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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Trace-element geochemistry for regional mapping of Lithium prospectivity in Ireland - Geology PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4020

About the award


Lead Supervisor: Dr Kathryn Moore, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines

Co-Supervisor: Prof Ben Williamson, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines

Co-Supervisor: Mr Paul Lusty, British Geological Survey, Ore deposits and Commodities


Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Cornwall.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Up to £750 for travel and accomodation for compulsory cohort events.

Project Background

Lithium (Li) is a strategic commodity for the green energy transition, particularly for the production of batteries for the low carbon transport fleet. Li-pegmatites of the Leinster granite of SE Ireland have excited interest as a potential (spodumene) resource for more than 4 decades and there is active exploration for Li across Ireland. Tellus is an open-access, cross-border geological and geophysical dataset that has revealed multiple positive Li anomalies in Northern Ireland. The Newry Complex for example has Li anomalies and a similar age and style to the very prospective Leinster granite, and there are enigmatic Li anomalies in and around the Midland Valley Terrane1. The Tellus dataset now extends into Counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway and includes geochemical data for soils and streams overlying multiple granitoids such that there is potential to investigate the occurrence of Li in a wider context. Increased understanding of the controls on Li distribution across these regions and further development of geomodels for granite- and pegmatite-hosted Li    deposits will be crucial in exploration and for any future production in Northern Ireland of Li-based materials strategic to net-zero policies.


Project Aims and Methods

The successful PhD candidate will modify a methodology for interrogating critical metal potential using Tellus data2 in order to investigate and understand the sources of Li anomalies. They will extend the dataset by sampling rocks and also stream waters which, in Ireland3,  have been shown to have elevated Li concentrations where they have interacted with certain pegmatites 4 The
student will identify Li anomalies,  using the enhanced methodology and dataset, and from thisplan their bedrock sampling sites. The magmatic and magmatic-hydrothermal petrogenesis of Li-enriched lithologies will be constrained using petrographic, electron microbeam and wet chemical techniques. The student will discuss their    results in terms of the evolution of igneous complexeswith special reference to the different tectonic contexts of granitoid emplacement in Northern Ireland. They will further constrain the best route for developing enhanced geomodels for Li exploration.



The distribution of lithium in the Tellus Project S-horizon (deep) soil samples over parts of Northern Ireland (samples with lower concentrations are omitted for clarity) (Lusty, 2016).


Candidate requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK university, or an equivalent qualification gained outside the UK in the subject of geology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree.  All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project


Collaborative partner

The collaborative partner is the British Geological Survey who will host the student for a significant part of the first year of the PhD (or interface with the student remotely if travel is not possible at the outset of the PhD). The student will maintain a dialogue with the exploration sector in order to determine whether the results of the research can be used to create immediate impact.



Training in the use of the Tellus and G-Base data will be based at BGS and rock and mineral analysis at the University of Exeter. The project will require fieldwork in Ireland.

Background reading and references

(1) Lusty, P., 2016. In: Unearthed: Impacts of the Tellus surveys of the north of Ireland (ed: Young, M.), 101-118. (2) Moore, K. et al.:
(3) O’Connor,  P.J. et al., 1991. Geol. J. 26, 295-305. (4) Kavanagh, L. et al., 2017. Int. J. of Env. Res. & Pub. Health 14, 561.


Prospective applicants

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via   Each research studentship project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal.  Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.


How to Apply

The application deadline is Friday 8 January 2021 at 2359 GMT. Interviews will take place from 8th to 19th February 2021. For more information about the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership please visit


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2021 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

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

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is Friday 8 January 2021 2359 GMT .  Interviews will be held between 8th and 19th February 2021.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:8th January 2021
Value:£15,285 per annum for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries