University of Exeter funding: Watching as the planets form

Watching as the planets form, Physics and Astronomy – PhD (Funded by STFC) Ref: 3818

About the award


Professor Tim Naylor, University of Exeter

Physics and Astronomy, Streatham Campus, Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:
We understand the broad outline of planet formation, in that planets form in the discs around young stars. However, important physical processes such as the viscosity in the disc and the formation of planetesimals are poorly understood.  This makes it impossible to predict the outcomes of the planet-formation process, such as the distribution of planet masses and orbits.   Recent work at Exeter has shown that during planet formation the disc can undergo huge outbursts, when a wave of material flows through the disc towards the star.  If we can discover these outbursts in their early stages, and carry out follow-up observations they have the potential to give insights into the physics of these discs, and hence into planet formation.

A new generation of sky surveys is giving us the ability to carry this work out, from GAIA (an ESA mission which is currently revolutionising stellar astronomy) to the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (an 8-m telescope commissioning in 2021-2 with the potential to image the entire available sky every three days).  But they need to be coupled to the bespoke follow-up observations and the innovative software (including machine learning techniques) which form the core of this PhD project.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,009 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in September 2020.

The studentship will cover a stipend at the minimum Research Council rate, £15,009 in 2019/20, research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for students who meet the residency requirements outlined by the STFC.  Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend.  Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.  Further information about eligibility can be found here.

For more details on this project please contact Professor Tim Naylor (


The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is currently under construction on the Cerro Pachón ridge in Chile. One of the aims of this project is to use data from this telescope to better understand planet formation.  Credit: W O'Mullane/LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Entry requirements

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 6.0 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. 
• CV
• 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)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. Please ask your referees to email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number, or upload them with your application.
• 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 27th January 2020.  Interviews will likely be held the end of February or beginning of March.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.


Application deadline:27th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per year for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5801