PhD Studentship – Cleaning up marine oil spills: are dispersants a help or hindrance?

PhD Studentship – Cleaning up marine oil spills: are dispersants a help or hindrance?

University of Essex – School of Biological Sciences
Qualification type: PhD
Location: Essex
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students

Closes: 8th January 2017
Supervisor: Dr Boyd McKew, University of Essex

Scientific background: Crude oil spills are one of the most significant threats to the marine environment and also have large impacts on the economy and society. Dispersants are commonly applied as a remediation strategy to produce small oil droplets that are more readily degraded by indigenous bacteria. However, little is known about how the many different types of dispersants affect the biodegradation rates of various types of crude oils and the oil-degrading microbes responsible for its clean-up. While dispersants can be very effective in crude-oil remediation, there are concerns about their ecological and toxicological impacts. This PhD will investigate the effects of a range of dispersants on rates of biodegradation of different crude oils, the succession and structure of microbial communities, and the broader ecology of the marine environment

PhD research experience and training: The student will be trained in experimental design, statistical analysis and state-of-the-art microbiological, chemical, ecotoxicological and molecular techniques to quantify the effects of dispersants on the degradation of oil and microbial community structure. Specific training will include: marine/coastal fieldwork, innovative cultivation of marine bacteria, DNA extraction, PCR, Next Generation Sequencing, bioinformatics, GC-MS hydrocarbon analysis and ecotoxicology assays.

The student will be part of a vibrant Environmental Microbiology research group at the University of Essex, with numerous post-docs and PhD students, including 6 PhD students working on different aspects of hydrocarbon degradation. The student will also benefit from expertise in ecotoxicology and oil-spill monitoring, response and policy at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Lowestoft. Additionally, by being part of the EnvEast cohort, the student will have access to a range of training courses such as “innovative research” and “advanced genomics”.

Person specification: This is an exciting opportunity for a highly motivated student with a background in Microbiology, Marine or Ecological Sciences or Biotechnology, who is keen to learn and apply new skills to address a global environmental problem. The successful applicant will undertake marine sampling and lab-based studies as part of a world-leading multi-disciplinary team. The PhD will be based primarily at the University of Essex, and also at Cefas.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview day on the 14th or 15th February 2017.

Funding: Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296

For further information, please visit

Closing date for this application is midnight 8th January 2017. Please apply online via

For general information about the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex please visit our webpages

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