Supporting interdisciplinarity for students and early career researchers
As a hub for interdisciplinary research and teaching into the environment and sustainability, a key part of the ESI’s ethos is to help develop the careers of early career researchers (ECRs) by supporting them to undertake a holistic approach to their research and to pursue interdisciplinary careers.
As well as working with 32 world-class academics within the institute and over 200 other academics across the University of Exeter studying the environment and sustainable futures; access to a network of over 450 businesses, NGOs, policymakers and schools; and a team of dedicated support staff, the ESI also offers student and staff-led events aiming to facilitate knowledge sharing between academics, post-graduate students and post-doctoral researchers about the challenges and advantages of interdisciplinary working, how ECRs can initiate their own research and to learn more about the interdisciplinary research being carried out in the University.
If you are an ECR interested in an interdisciplinary career, please see our Prospective Fellows section below for information on how the ESI and University can help support your application and future career.
Academic staff in the ESI are keen to support students interested in applying for ESRC-funded PhD studentships, including in the interdisciplinary areas of Sustainable Futures, Global Political Economy, Health & Well-being, Security, or Conflict & Human Rights. More details on how to apply for these interdisciplinary studentships can be found here on the ESRC South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) webpages. Please contact Dr Rachel Turner for more information.
The ESRC PhD studentship process is now live for this year. The closing date is noon on 13 January 2023.
The ESI recently hosted an interdisciplinary workshop open to staff and students across the Penryn Campus. The event included talks on what interdisciplinary research is and what it means in practise, the difference between inter- and trans- disciplinary working, the funding available for interdisciplinary projects, what makes a good application and what support the University can offer.
The event also featured talks from our own interdisciplinary academics and staff on their experiences and guest speaker Dr Milena Buchs spoke of her work leading several major interdisciplinary UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) grants.
The afternoon session involved group discussions and ‘speed research’ introductions to help and build possible collaborations on campus.
The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) is an interdisciplinary centre leading cutting-edge research into solutions to problems of environmental change. Based on the University's Penryn Campus, in Cornwall, our world class research and education is enhancing people's lives by improving their relationships with the environment. ESI provides insight and solutions, at local to global scales, to meet the challenges of securing a sustainable future in an era of unprecedented environmental and societal change.
Our highly successful and collaborative institute is the perfect location for independent research fellows. We have a reputation for effectively hosting fellowships funded through UK, European, and international schemes (including NERC, BBSRC, Leverhulme Trust, Marie Curie, and others) with support offered at all stages of the process. Some of our previous independent fellows have gone on to become permanent members of academic staff in the Institute and their respective Colleges.
Fellowship applicants interested in joining the ESI should contact Mark Plummer (ESI Senior Administrator) in the first instance to discuss their proposed project and proposed source of funding. We also welcome enquiries from existing fellowship holders interested in transferring to the ESI. Please include a full academic CV.
- Advice on scheme suitability and proposal writing from our many successful fellows and research support staff.
- Review of draft proposals.
- Support in developing, costing and submitting your application
- Assistance with interview preparation.
- 1:1 mentoring from senior colleagues from across multiple disciplines.
- Peer support from our Early Career Researcher network.
- Opportunities (but no obligation) to gain teaching experience and to supervise BSc, MSc, MRes, and PhD project students.
- Training and personal development.
- Support for grant proposal development from senior colleagues and research support staff.
- Access to our network of stakeholders, policy makers, businesses and NGOs across Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and beyond.
- Links to over 200 academics at the University of Exeter studying environment and sustainability futures in our Institutes and Centres of Excellence.
- Access to the University’s excellent Research Services and Innovation, Impact and Business directorates.
- Clear criteria for progression to permanent positions.
- Opportunities for proleptic appointments.
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Prof Edze Westra
In 2015, Edze Westra applied for a NERC independent research fellowship, which enabled him to build his own research team in the ESI, focussed on how ecological variables shape bacteria-phage interactions. The application was peer reviewed internally by ESI and CLES academics, who subsequently also offered interview training - all of which was critical for successfully securing the funding, which marked the start of his own independent research trajectory.
The state-of-the-art facilities for microbiology research at the ESI, and the thriving and collaborative research environment at the Penryn campus where the ESI is based, meant that Westra could rapidly develop a team of around 14 scientists, who perform cutting-edge research aimed at understanding the evolutionary ecology of bacterial resistance mechanisms that protect against phage infections.
Dr Anne Leonard
I was awarded a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Industrial Innovation Fellowship in 2017 to investigate catchment-scale processes that contribute to the transmission of antibiotic resistant bacteria in coastal bathing waters. The University of Exeter has a strong reputation for conducting pioneering, high-quality research in both environmental and medical sciences, and the state-of-the-art laboratories at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) offer superb facilities for the microbiological components of my research.
Being based in the ESI and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) in Truro, I have easy access to a vibrant and supportive research environment, which brings together professional services, world-class facilities, and leading academics in a variety of disciplines conducting cutting-edge investigations into issues concerning environmental change and human health. These supported me through the process of applying for a fellowship, and have continued to support me to conduct my research. I am delighted to have been offered a proleptic lectureship by the Medical School, and I am excited to continue working here following the successful completion of my fellowship.
Dr Sarah Crowley
I joined the ESI to carry out my PhD research in 2013 and am a member of Prof Robbie McDonald’s Wildlife Science research group. I specialise in applying social research methods to contemporary conservation and environmental management issues, and particularly the management of introduced, re-introduced, and domestic species. I currently lead the social scientific components of an interdisciplinary project that works with cat owners to find effective, sustainable techniques to reduce hunting behaviour in domestic cats, without compromising cat welfare.
My background and training is in biosciences, geography and anthropology and my research spans and speaks to multiple academic disciplines. Being based in the ESI has allowed me to work closely with natural scientists (who make up the majority of my research group) while continuing to connect with and learn from my social science colleagues. It’s also enabled me to learn about research areas very different from my own and to establish collaborations and friendships with academics outside of my field(s), something I have really come to value. The ESI welcomes the often challenging interdisciplinary projects I have been working on and has provided great support in hosting and promoting our domestic cat project, which has involved extensive public participation. From March 2020 I will move into a lectureship at the University’s Centre for Geography and Environmental Science (CGES), another collegiate, interdisciplinary community with close links to the ESI, from which I can continue to work closely with colleagues and collaborators through the ESI’s Academic Affiliate scheme.
Dr Stineke van Houte
I am a BBSRC Future Leader Fellow who aims to develop new methods to eradicate genes encoding antibiotic resistance from microbial communities. Getting a fellowship is not easy, but the University of Exeter has given me truly outstanding support to help me obtain one. They helped with preparing the budget, and I also got detailed and constructive feedback on my proposal from a number of academics who kindly offered to read my proposal.
Furthermore, I’ve greatly benefitted from the support I got from University with fellowship interview preparations. Being based of the ESI has given me the tremendous advantage of being part of a vibrant and highly interdisciplinary group of researchers who share the vision of working towards a more sustainable future, and being able to share a state of the art lab with a team of world-class and highly collaborative microbiologists.
Dr Aimee Murray
The University of Exeter Medical School were incredibly supportive of my Fellowship application, by including the offer of a proleptic lectureship in their letter of support to the funders. As I had just handed in my PhD thesis at the time, I know this was very important as it de-risked my application by showing I had strong support from my host institution. More widely in the university and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH), both research services and my mentors were extremely supportive in helping me navigate the application process.
I really like being based in the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) as the community offers a broad range of expertise in not only microbiology, but in so many diverse research areas. As I work on antimicrobial resistance in the environment, the breadth of sustainability research being conducted here is brilliant for broadening my horizons. I feel like there is a real, joint mindset in the ESI of trying to use research to make real world change, which is rewarding and great to be part of.
The ESI is a diverse community with staff and students from over 20 countries across 5 continents. Within our current staff, there are people fulfilling roles as various as Research Fellowships, Administrative Support, Research Technicians, Apprentices, Technical Managers and Post-Graduate Research Students as well our academic staff.
Find roles within the Penryn Campus’ shared services provider, FXPlus.
To find out more about the support and opportunities we provide for students and early career researchers, please see our ‘Supporting interdisciplinarity for students and early career researchers’ section above.
For more details on current PGR opportunities, please visit the University’s Doctoral College webpages.
Grace Twiston Davies, Research Fellow
"I am a Research Fellow at the ESI and have been working in ESI Director Prof Juliet Osborne’s research group since 2015. My role involves developing computer models of bumblebee behaviour, growth and survival and translating these into practical landscape-scale management tools. I have been working collaboratively with farmers, land advisors, policy makers and businesses to make the most of agricultural landscapes for pollinator conservation and food production.
What’s really exciting about working at the ESI, and especially for Prof Osborne, is the genuine emphasis on “Impact”. We have even won an award for the positive impact our research has had outside of academia and we strive to continuously develop and improve. Being from Cornwall and working at an Institute funded through the European Regional Development Fund, it is inspiring to support research that aims to benefit the environment, people and economy of Cornwall as well as regionally, nationally and globally.
The institute is interdisciplinary and so we work with and alongside biologists, mathematicians, geologists and social scientist, with this list ever expanding. This makes the ESI a dynamic and motivating place to work and ideal for researchers who are keen to proactively collaborate to make real positive changes to the environment through their work."
Hassan Baig, Research Fellow
"When I started at the ESI, it was completely new and we just had empty spaces in our lab. As time progressed we began adding newer equipment within our labs and currently, I am proud to say that the solar laboratory at the ESI is home to world-class pieces of equipment to carry out your research. Developing the solar laboratory at the ESI has been a very unique learning experience in its own.
During my PhD I won the Impact Award within the Sustainable Futures category for my research work. After completing my PhD I started working as a research fellow within the Clean technologies research group. This gave me an interesting opportunity to work closely alongside both national and international researchers hosted at the ESI hence enriching my experience beyond my own research agenda.
The open office culture at the ESI is one of its most prized possessions. Allowing people to interact and share their ideas freely enabling new science to emerge from cross-collaboration among people. The ESI attracts several visitors which gives a very nice opportunity to speak to the general public and adds value to your research.
The Tremough Innovation Center which largely forms a link between the industry and the academia is placed just next to the ESI. The support from the TIC has been very crucial towards broadening my research mindset and understanding the needs of the industry. The ESI cafe is an amazing space bursting with people with different expertise.
After working for last two years I thought of doing a spin-out company based on my previous research. I successfully managed to conceptualise solar squared a multifunctional glass block with integrated solar energy technology. The ESI has supported very much in encapsulating the idea into and actual product. They offered me a very strong support towards marketing the product and reach it to the wider public."
Daniela Farina, Lab Manager
"I started working as a research technician in the ESI first with the Costal Pathogens team, and later with prof. Angus Buckling. After three years, the restructuring of the Technical Services gave me the opportunity to become the laboratory manager in the ESI. My daily duties include health and safety implementation, smooth operation of the labs and solving problems, preferably before they arise.
My personal mission is making sure that the ESI labs are a place where the structure and organisation of the lab facilities promotes natural collaboration rather than incites conflict. Achieving that in such a multidisciplinary environment is a challenge, but thanks to collaborative spirit of ESI researchers we manage to pull it off!"
Mark Plummer, Senior Administrator
"I started working in the ESI when we first opened as the Institute’s receptionist and am now the Senior Administrator. This progression was possible due to the opportunities and encouragement afforded to Professional Services staff in the University to learn and develop ready to apply for roles with greater responsibility. Working in an interdisciplinary environment like the ESI gives a broad and varying experience and means you get to work with and meet lots of interesting people. My day-to-day tasks can be as various as budget management, organising events, helping new members of staff, compiling reports, community outreach and updating websites. Being part of the ESI means that you are at the centre of the campus as we try and be a focal point to bring people together in interdisciplinary research."
Katie Shanks, David Clarke Research Fellow
"When I first arrived at the ESI to start my PhD in solar energy, it was within its first 2 years of opening and there was only a small cohort of us stretched across the various disciplines. So at lunch time our conversations ranged from the impact of light pollution on moths, through the effect of climate change temperature increases on bacteria all the way to the measurement of wave energy and how that translated to surfer slang. It was this subtle exposure to other areas of research that made me want to do interdisciplinary work and through a colleagues recommendation after a presentation I gave in my first year I began discussions and work with Prof. Richard Ffrench-Constant within the Biosciences department on the potential solar concentrator basking properties of the cabbage white butterfly. Since then I have tried to branch further out to work with other collaborators from different disciplines, including artists and local glass crafters who have now started their own enterprises (Art and Energy, Upcycled Glass Company) which I help direct. The ESI has a creative exchange programme to facilitate collaborations between artists and researchers which has really helped me expand and strengthen my connections with others. I’ve always thought research required a strong combination of logical and creative thinking in order to make exciting breakthroughs towards a more sustainable future and hope more people take advantage of this approach. I have recently been awarded an EPSRC David Clarke Research Fellowship to investigate bio-inspired optics for solar concentrator technology, in the challenging attempt to make solar energy more efficient, compact and integrated into everyday structures and smart tech. I work within the solar energy group, led by Prof. Tapas Mallick and Asif Tahir and plan to continue showcasing interdisciplinary research and its benefits, for the researcher as well as the research fields, as much as possible and this career path wouldn’t have been possible without the ESI environment. The ESI in my opinion takes the most challenging first step for interdisciplinary research to be possible, which is simply making other research more visible and accessible to all disciplines, in an informal and encouraging environment which increases those chances of having the right conversation with the right people on the most impactful topics."