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Informal enquiries should be directed to the primary supervisor, Dr Heidi Burdett, at


This project will combine advanced microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and ecological techniques to investigate the role of microbial communities in driving ecosystem function in maerl beds. Maerl beds – diverse ecosystems formed by accretions of free-living red coralline algae – are one of Europe’s most ecologically and economically important marine ecosystems. However, all European maerl beds are currently considered ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Endangered’, threatened by climate change and human activities (e.g. trawling, pollution). The microbial communities associated with these ecosystems is poorly understood, and the ecological and biogeochemical roles of these microbial communities is entirely unknown.

The student will be based at the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology, but the supervisory team has strong links to policy-facing organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage, providing opportunities for multi-sector experience and research-policy translation. The student’s peer group will be large and diverse, providing exposure to a wide range of topics including environmental, biological, geological, energy, social and conservation sciences, engineering and policymaking. The student will combine field and laboratory experimentation, developing technical skills in molecular microbial ecology, environmental genetics, bioinformatics and ecophysiology. Fieldwork will be conducted around the UK, with potential opportunities in the wider NE Atlantic (e.g. Iceland, Norway).


We are currently inviting applications for our James Watt Scholarships within the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences.

To be eligible, applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Scholarships will be awarded by competitive merit, taking into account the academic ability of the applicant.


Scholarships will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of approximately £14,999 for the 36 month duration of the project.

How to apply

Applicants may only apply for ONE of the project topics offered by the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences.

Please complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Environment within the application and include the project reference, title and supervisor on your application. Applicants who do not include these details on their application may not be considered.

Please also provide a written proposal, at least one side of A4, outlining how you would approach the research project. You will also be required to upload a CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and one academic reference.

You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.


The closing date for applications is Friday 1 February 2019. Please note that this is a strict deadline and applications received after this date will not be considered. Incomplete applications will also not be considered so all supporting documents must be provided by the closing date.

Applications will be reviewed throughout March and applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by April 2019.

Applicants MUST be available to start the course of study in October 2019.