UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarships

The UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship Scheme is part of our dedication to harnessing our cutting-edge research to solve complex problems and improve the lives of people in local and global communities. Scientia scholars will have a strong commitment to making a difference in the world with demonstrated potential for contributing to the social engagement and/or global impact pillars of the UNSW 2025 Strategy.  The Scientia Scheme is targeted in that applicants will apply to a specific research area with an identified supervisory team and application is by nomination.

  • Work on high quality research projects with the best supervisory teams in world class environments
  • $40K a year stipend for four years
  • Tuition fees covered for the full 4 year period
  • Coaching and mentoring will form a critical part of your highly personalised leadership development plan
  • Up to $10k each year to build your career and support your international research collaborations
  • At least 5 of these scholarships will be reserved for Indigenous research candidates. 

Scientia PhD Scholarship projects linked with the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences are listed below. To express interest in one of these projects please start your application by taking the self assessment. Download the editable MS Word version or download the non-editable PDF version (best for Mac or mobile devices). Once the self assessment form is completed, save as a PDF and upload along with your application. To submit an expression of interest click on the relevant project link below and complete the Apply Now form. If you and the supervisory team match up well, the team will nominate you and you will be invited to submit a full application for consideration.

Expression of Interest Deadline is Friday 21 July 2017

Improving our Understanding of Climate Change-Groundwater Interactions in the Pacific

Groundwater on oceanic islands can be a reliable water resource if managed properly. However, the threat to island groundwater resources from projected climate change and sea-level rise is not yet quantified. This project will use Vanuatu as a case study, a Pacific island that experiences considerable inter-annual variability as a result of the El Nin?o-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) - a tropical Pacific phenomena arising from complex atmosphere-ocean interactions. In Vanuatu rainfall records only commence from 1950 making it difficult to assess past and future trends. The research will use ENSO-sensitive climate proxies from eastern Australia and New Zealand to reconstruct Vanuatu rainfall and investigate changing groundwater supplies. Climate model projections will inform on likely long-term trends and the amplified risk of multiyear drought anomalies. The results will be used to estimate the replenishment of the groundwater resource and movement of the subsurface freshwater and seawater interface using numerical groundwater modelling.


Supervisory Team: Martin Andersen, Chris Turney and Jonathan Palmer

Economic Inequality as a Driver of Sexual Competition and Gendered Traits

We propose to test the exciting new idea that economic inequality among households also shapes mating competition, giving rise to many of the stark sex differences in dress, spending patterns, and mental and physical health that pervade societies. While wealthy Western countries have progressed steadily toward gender-equitable opportunities over the last century, differences between women and men in aggression, interests and the incidence of diseases like anxiety and depression have, paradoxically, increased. It is clear that ossified old ways of understanding gendered traits as either biologically essential or socially constructed have little to offer in terms of further understanding. Our approach transcends old territorial boundaries, and promises a newer, better and more general way to understand gendered behaviours, including those implicated in harm to mental health, safety, and happiness. The work will involve both experimental psychological research and analysis of economic data.


Supervisory Team: Robert Brooks, Pauline Grosjean and Khandis Blake

Genomics, Tomography, Neural Networks and the Evolution of Insects

The project will undertake cutting-edge research on the evolution of insects, the most successful group of animals. Much controversy exists about why insects are so successful (e.g., most diverse group of animals, critical 'environmental engineers'). The project will integrate new methods in genomics, tomography, machine learning to understand the evolution of key adaptations (e.g., male and female genitalia). Hypotheses about milestone evolutionary events will be generated from total-evidence analysis of genomic and phenotypic data, and tested using behavioural experiments in the Bonduriansky laboratory. UNSW has world class facilities in genomics (Ramaciotti Centre) and tomography (Tyree X-ray CT, Petroleum Engineering, UNSW) that provide a means for undertaking this interdisciplinary research. Prof. Sowmya will enable application of machine learning and novel quantification of the insect phenotype. The availability of this research infrastructure and expertise will attract quality PhD students, enable interdisciplinary research, and make UNSW a world-leader on the evolution of animals.


Supervisory Team: Gerry Cassis, Arcot Sowmya and Russell Bondurianksy

Improving Boundary Conditions for Regional Climate Projections

Regional climate projections are required to facilitate climate change impacts and adaptation research. These projections use boundary conditions from global climate models and through them inherit various biases and errors. This PhD will investigate statistical methods to remove biases and errors from these boundary conditions. If done successfully this will allow the production of more accurate and robust regional climate projections which can be used to improve our resilience to future climate changes.


Supervisory Team: Jason Evans, Ashish Sharma and Gab Abramowitz

Statistical Methods for Climate Model Ensembles

Climate models are complex computer programs that simulate the physical and chemical processes in the atmosphere and oceans. These are used to obtain projections of temperature and other meteorological variables given changes in forcings such as changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases. These simulations allow us to quantify the influence of human activity on the earth system. Since different climate models are better at capturing different aspects of the complex climate processes, it has become standard practice to produce ensembles of climate projections using multiple climate models. How best to combine these climate models to produce a single probabilistic projection has become an important research question. This interdisciplinary project will develop new statistical tools to analyse complex data coming from climate research. The expected outcome will be the development of statistical theory and methodology, including spatial temporal, extremes, and robust quantile methods, for ensemble data.


Supervisory Team: Yanan Fan, Spiridon Penev and Jason Evans

Novel Diagnostic Tools for Chemically Stressed Waterways

Humans rely on coastal ecosystems for a range of services, such as food and recreational amenity, and they are amongst the most intense areas of development. Human activities introduce an array of interacting stressors that affect both the diversity and functioning of marine ecosystems, and, in some cases, cause ecosystem collapse. The key to sustainable coastal development is discovering accurate and efficient diagnostic tools for assessing ecosystem integrity ('health'). The vision of this research is to conduct multidisciplinary environmental investigations towards the development of novel ecosystem-health diagnostics. Research techniques will range from ecotoxicology and acoustic mapping to molecular bioinformatics.


Supervisory Team: Emma JohnstonKatherine Dafforn and Graeme Clark

Climate Change: Polar Amplification and Impacts During the 21st Century

Past changes in temperature were consistently stronger toward the poles than at lower latitudes. Climate projections for the 21st century show this too. This would enhance the potential destabilization of Antarctic ice sheets, melting of permafrost, and changes to storm track dynamics and extreme weather in mid-latitudes. The polar amplification predicted by current climate models is too weak when compared to geologic records of warmer climate periods, implying gaps in our understanding of important processes in the climate system. This could mean we are underestimating future climate impacts. This project will quantify the role of potential processes by analyzing atmospheric and oceanic heat transports, changes in local radiation balance through changes in e.g. polar clouds, ocean-ice shelf interactions, and biogeochemical feedbacks. It will span timescales from those of the geologic past to future projections. We seek students with expertise in physics, chemistry or other STEM fields to attack this problem.


Supervisory Team: Katrin Meissner, Steven Sherwood and Alex Sen Gupta

Climate Change Influence on Species Range Shifts

Climate change is having profound effects on ecosystems worldwide. Many plant and animal species will not survive the changing climate unless their distributions shift. We have numerous documented cases of species range shifts. However, not all species are moving. We do not have a systematic understanding of why some species have moved and others have not, and this is a key challenge for understanding climate impacts on biodiversity.


Supervisory Team: Shinichi Nakagawa, Will Cornwell and Daniel Falster

Development of Data Mining Aided 4D-visualisation System for Eco-space Appraisals

Australian mining industry continuously seeks improvement in environmental performances to set leading practice examples across the globe. To this end, there is a need to develop an automated system that could integrate varied sources of remotely obtained data from various platforms to detect changes in sensitive ecosystem within active and post mining landscapes. This project will develop a 4D (space and time) data visualisation tool to facilitate quick and holistic review of the functioning of the ecosystem elements exposed to potential mining impacts. Data mining routines will be developed on UNSW clusters to operate on thematic, non-thematic, backscatter data products acquired from multi-imaging platforms (satellites, aircraft, UAVs) and GIS layers. The assessment will produce spatio-temporal trajectories of vegetation, water, and land subsidence parameters to assist multi-stake holders (mining industries, regulators, communities) in decision-making. The output of the developed system will provide improved confidence in tracking the changes for timely interventions.


Wastewater Indicators of Antibiotic-resistance in the Community

Antimicrobial resistance and the potential for untreatable infections has become an urgent global health priority. Currently it is difficult to determine the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in the community, in Australia and elsewhere. We propose to monitor wastewater for sentinel antimicrobial-resistant bacteria and antimicrobial chemicals as a tool to evaluate the presence and distribution of antimicrobial resistance in the community. The specific objective are 1. Evaluate the presence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and antibiotics in wastewater to monitor the current prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in selected locations and populations around Sydney and nationally. 2. Evaluate the reliability of wastewater as a surveillance system to monitor antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic use in the community by comparing with available data from clinical and GP samples. 3. Promote education, communication and dissemination activities directed to the public, stakeholders, policy makers, officials and students through the most efficient and interactive channels of communication.


Supervisory Team: Torsten Thomas, Mary Louise McLaws, Stuart Kahn and Ori Gudes

Consequences of Climate Change for Ecosystem Functions in Tropicalised Coastal Systems

Climate change is driving a universal redistribution of species on Earth. In marine systems, ocean warming is causing the decline of kelp forests in Australia and globally. This loss of kelp is mediated by direct effects of warming and by increases in herbivory by range-expanding tropical fishes. As a consequence, temperate kelp forests are being replaced by low-biomass algal turfs, and associated ecological communities are becoming increasingly 'tropicalised'. Despite these tropicalisation patterns being a pervasive phenomenon globally, the consequences of these shifts to important ecosystem functions remain to be established. This project will quantify the impact of kelp loss and tropicalisation on two key ecosystem functions: primary productivity and fish productivity. This will provide crucial information for the development of climate change adaptation strategies in near shore marine environments.


Supervisory Team: Adriana Verges, Suhelen Egan and Peter Steinberg