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Award details

Picturing climate migration: critiquing the visual discourse, PhD Studentship (Funded by the QUEX Institute) Ref: 4497

About the award


Lead Supervisor:

Dr Saffron O'Neil, Associate Professor in Geography, University of Exeter.


Professor Roland Bleiker, Professor of International Relations, Peace Studies and Political Theory University of Queensland.

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team.

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants. The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This PhD project will compete for one of the four University of Exeter positions. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD studentships and

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of: Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on Tuesday 30th August 2022 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 19th September 2022. The start date is expected to be Monday 9th January 2023.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.


Exeter Academic Lead:

Dr Saffron O'Neil, Associate Professor in Geography, University of Exeter.

Queensland Academic Lead:

Professor Roland Bleiker, Peace Studies and Political Theory University of Queensland

Project Summary:

How the media communicate about climate change both shapes and reflects how society engages with the issue. Whilst social scientists have long sought to understand how the media represent climate change in text form, there has been less research on how climate change is represented in visual imagery. Yet images are a key part of setting the ‘frame’ of a media story: they are vivid, colourful and memorable - drawing readers in, giving them the essence of a story, what should be done about it, and whose responsibility it is. If particular types of visual frame become dominant, they privilege certain groups in society (and marginalise others), influence public opinion and shape policy options. Climate stories increasingly use the news hook of migration. Migration is a hugely contentious policy issue, not least in Australia and the UK. The role of climatic changes in impacting migration is increasingly contested, too: from fantastical (albeit contentious) numbers of migrants crossing international borders, to claims migration is one of the most powerful tools for facilitating adaptation. So, which imaginaries are invoked when climate migration is visualised in the news media? Which voices do these visual frames privilege (and which are marginalised)? How might a more diverse and equitable visual narrative of climate migration challenge and unsettle these power relations?

A suitable research programme could look to investigate the dominant visual frames of climate and migration, as well as the drivers behind these (and opportunities and barriers to overcoming them). The PhD could be suitable for a mixed-methods approach; with appropriate methods including ethnography, interviews, surveys, visual critical discourse analysis or visual framing. The successful student would develop their PhD proposal together with the supervisory team, subject to their interests and expertise. This project could be suitable for students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including (but not limited to) Geography, Politics, International Relations, Sociology, Media and Journalism.

This project brings together the following supervisory team: Lead supervisor A/Prof Saffron O’Neill (University of Exeter) has held two fellowships on the visual communication of climate change (ESRC Future Leaders, Leverhulme Research Fellow) and works with a diversity of international stakeholders on visual climate communication. She leads a vibrant and enthusiastic group of interdisciplinary PhD students working on climate change communication and engagement. She is also Co-Director of the ACCESS Network (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science).

Second supervisor Professor Roland Bleiker (University of Queensland) explores the politics of aesthetics, visuality and emotions, which he examines across a range of issues, from humanitarianism, security and peacebuilding to protest movements and conflict. He leads the ARC Linkage Project ‘The Politics and Ethics of Visualising Humanitarian Crises’, with the World Press Photo Foundation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières.

There is a secondary supervisor at both UoE and UQ. Dr Ricardo Safra de Campos (UoE) is a population geographer working on the spatial mobility dimensions of human interaction with environmental change, with a focus on migration. Professor Karen McNamara (UQ) is a development geographer interested in how livelihoods can be enhanced to respond to the triple crises of poverty, disaster risk and climate change; with extensive experience working throughout the Asia-Pacific.

Detailed Project Description:

The student would start their PhD in January 2023. They will spend 12 months at UQ, and the remainder at UoE. A proposed schedule would be to spend three months at UQ in year 1, to consolidate links with Bleiker, and work on their literature review and upgrade document; with (an)other period(s) scheduled as appropriate for the research process.

Entry requirements

Applicants should be highly motivated and have, or expect to obtain, either a first or upper-second class BA or BSc (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, supporting statement, academic transcripts and details of two academic referees. Your supporting statement should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project, with particular reference to the collaborative nature of the partnership with the University of Queensland, and how this will enhance your training and research.

Applicants who are chosen for interview will be notified week commencing 12th September 2022, and must be available for interview week commencing 19th September 2022.

Please quote reference 4497 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:30th August 2022
Value:Full tuition fees, stipend of £16,062 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £10,715 are available over the 3.5 year studentship
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office