Skip to main content

Funding and scholarships for students

Award details

From anther to atmosphere: building a better pollen forecast for human health, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Geography Ref: 4250

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Jon Bennie, University of Exeter, Centre for Geography and Environmental Science.

Additional Supervisors

Dr Regan Early, University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Conservation.

Lucy Neal, Met Office, Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality Group

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Falmouth, 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 2022/23) 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:

Approximately ten million people in the UK suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies. The UK pollen forecast provided by the Met Office is used by millions of hay fever sufferers to manage the impact of allergenic pollen on their lives.  As our climate and land use changes, so will the distribution and timing of pollen released to the atmosphere, and so understanding what triggers the onset of pollen allergies is critical.  Based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall, this exciting project involves working with scientists from the Met Office and the University to develop and validate new biological and atmospheric models to improve the operational pollen forecast in the future and make a real difference to the quality of life of hay fever sufferers. You will have a unique opportunity to work in interdisciplinary science at the interface between biology, ecology, meteorology and human health, and to be trained in a wide range of skills, from field biology to atmospheric modelling.

Project Aims and Methods:

This project aims to improve our ability to forecast pollen concentrations by developing our understanding of when and where wind-borne pollen is released into the atmosphere by plants and how and where it is dispersed.  It will involve both collecting ecological observations and mathematical modelling, with the aim of understanding processes across spatial scales from pollen release from a single flower head, and the density of flowers within rural and urban landscapes, to the movement of pollen over large distances in the atmosphere.  Key methods will involve: setting up and running controlled field experiments to measure the daily and seasonal cycles of pollen release in a range of species of plants and their response to weather and climate; carrying out field surveys and developing species distribution models (SDMs) to estimate the changing density of key pollen-producing species within rural and urban landscapes; implementing and validating the Met Office numerical dispersion model (NAME) to predict long-distance transport of pollen grains.  It is expected that you will develop skills in both biological field work and mathematical modelling, but there is scope for you to develop the project to suit your existing skills and areas of interest.

Candidate Requirements:

The successful candidate should have a degree in a science subject, physical geography or mathematics, have good numerical skills and an interest in biology and ecology.  Experience in carrying out ecological fieldwork and/or working with mathematical models of physical or biological systems would be an advantage, as well as enthusiasm and a willingness to learn new skills.

Project Partners:

The student will be co-supervised by scientists at the Met Office, and will have regular supervisory meetings with Met Office staff. They will also spend six months working at the Met Office in Exeter, working closely with scientists in the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality group for the atmospheric dispersion modelling component of the PhD.


The Met office will provide training in atmospheric dispersion modelling, and the supervisory team will provide project-specific training in field skills as required. Exeter University will provide training in transferable skills (e.g. time management, employability, statistics, teaching skills) as part of its graduate training programme. The student will be able to attend regular departmental seminars in the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science and the Centre for Ecology and Conservation

Background reading and references:

McInnes RN et al., (2017) Mapping allergenic pollen vegetation in the UK to study environmental exposure and health risk. Science of the Total Environment 599-600, 483-499.

Van Vliet AJH et al., (2002) The influence of temperature and climate change on the timing of pollen release in the Netherlands. International Journal of Climatology 22 (14) 1757-1767 

NAME dispersion model,

Useful Links:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor, Jon Bennie at Webpage here

Prospective Applicants:

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via  

Each 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.  


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 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries