage from Loud Noise in Cochlear Tissue

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) has always been a significant concern affecting people’s lives. The complexity of its origin has hindered scientists from developing an effective treatment. NIHL primarily results from three intertwined factors: 1) Mechanical damage from sound waves, 2) Excitotoxicity due to overstimulation, and 3) Disruption of redox homeostasis, a consequence of the first two factors. While numerous studies have uncovered the biochemical mechanisms behind cell death from excitotoxicity, further investigation is needed to understand the mechanical damage at the organelle level and gain a comprehensive understanding of NIHL.

Current super-resolution imaging techniques, such as electron or fluorescent microscopy, often present a trade-off between detail and efficiency. However, the integration of shadow imaging with super-resolution fluorescent microscopy has demonstrated the potential to reveal the overall structure of neurites in a brain slice, at sub-micrometre resolution. This approach could offer a novel method to examine the mechanical damage in NIHL, balancing both detail and efficiency.

This project aims to use super-resolution shadow imaging to quantify a proposed change in the morphology of cochlear non-sensory cells following noise exposure. This change, namely the contraction in size, is hypothesized to be a source of acute hearing loss upon exposure to loud noise. The findings will provide the first instance of using super-resolution shadow imaging to study mechanical damage in NIHL and confirm the role of non-sensory cells in hearing loss following noise exposure.

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;
  • be expected to obtain a First or Upper Second class honours degree;
  • 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 are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
  • You are a care leaver.
  • 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 from an area of the UK with lower participation in higher education with a postcode (before attending university) listed as quintile 1 & 2.
  • 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 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).

Applicants will be assessed on the basis of scientific and academic merit.  Where applicants are determined to be of 'equal merit' following this process, the University will use positive action under the Equality Act 2010 to tackle the underrepresentation of, and overcome the disadvantaged experienced by, the groups mentioned above.

We also welcome applications from students who are currently studying at a non-Russell Group university and would like to explore the possibility of postgraduate research (Link to Russell Group https://russellgroup.ac.uk/about/our-universities/)

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

You are not eligible to apply for this scheme if you:

  • Are in your first or last years of your degree (please note that you are considered a first year student during the summer after your first year at university and you are considered to be in your last year of university in the summer after your final year)
  • 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, or lab-based placement, 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.
  • Do not have the Right to Work in the UK.

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 Right 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 formThe google form contains equality and diversity and widening participation information.  

Please note: If you are unable to obtain a tutor reference because of the Easter break, you must upload a document stating your tutor's name, position and email address to enable you to complete the google form.  A reference will be requested if you are shortlisted for interview.

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, 8th April 2024.  Applications received after this will not be considered.  Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by email.  Please ensure that your email is entered correctly.

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


15.03.24 - 08.04.24 (12 noon) Projects are advertised to undergraduate students and applications are invited
From 15.04.24 Project supervisors review and shortlist applications
Week commencing 06.05.24 Shortlisted candidates are notified and invited to interview
No later than 03.06.24 Successful candidates notified
No later than 08.07.24 Completion of pre-employment and Right to Work checks
15.07.24 - 23.08.24 Projects start w/c 15.07.24 and end no later than 23.08.24

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 Trust on the scholarship programme.


Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation scholarships downloads

Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship application form 2024 (word 124kb)

Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship tutor reference 2024 (word 123kb)

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