The John Innes Foundation supports the Rotation PhD programme, at the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory  and Earlham Institute.

This programme is renowned for its academic excellence and groundbreaking research.

The programme attracts elite candidates from around the world and offers fully funded four year PhD studentships with enhanced stipends.

Students recruited onto this programme pursue three short research rotations during their first year, with the aim of enhancing their research training, before selecting a supervisor and a topic for their main research project.

Students benefit from experience of a wide range of experimental approaches and research environments, as well as the empowerment of student choice in the selection of both research topics and supervisors.

Example achievements by Rotation PhD alumni

Frank Sainsbury

Frank joined the Rotation Programme in 2004, having completed his first degree at the University of Sydney, Australia.

The impact of Frank’s research thesis has been dramatic. He developed a non-replicating virus-derived vector that provides high-level protein production in plants. The new CPMV-HT expression system has been adopted worldwide for the rapid production of high-value protein components. Examples of important applications include the safe development of animal vaccines and the production of antibodies for therapeutic purposes.

Frank was awarded the 2009 John Innes Foundation Student Prize for Excellence in Scientific Research in recognition of his studies in the laboratory of his PhD supervisor, Professor George Lomonossoff. They both won the BBSRC Innovator of the Year Award in 2012. Their technology led to the creation of Leaf Expression Systems in 2017.

He took up a post-doctoral position at the University of Laval, Canada, where he continued his studies on the production of high-value proteins in plants.

He then returned to Australia as a University of Queensland ARC Discovery Early Career Research Awardee, developing virus-like particles (VLPs) into more efficacious vaccines and novel therapeutics.

Frank said: “I really enjoyed my PhD studentship at the John Innes Centre because I was given the opportunity to choose the direction of my studies through the rotation student programme and was provided with the most fantastic research support and facilities.”

Yilliang Ding

Yiliang Ding joined the Rotation PhD Programme in 2005 after graduating in Plant Science and Technology from Shanghai Jiaotong University in China.

She did her main research project with Giles Oldroyd on how plants form a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to form root nodules.

Plants use a variety of signalling molecules to enable them to coordinate every aspect of their growth and development. Symbiotic relationships require coordination in order for both organisms to benefit from their close association.

Yiliang established how the plant hormone, abscisic acid, coordinates the regulation of nodulation via the plant and bacterial signalling molecules cytokinin and Nod-factor, respectively. This work was published in Plant Cell in 2008.

Yiliang took the courageous step to work in a completely different area of research while at the Pennsylvania State University in USA. Her pioneering work on deciphering genome-wide RNA structure in plants was published in Nature in 2014.

Yiliang was the first former Rotation student to return to the John Innes Centre as a Project Leader. She has been awarded a David Phillips Fellowship and an ERC starting grant.