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Funding and scholarships for students

Award details

Recovery from an oceanic anoxic event – an integrated approach using palaeontology, chemostratigraphy and biogeochemistry, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Mining and Engineering Ref: 4241

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Clemens V. Ullmann, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines, Cornwall

Additional Supervisors

Professor Luis Vitor Duarte, MARE & University of Coimbra.

Professor Melanie Leng, British Geological Survey

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 £15,609 p.a. for 2021/22) 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

Project details

Project Background

As knowledge about the environmental stresses and biotic consequences of oceanic anoxia and hyperthermal events is building, it is becoming increasingly relevant to place these events into the longer-term context of changes in the Earth surface system and to address, how, and over which period of time, biota recover from such perturbations.

The macrofossil assemblages of Spain and Portugal have yielded exceptional records of one of the largest known oceanic anoxic events (OAEs), the Early Jurassic Toarcian OAE. Here, all the hallmarks of climate change which we are starting to experience have been documented. Clear patterns of changing marine assemblages, perturbations in carbon cycle and severe increases in temperature have been found, and hints at ocean acidification are starting to emerge. While the T-OAE as well as the immediately adjacent time intervals are now fairly well studied, much less is known how faunas adapted and changed with environmental conditions in the aftermath of the T-OAE. The fossil record of the Iberian Peninsula with its abundant and well preserved macrofauna provides outstanding opportunities to address these questions (see figure above).

Project Aims and Methods

The principle aims for this project are to A) Establish reference chemostratigraphic records of C and O isotopes for the Toarcian Stage based on macrofossils from basins in Iberia. B) Study features of shell structure and biogeochemistry in brachiopods and other macrofossils to better understand lifestyle and habitats of these critical palaeoclimate archives. C) Synthesize existing and emerging evidence how biota reacted and adapted to severe environmental upheaval and how local and regional effects shaped their response to palaeoclimate change. While A) is a firm topic with a clearly defined outcome, B) and C) are flexible so that the candidate can develop them according to their preference, strengths and topics of interest, such as focussing on palaeontology, palaeobiology, stratigraphy, geochemistry, or statistics.

Candidate requirements

A strong background and interest in palaeontology and/or geochemistry is essential for this project. Already existing practical experience with palaeontological and/or geochemical lab work as well as Lower Jurassic palaeoenvironments would be beneficial but not essential.

Project partners 

This project is truly interdisciplinary, allowing the candidate to develop and broaden skills in a number of fields. It is placed in the wider context of ongoing research on the Early Jurassic Earth System and timescale at the University of Exeter and partner institutions, involving a wide range of international experts, especially the project partners at the British Geological Survey and the University of Coimbra.


The candidate will be trained in the study of macrofossils using optical techniques at Exeter and analytical geochemistry (elemental and isotopic techniques) at Exeter and BGS. Visits to the most important stratigraphic successions in Iberia and work with museum collections in Portugal/Spain are planned.

Background reading and references

Prospective candidates are encouraged to read the below contribution to get a detailed understanding of rationale and scientific approach for this project: Ullmann, C., Boyle, R., Duarte, L. et al. Warm afterglow from the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event drives the success of deep-adapted brachiopods. Sci Rep 10, 6549 (2020).

Useful links

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via;


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 2022 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, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, 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 1600 hours GMT Friday 10 January 2022. Interviews will be held between 28 February and 4 March 2022.  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:10th January 2022
Value:£15,609 per annum for 2021-2022
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions