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Award details

NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2024 Entry. - Identifying the chemical signals needed to revive dormant bacteria. PhD in Biological Sciences. Ref: 4944

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Sariqa Wagley, NERC Independant Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Dr Eunice Lo, Research Fellow in Climate Change & Health, University of Bristol

Dr Mahasweta Saha, Senior Scientist, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

Streatham Camous

 About the Partnership

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 eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £18,622 p.a. for 2023-24) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fee;
  • 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


The research group of Dr Sariqa Wagley (Biosciences, University of Exeter) seeks to appoint a PhD student in Microbiology with a focus on bacterial dormancy to start in September 2024. 

The research group of Dr Sariqa Wagley (NERC Independent Research Fellow) focuses on understanding bacterial dormancy in the natural environment with an overarching aim of finding new ways to predict and prevent infections from arising.  Dr Wagley is leading research on how bacterial species that lay dormant in the environment (in aquaculture settings) can resuscitate to become actively growing cells when conditions are fortuitous for their growth. Dr Wagley has expertise in molecular microbiology, field sampling, fluorescently activated cell sorting, imaging flow cytometry, proteomics and sequencing. The student will be part of a lively inclusive and dynamic group that care about the benefits of work life balance and research integrity. The student will also benefit from being part of the Microbes and Disease Group and Exeter Microfluidics networks within Biosciences and this will further extend the community of interdisciplinary experts the student can work with.

When bacteria encounter extreme or unfavourable environmental conditions, they enter a state of dormancy to protect themselves, however, they can re-awaken when favourable environmental conditions return. These dormant cells can act as a reservoir of disease in the environment and are a concern for human health. A major problem in the prevention of bacterial diseases is that dormant cells are not detectable by routine tests making them difficult to study. In this project, we will exploit new approaches to understand the mechanisms by which dormant bacterial Vibrio cells (our study organism) emerge as active disease-causing pathogens in the environment. The student will detect and quantify Vibrio species in their various functional states (active and dormant) from water, sediment, and shellfish sites from a coastal site in England and will require a background in microbiology. There will be opportunities to carry out field work and gain expertise in a broad range cutting-edge techniques including flow cytometry, cell sorting, and preparing samples for Mass spectrophotometry (LCMS) for studying chemical signals involved in bacterial dormancy.  This project will be flexible and will be developed together with Dr Sariqa Wagley depending on the strength and interests of the PhD student.  

The project partners include:

Dr Eunice Lo, a climate change scientist based at the Cabot Institute for the Environment (University of Bristol). Dr Lo has a strong interest in assessing the human health impacts of climate change. She co-leads the ‘impact and risk-based predictions’ research theme in the Bristol-Met Office Academic Partnership, and has expertise in using Met Office data to inform policymaking in the UK. The student will have the opportunity to visit Dr Lo and the Bristol Climate Dynamics group and to join the Climate Change & Health PhD cohort at Bristol led by Dr Lo. 

Dr Mahasweta Saha is a chemical ecologist, based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and has pioneered cross-cutting research on marine info-chemicals, holobionts, climate change and disease ecology and embraces an interdisciplinary approach. She has extensive experience in isolation and characterization of infochemicals and climate change studies. Her expertise will guide the student towards isolating and identifying chemical signals produced by dormant cells. There will be an opportunity to be trained at PML in extracting and purifying samples for LCMS. 

The student will have the opportunity to collaborate and disseminate their findings to scientists based at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). Cefas are the National Reference Laboratory for bacteriological contamination of live bivalve shellfish and are concerned about bacterial pathogens associated with shellfish in particular our study organism Vibrio species. Cefas will provide their expertise and knowledge on UK shellfisheries including access to local sites that will be used for sampling during this project.


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 2023 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.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities.  With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength. 
We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status.  We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community.  Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

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.  Previous lab experience is desirable. The student should be motivated by microbiology, the environment and public health. They should be enthusiastic and committed to the project as well as collaborative and team orientated. 

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
  • GW4+ DTP Personal Statement -  Please upload your completed Personal Statement  using the link to the form.  You must use this Personal Statement form as part of the application process.  No other format for cover letter or personal statement will be accepted.
  • 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 2359 hours GMT Tuesday 9 January 2024. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2024.  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:9th January 2024
Value:£18,622 per annum for 2023-24
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions