Synuclein plasticity: the Achilles heel of nerve function linked to the onset of Parkinson’s disease , Biosciences – MPhil/PhD (Funded) Ref: 3001

About the award

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence as soon as possible or as soon as possible thereafter.  This is a University of Exeter Council funded Diamond Jubilee studentship. For eligible students the studentship will cover tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,553 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the Living Systems Institute (Biosciences) in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.


Biosciences, Living Systems Institute, Streatham Campus, Exeter

Academic Supervisors:
Dr JJ Phillips, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter
Dr Daniel Kattnig, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter
Dr Nicholas Harmer, Biosciences, University of Exeter

Project Description:
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition that stems from the progressive destruction of nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for controlling various motor functions. This results in often severe and debilitating symptoms that characterise the disease, such as shaking and convulsions. It is a progressive, age-related disorder, which means that as we continue to live healthier and longer lives, the likelihood of being diagnosed with PD increases. 1 in 500 people worldwide are diagnosed each year.
There are inherited genetic mutations that increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease. Even in these cases, there is a stochastic nature to the onset of PD at any given age. This fits with the interpretation that there is a random process at the molecular level that initiates neuronal toxicity. The protein alpha-Synuclein (aSN) is strongly implicated in PD pathogenesis. aSN is a highly dynamic molecule that adopts many postures and this structural plasticity is thought to be important for natural function. However, this also provides a potential mechanism for pathogenesis that we want to determine. Our research has recently shown that we can analyse this behaviour and measure the postures adopted by aSN molecules. To achieve this, we develop approaches using hydrogen/deuterium-exchange mass spectrometry to observe protein motion at high resolution. [1,2] This studentship provides an exciting opportunity to study the structure and dynamics of aSN protein relating to both its natural function and to Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis.

[1] Edgeworth, M. J.; Phillips, J. J.; Lowe, D. C.; Kippen, A. D.; Higazi, D. R.; Scrivens, J. H. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 2015, 54 (50), 15156–15159.
[2] Phillips, J. J.; Buchanan, A.; Andrews, J.; Chodorge, M.; Sridharan, S.; Mitchell, L.; Burmeister, N.; Kippen, A. D.; Vaughan, T. J.; Higazi, D. R.; Lowe, D. Anal. Chem. 2017, 89 (4), 2361–2368.

This award provides annual funding to cover tuition fees and a tax-free stipend of at least £14,553 per year. The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence as soon as possible.

Entry requirements:
Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  
If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents:


         Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).

         Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

         Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.

         If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English

The closing date for applications is midnight on 18 February 2018.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus the week commencing in the following weeks.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor (




Application deadline:18th February 2018
Number of awards:1
Value:£14,553 for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Postgraduate Research Office