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

Stipend $40K a year for four years

Tuition fees covered for the full 4 year period

Personal Development coaching and mentoring will form a critical part of your highly personalised leadership development plan

Career Development up to $10k each year to build your career and support your international research collaborations

Indigenous Researchers at least 5 scholarships will be reserved for Indigenous research candidates 

Expression of Interest Deadline is Friday 20 July 2018

Back to the Future: Climate Impacts during the Last Interglacial

The Last Interglacial (130,000-116,000 years ago) is the most recent ‘super-interglacial’, providing an analogue for future change. With global temperatures warmer than present (1-2˚C) and sea level >6 m higher, the Earth system appears to have passed a ‘tipping point’, but with highly uncertain impacts on Australia. This project will use lake and coastal sedimentary and speleothem sequences to reconstruct Last Interglacial climate and environmental changes on sub-decadal to millennial timescales across Australia. The results will be used to inform on the timing, magnitude and impact of a warmer-than-present world on Australia’s water balance, helping adapt to future climate variability.

The successful candidate will be expected to hold a Bachelor of Science (Honours) distinction or higher-class degree in Earth science, physical geography or a related field. The candidate will have analytical skills (including statistical/mathematical skills) and experience with Quaternary science methods.

Supervisory Team: Zoë Thomas, Chris Turney and Andy Baker

Bio-imaging Coral Bleaching

This project will undertake a comprehensive bio-imaging study to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying coral bleaching. Coral mortality during bleaching events is mitigated by the presence of cellular and molecular mechanisms, conferring tolerance to temperature stress. However the exact mechanisms of this cellular protection remains unknown. UNSW has one of the most advanced bio-imaging facilities in Australia, with world-renowned experts. This groundbreaking project will explore the precise nature of temperature tolerance at a cellular level and provide unparalleled insight into the mechanisms of bleaching, which can be used for novel cellular approaches for introducing climate change tolerance.

This project requires an outstanding graduate with a strong academic record including an Honours Class I or equivalent and experience in research publishing. The ideal candidate has a passion for coral reefs, symbiosis, bio-imaging, microscopy, and advanced molecular technologies. Graduates with a strong background in biology, cellular biology, biochemistry, bio imaging and/or microbial ecology are welcome. Experience with advanced microscopy techniques is an advantage.

Supervisory Team: Tracy Ainsworth, Renee Whan (Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre) and Kate Poole (School of Medical Sciences)

Climate change, human health and air pollution
Climate change will exacerbate heatwaves associated with bushfires - Australia’s deadliest natural hazard. Climate change also alters meteorological variables that influence the development, transport and dispersion of ozone and particulate matter – a major source of which is bushfires. Research into the health effects of exposure to air pollution has played an important role in health impact assessments. However, epidemiological studies of long-term exposure to ambient air pollution remain difficult because of small-scale spatial variation. This project will use land-use regression models for air pollution, high-resolution regional climate projections and large health datasets to explore future scenarios of impacts to health.

The ideal candidate will have:

  • Strong academic record including an Honours Class I or equivalent in epidemiology or climate science, or similar quantitative science.
  • Experience with Land Use Regression or GIS experience or using software such as to develop/run applied mathematical models and perform data analysis.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Interest in applying climate impacts research to inform policy-makers at the national/global level.

Supervisory TeamDonna Green, Katrin Meissner and John Kaldor (The Kirby Institute)

Do sediment microbes control invasion success in marine ecosystems?
Estuaries have enormous economic and commercial value, yet are one of the world’s most heavily invaded ecosystems. Introduced species alter ecosystem function, are the second biggest cause of extinctions worldwide, and cause billions of dollars per year of losses in food production. In terrestrial systems, soil microbes facilitate the spread of invasive plants. This project will integrate modern microbial community analysis and experimental ecology to provide the world’s first field-based quantification of the importance of sediment microbes in facilitating marine invasions under climate change. This will provide understanding of mechanisms facilitating invasions, enhancing management of invaders in NSW, and globally.

The ideal candidate:

  • Completed first class honours or Masters by research in terrestrial, marine or microbial ecology

  • Interested in working at the forefront of the integration of microbial ecology and macroecology to advance fundamental and applied science.

  • Knowledge of microbial ecology an advantage.

  • Strong written and oral communication skills.

  • Must meet the UNSW entry requirements for English.

  • Strong analytical skills.

  • Scientific publications an advantage.

  • Experience in designing and conducting experiments and field work. Statistical analysis of complex data also desirable.

Supervisory TeamPaul Gribben, Angela Moles and Torsten Thomas

How extreme climactic variation affects gene expression and phenotypic variation

Climate change is resulting in shifts in the length and duration of extreme heating and cooling events. We understand that this results in inadequate developmental periods for animals and therefore leads to the expression of suboptimal phenotypes. However, we have a poor understanding of how extreme temperature fluctuations affect underlying genetic variation and a species’ evolutionary potential. This project will explore how climactic variation affects gene expression, and how this affects the investment trade-offs between different phenotypic domains such as lifespan, behaviour, physiology, and sexually selected traits. This will provide a crucial understanding of how extreme climactic variation affects evolution.

We are looking for a candidate that has an understanding of field and laboratory experimental techniques that include invertebrate collection and husbandry, dissections, and RNA extractions. Skills in experimental design, analysing qPCR results, and the use of R are also advantageous.

Supervisory TeamMichael Kasumovic, Terry Ord and Russell Bonduriansky

Interplay between the Antarctic ice-sheet, the oceanic circulation and climate

The size of the Antarctic ice-sheet (AIS) has varied significantly: from covering the Weddell and Ross Seas, today's principal regions of bottom water formation during the last glacial maximum to losing most of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet thus leading to a ~6 m sea level rise during the Last Interglacial period. However, the processes leading to ice-sheet loss and the impact of AIS size on oceanic circulation and climate are poorly constrained. 

In the context of increased atmospheric CO2 content and retreating ice-sheets, it is thus crucial to understand the interplay between the Antarctic ice-sheet and climate.
This project will quantify the impact of a varying AIS on oceanic circulation and climate using state of the art climate models. 

We seek students with expertise in oceanography, climate, physics or other STEM fields to attack this problem. The candidate should have some expertise in programming and large data analysis.

Supervisory Team: Laurie Menviel, Andy Hogg and Katrin Meissner

Latitudinal gradients and coastal communities vulnerability to anthropogenic stress

Humans rely on coastal ecosystems for services, such as food and recreational amenity, and they are amongst the most intense areas of development. Human activities introduce interacting stressors that affect the diversity and functioning of marine ecosystems, and, in some cases, cause ecosystem collapse. This project will test predictions of how Australia’s most widespread coastal communities respond to stress across a latitudinal gradient. The key to sustainable coastal development is discovering accurate and efficient diagnostic tools for assessing ecosystem ‘health’. This research is an international collaboration and aims to reveal relationships between diversity, resilience and ecosystem function with implications for global conservation using a multidisciplinary approach.

The ideal candidate has an Honours or equivalent degree in Marine Biology, Ecology of Microbiology and has previous experience in managing research projects. The candidate needs to have excellent written and oral communication skills and be able to work independently and as part of a team. The candidate should have a strong motivation to improve and protect the environment through fundamental research and its translation into management tools. The candidate will have the willingness and capacity to implement required H&S procedures according to university policies and implement equal opportunity policies and programs. 

Supervisory TeamMariana Mayer-Pinto, Emma Johnston and Simon Thrush (The University of Auckland)

Mapping marine debris risks around Australia

Marine debris is a leading environmental concern globally. Threats from marine debris are understood conceptually, but their spatial and temporal distributions are largely unknown. Without this knowledge, we cannot prioritise management actions or predict future change. This project will leverage Australia’s largest marine debris database (AMDD) to create risk maps of marine debris threats around Australia. It will develop novel methodologies to estimate threats for each marine debris item, including threats of ingestion, bioinvasion, and physical degradation, then combine these with the AMDD to map risk. Outcomes will directly inform national and international management of this global problem.

The candidate will have a strong commitment to making a difference in the world, with demonstrated academic excellence in environmental science relative to career-stage. Technical skills that would be beneficial include experimental design, statistical analyses and programming (preferably in R). He or she must be willing to conduct both laboratory and field experiments, and travel for remote fieldwork. Taxonomic identification skills, particularly for marine invertebrates, are also desirable.

Supervisory Team: Graeme ClarkEmma Johnston and Mark Browne

Modeling stepping-stones of cane toad invasion with network analysis

In the face of global environmental change and during Earth’s “sixth mass extinction”, maintaining or enhancing landscape ‘connectivity’- the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement, has been widely advocated as a key conservation tool. Connectivity is not always beneficial as it can also aid in the spread of disease, pollution and invasive species. This project will integrate complex network modelling using graph theory and time-series of habitat networks from satellite data to identify which areas have facilitated the infamous cane toad invasion in arid Australia and thus identify areas that should be targeted to prevent further expansion.

A background in modelling and analysing large, spatially explicit data sets is required. The position would suit a recent graduate in ecology but with spatial analysis knowledge and well developed quantitative skills or a quantitative student that is keen to learn more about ecology. Good presentation and writing skills would be beneficial. A demonstrated enthusiasm for research is paramount.

Supervisory Team: Mirela Tulbure, David Keith and Mike Letnic

Restoring degraded drylands ecosystems with bio-encapsulation of native soil microorganisms

Two-thirds of the planet’ ecosystems are currently degraded and face serious threats such as loss of biodiversity and increased climate change vulnerability. Consequently, there is an urgent global demand for developing new strategies to progress current ecosystem restoration efforts. This project will harness novel technologies such as soil microbial DNA sequencing and seed enhancement, to improve plant recruitment and soil function in degraded drylands through effective targeted-delivery of native soil microorganisms, including indigenous biocrust cyanobacteria. The project is expected to provide scientific-based, cost-effective, and environmentally-based techniques for land managers, conservation agencies, and government departments, to help those enhance restoration outcomes.

The ideal candidate for the proposed research project should meet the following requirements:

  • A completed university degree (Masters, Bachelor) with excellent grades, such as first class Honours, in Environmental Sciences, Ecology, Soil Sciences, or similar field of research.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English. All applicants, domestic and international, must meet the UNSW English language level requirements (IELTS, TOEFL or equivalent).
  • Ability to work well independently with appropriate supervision, and as part of a collaborative research team
  • Relevant field and laboratory research experience - management of plant and soil analytical and ecophysiological techniques is advantageous, and knowledge of molecular ecology techniques will be welcomed.
  • Solid skills in data analyses and interpretation and ability to present and communicate results.
  • Scientific (peer-reviewed) publications as lead or co-author will be highly valued.

Supervisory Team: Miram Muñoz-Rojas, Angela Moles and David Eldridge

The role of fungi in disease emergence in marine ecosystems
Disease events are increasingly impacting critical marine habitats. This project will examine the role of marine fungi in health and disease of keystone marine organisms in temperate ecosystems, including macroalgae, seagrasses and corals. This ground-breaking project will undertake a multi-organism assessment of disease events and determine the underlying role of fungal interactions in disease progression. In doing so this project provides insight into the global problem of emerging diseases in marine ecosystems and will address a considerable knowledge gap in microbial ecology.

This project requires an outstanding graduate with a strong academic record including an Honours Class I or equivalent and experience in research publishing. The ideal candidate has an interest in marine ecosystems, disease processes and microbial ecology.

Graduates with a strong background in biology, microbial ecology, and biochemistry, are welcome. Experience with microbiology is an advantage.

 Supervisory Team: Suhelen Egan, Tracy Ainsworth and  Megan Lenardon (School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences)

Developmental temperatures as drivers of phenotypic change

Environmental temperatures have a profound impact on developing animals. The Evolution & Ecology Research Centre has recently revealed the strength of the effect of developmental temperatures on reptile traits, and is continuing to examine how this plasticity impacts animal populations under changing climates. This project will 1) quantify temperature-based developmental plasticity in other taxa; 2) quantify other sources of developmental plasticity (e.g. maternal diet and oviposition behavior); and 3) analyse the reaction norms of plasticity. Addressing these issues will determine the relative importance of climate and temperature for organismal traits, and how they shape animal ecology and evolution.

The research will employ quantitative syntheses of published literature, with potential expansion to focused empirical experiments in reptiles or invertebrates. The ideal candidate for this project will have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Biology, with an emphasis in animal ecology and evolution, and a strong interest in phenotypic plasticity. Essential skills and experience include: experience with an independent research project; strong writing skills; strong statistical skills and competence in R programming. Experience working with large datasets would be valuable.

Supervisory Team:Lisa Schwanz, Shinichi Nakagawa and Rob Brooks

Ecosystem restoration through rewilding

Australia has the world's worst record of mammal extinctions. In arid ecosystems, extinction of native mammals and loss of ecological services they provide has been accompanied by severe soil erosion and shifts in vegetation composition. The Centre for Ecosystem Science’s Wild Deserts project, is one of the nation's most significant "rewilding" initiatives to redress the problem of mammal extinctions and land degradation. This PhD project will focus on understanding the effects that reintroduced mammals have on ecosystem structure and function. The findings will reveal how innovative “rewilding” strategies incorporating the ecological functions of mammals can be used to restore ecosystems.

The ideal applicant for this position will need to be able to work independently and be willing to spend considerable periods of time in remote field-work locations. The candidate should have experience in field biology such as conducting botanical and fauna surveys and have skills in experimental design and statistics.

Supervisory Team: Mike Letnic, David Keith and Richard Kingsford

Remittance Economies and Inclusive development in the Asia Pacific

Remittances have become an important sources of income and livelihood for many poorer communities in the Asia Pacific. However, evidence for improvements to life and livelihoods, particularly for women at the local level, is unclear. This research investigates the impacts of remittance economics (eg in Nepal and a Pacific place). It critically analyses the social and environmental implications of payments using socio-cultural analyses to unpack the vagaries and unevenness of remittance economies, at the local level. It will generate evidence to rethink global and national remittance policies around the developing world.

The idea candidate will hold a bachelor degree with Honours (first class) or equivalent.

You will have a background in social science research methods as demonstrated in Honours (or equivalent) research.

Evidence of published research is essential.

 Supervisory Team: Wendy Shaw, Tanya Jakimow (School of Arts and Social Sciences) and Krishna Shrestha (School of Arts and Social Sciences)

The evolution of developmentally plastic reproductive traits

Research in the Bonduriansky lab has uncovered a suite of highly environment-responsive (plastic) male reproductive and secondary sexual traits in a group of native insects. The development of these traits responds very strongly to environmental factors such as diet, with effects both within and across generations. Remarkably, the environment-responsiveness of these traits itself appears to evolve and diversity rapidly, providing a valuable opportunity to understand how species might adapt to a rapidly changing world. This project (funded by Bonduriansky’s ARC-DP) will combine laboratory and field studies to establish how ecology and selection combine to shape the evolution of environment-responsive traits.

We are seeking a student with qualifications and a strong interest in evolutionary ecology, preferably including a research Master’s degree. The ideal candidate will have a track-record of successful research and publications in international journals. Candidates with experience in laboratory and/or field research on insects are preferred.

Supervisory Team:Russell Bonduriansky, Michael Kasumovic and Lisa Schwanz

The short and long-term effects of climate change on vegetation

Climatic change is set to reconfigure ecological systems, as key drivers of vegetation composition and function - such as rainfall and temperature - shift away from their historical norms. Vegetation will respond over a range of timescales, from short-term acclimation, to medium-term adjustments in the abundance of current species, to long-term adaptation and/ or replacement of species. In this project, the student will compare the pace and impact of these different responses, using process-based models; and then outline scenarios of alternative future states. Insight gained will underpin effective ecosystem management.

Graduates with a strong background in biology, mathematics, physics, atmospheric science, engineering or a similar quantitative science are particularly encouraged to apply. Programming experience with C, fortran 90, Python or R is highly desirable. Strong drive to understand the dynamics of plant ecosystems is essential.

Supervisory Team: Daniel Falster, Will Cornwell and Martin De Kauwe

Fusion of Earth Observation data and 3D city models

Many Earth observation platforms (drones, micro-satellites) have become inexpensive, recording massive amounts of data via thermal, colour, infrared, and radar cameras for different applications, such as urban planning, vegetation dynamics monitoring, and natural hazard monitoring. Living in the age of big remote sensing data, currently we face challenges in managing, processing, and efficiently exploiting these data for socio-economic and environmental applications. This project will develop novel 3D data fusion modelling using voxels for context-based, automated information processing and extraction from large databases of disparate remote sensing imagery to bring new perspectives on phenomenon understanding and prediction.

The candidate must have a background in Geomatics with a strong interest in image analysis, OR a background in computer vision with a strong interest in 3D spatial information. In both cases, the candidate should have good programming skills, competence in 3D modelling and spatial analysis, understanding of machine learning, and fascination for Earth science applications.

Supervisory Team: Sisi Zlatanova (School of Built Environment), Graciela Metternicht and Ben Gorte (School of Built Environment)