2020 UQ-Exeter Joint PhD Expression of Interest

The University of Queensland and the University of Exeter 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 scholarship program 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.

Ten generous, fully-funded scholarships are available for the best applicants, five offered by the University of Queensland and five offered by the University of Exeter. This select group will have the chance to study in the UK and Australia, and will graduate with a joint degree from The University of Queensland and the University of Exeter.

Scholarship value

These scholarships include a living stipend of AUD $27,596 (2019) tax free, indexed annually, tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover (where applicable). A travel grant of AUD $8,500 per annum, and a training grant of AUD $3,000 are also available over the program.

Terms and conditions

See the UQ Research Scholarships policy for details. A domestic part-time student with carer’s responsibilities, a medical condition or a disability, which prevents them from studying full time may be eligible for scholarship consideration, on a case by case basis.

Students must be willing to undertake part of their study at both institutions (a minimum of 1 year at the host). 

Application process

These scholarships attract a large number of applications and are therefore highly competitive. The are several steps involved in the application process, and these are outlined below. Please note this process is for the UQ-based projects. The Exeter-based projects have a different process.

  1. Expression of Interest: To be considered for this program, you must complete an Expression of Interest via the link below.
  2. Shortlisting: The project team will review all Expressions of Interest received. They may contact you at this stage to request more information or to have an informal discussion about your suitability for the project.
  3. Interview: The project team will nominate the two most suitable applicants for each project (or only one if they prefer), and these applicants will be invited to attend a formal interview. As there are seven UQ-based projects, a maximum of 14 applicants will be interviewed.
  4. Invitation to apply: The applicants who were interviewed will be ranked. The top five ranked interviewees will be invited to submit a full application, providing they have applied for five different projects. If two applicants have expressed interest in the same project, the lower ranked applicant of the two will not proceed, and the applicant with the next highest ranking for a different project will be invited to apply instead.
  5. Assessment of application: If you are invited to submit a full application, this is the point at which you will be assessed for eligibility to enter the PhD program. To avoid delays at this point, you should familiarise yourself with the program requirements including evidence of relevant research experience and English language proficiency prior to submitting an Expression of Interest.
  6. Commencement: Successful applicants will commence at The University of Queensland in Research Quarter 1 (January, 2020).

Expressions of interest are open until 20 May, 2019.

Submit an expression of interest

Questions? Contact the Graduate School.

Projects

Characterisation of novel substances in wastewater that select for antimicrobial resistance

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Professor Kevin Thomas

Dr Jianhua Guo

Dr Jake O’Brien

Exeter

Dr Aimee Murray

Professor Will Gaze

AstraZeneca

Professor Jason Snape

 

Extended anthropogenic use of antimicrobials is leading to rapidly evolving, multi-drug antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a global scale. It has been recently shown that non-antibiotic drugs and other chemicals may play a role in the emergence of antibiotic resistance. Wastewater contains a cocktail of chemicals, including drugs, personal care products and household and industrial chemicals. Elucidating which of these has the potential to induce AMR is challenging, however possible through an effects-directed analytical approach whereby wastewater is fractionated. Following testing using a novel AMR assay, the fractions will be tested using chromatography coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry to reveal high risk, priority compounds that may enrich for AMR.

This PhD project will work on developing analytical methods for the fractionation and analysis of wastewater. The developed techniques will be used to characterise the presence of substances that induce AMR. Wastewater will be systematically fractionated and tested using a novel, low cost yet high-throughput AMR assay. This assay exposes wastewater-derived bacterial communities to wastewater fractions to screen for biological effects and has been shown to be a reliable proxy for selection of key AMR genes. Active fractions will be analysed using high-resolution mass spectrometry. 

Through this project the PhD researcher will gain experience in chemical analytical techniques, as well as theoretical and practical experience in identifying and quantifying contaminant fate processes and aspects of microbiology and environmental risk assessment of AMR.

The Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) has modern analytical and archiving facilitates located at their Brisbane laboratories. The labs are equipped with the most advanced high-resolution mass spectrometers coupled to liquid and gas chromatography. QAEHS also hosts the Australian Environmental Specimen Bank providing access to thousands of wastewater samples dating back to 2009 and representative of up to 70% of the Australian population. The successful candidate will join an active and dynamic cohort of around 20 students working in related fields.

The successful candidate will also benefit from access to fully equipped, state-of-the-art CATII microbiology laboratories at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus, including a 384-well plate qPCR machine for high throughput detection of AMR genes. Access to high performance computing will be granted to enable analysis of large mixed datasets, to identify hotspots for resistance selection and prioritisation of high risk chemicals. The student will join a thriving community of postgraduates at the Penryn Campus which ranks in the top 10 nationally for student satisfaction.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Pharmacy.

Questions about this project should be directed to Professor Kevin Thomas kevin.thomas@uq.edu.au.

 

Where no eyes can see: Tracking Australian shorebird migration using radar

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Professor Richard Fuller

Exeter

Dr Jason Chapman 

Bureau of Meteorology

Dr Joshua Soderholm 

 

More than five million migratory shorebirds visit Australia each year from Asian breeding grounds, where they spend the non-breeding season on wetlands throughout the continent. Studies at the University of Queensland have revealed that most species are declining quickly, and eight have now been listed as nationally threatened as a result. Yet effective monitoring of migratory shorebirds in Australia has proven extremely difficult because many sites are inaccessible in the summer months when the birds are present.

Continental-scale networks of weather radars provide unique opportunities for monitoring of migratory birds over very large scales, and they have been used to great effect in Europe and North America for this purpose. Migrating birds produce characteristic radar signals which can be separated from signals produced by weather, and radar ornithologists have developed methods for classifying and analysing signals produced by birds. In Europe and North America, systems have been put in place to routinely separate and archive these signals, so that migration biologists can use them to study bird migration patterns over very large scales (100s of km) and across multiple seasons and years. Australia has a similar network of weather radars, yet it has never before been used to monitor bird migration. 

Weather radars cover the eastern and northern coastlines between Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney, and the publicly-accessible archive of usable data stretches back about 5-10 years across this region. These weather radars (which use very similar technology to the European and North American radars) also record huge numbers of migratory birds, but as yet these data represent untapped resources which are filtered by radar meteorologists and discarded. During this PhD study, the student will assess the capability of Australian weather radars to provide the data required for long-term monitoring and quantification of shorebird migration to, from, and around Australia. Specifically, the studentship will tackle the following objectives:

  1. Use Doppler and Dual-polarised weather radar data from radar stations in eastern and northern Australia to separate and classify the echoes produced by flocks of migrating birds, and produce estimates of shorebird migration traffic rates, flight heights, speeds and directions.
  2. Validate the bird migration products from the weather radars using field observations at key sites in Australia.
  3. Compare continental-scale bird migration patterns along the Asian-Australasian Flyway with those in Europe and North America.

Establish a radar-based migratory shorebird monitoring system that complements and extends on-ground counting.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences.

Questions about this project should be directed to Professor Richard Fuller r.fuller@uq.edu.au.

 

Ecosystem resilience to pathogens: Understanding the interplay between pathogen host shifts and coevolutionary dynamics

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Dr Jan Engelstaedter

Exeter

Dr Ben Longdon

 

Ecosystems are constantly faced with a critical environmental hazard: infectious diseases. This is because many pathogens do not only attack a single species but several species within an ecosystem. A major source of emerging infectious diseases in humans, wildlife and agriculture are host shifts, where pathogens jump between host species. To assess ecosystem resilience to the threat of invading pathogens, an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of host range evolution and its consequences is vital.

In this project, we will make important steps towards this goal by investigating the interplay between host shift dynamics and host-pathogen coevolution. Host shifts are often studied as purely ecological or epidemiological processes. Conversely, host-pathogen coevolution is typically studied within a single host species. Our proposed research will combine these two aspects into a single framework. This is important because adaptations and counter-adaptations of hosts and pathogens will be a major determinant of the likelihood of a host shift being successful.

Our project will have a theoretical and an experimental component that mutually benefit each other. In the theoretical part, to be performed at UQ under the supervision of Dr Engelstaedter, the PhD candidate will develop mathematical models of ecosystems consisting of several host and pathogen species. The models will explore how coevolution is expected to affect a pathogen’s host range, prevalence and how this feeds into the stability of the ecosystem. In the experimental part of the project, to be performed at the University of Exeter under Dr Ben Longdon’s supervision, the PhD candidate will carry out empirical work with bacteriophages (viruses) and their bacterial hosts. This system has many advantages that make high-throughput experimental evolution studies feasible, and the phages have an extremely broad host range (infecting both gram positive and negative bacteria) that make them ideally suited to study host shifts. The experiments will be the first to investigate how coevolution with their hosts will affect a pathogen’s ability to infect other hosts. The experiments will also test whether coevolution with a pathogen will affect a host’s susceptibility to new pathogens.

Our project is expected to make major contributions to our understanding of the factors underlying pathogen host shifts between species in an ecosystem. This in turn will help us understand and ultimately predict the emergence of infectious diseases.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component

The ideal applicant has a background in evolutionary biology, population genetics, ecology and/or microbiology. Applicants with a strong quantitative background (e.g. a degree in mathematics or physics) are also encouraged to apply.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Jan Engelstaedter j.engelstaedter@uq.edu.au

 

Sexual conflict and aging

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Dr Katrina McGuigan

Exeter

Professor David Hosken

 

At any given age men are more likely to die than women, but women have poorer health at older ages. This is referred to as the “male-female, health-survival paradox” – women live longer but suffer more.  This paradox is not driven by selective death as women have higher survival probabilities at every age, but tend to live more of their lives in poorer health.

Our previous work (Nature Communications) used mathematical models and Drosophila flies to provide a general solution to the health-survival paradox based on intra-locus sexual conflict, where alleles segregating in the population have late-acting positive effects on male fitness, but negative effects on female health. However, we know little about variation in the inter-sexual genetic associations, and so whether this solution to the paradox is likely to be general.

This project will address the question of how inter-sexual genetic correlations for life history (reproduction, aging and health) evolve and therefore how easy it is to change the genetic architecture to resolve the inter-sex health-survival trade-off. Results of the study will be of considerable interest to evolutionary biologists, gerontologist and geneticists as studies of this type have never been conducted. The project will provide the student with a range of experiences and skills that will equip them to conduct their own innovative research in either applied areas of biology (including health) or in fundamental research.

In this project, the student will determine the intersexual genetic correlations for lifespan, age-dependent fertility and a marker of late-life health (i.e. healthy aging) across the well-established Drosophila phylogeny to gain insight into how the genetic basis of male and female health and longevity has evolved. To achieve this, the student will take advantage of Professor Hosken and Dr Archer’s knowledge of life history (aging and reproduction), sexual selection and sexual conflict, and access their unique resource of laboratory populations sampled from across the Drosophila phylogeny. Dr McGuigan will then work with the student to train them in the application of sophisticated multivariate analyses to characterise among-species variation in the inter-sex correlations and the within sex correlations among traits. 

The student will divide their time between experimental design, theoretical modelling and experimental work at the University of Exeter (Hosken and Archer), and application of complex multivariate quantitative genetic analyses at the University of Queensland (McGuigan).

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Katrina McGuigan k.mcguigan1@uq.edu.au

 

Design, optimisation, and fabrication of patient-specific multi-phasic total disc replacements to address age-related degenerative disc disease

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Professor Justin Cooper-White 

Professor Ernst Wolvetang 

Exeter

Dr Timothy Holsgrove 

Dr Junning Chen

Spinal problems affect over 80% of the population, the majority of which are aged, representing a major and growing social and an economic burden on health services world-wide, currently costing more than 200 billion USD a year. These problems are frequently associated with the degeneration of the intervertebral disc (IVD), a condition that is highly penetrant within our ageing population and severely limits their ability to participate and contribute to society. Unfortunately, treatments have limited success. Spinal fusion is the sixth most common operating procedure in the US (488,000 per year), but the most costly (total $12.8 billion per year). This procedure can provide pain relief, but can cause increased stress on adjacent tissues, leading to a degenerative cascade. Total disc replacement (TDR) provides an alternative, but current devices show little to no improvement in clinical outcomes over the fusion procedures they are designed to supersede. We believe this situation arises because no current TDRs replicate the unique biophysical (mechanical) properties of the IVD. We propose in this PhD project to develop a ‘design, optimisation, and fabrication’ pipeline for patient-specific multi-phasic TDRs that can be tailored to the mechanical environment of a particular patient’s spine, and through this mechanical-matching, support the generation of new tissue from a patient’s own stem cells. Our collaboration provides the broad range of expertise to achieve this urgently required outcome.

This project will build on previous work performed at the University of Queensland on the construction of regenerative multi-component, multi-phasic scaffolds using a novel additive biofabrication methodology, and differentiation of human tissue-derived stem cells into IVD cells, with added expertise at the University of Exeter in multi-axis spinal loading, and biomechanical optimisation techniques using finite element modelling. Supported by these previous achievements and expertise, this project will focus on the development of a “design, fabricate, optimise (DFO)” total disc replacement (TDR) pipeline.

The successful applicant will investigate the design and fabrication of a multi-scale total disc replacement, develop a finite element model, complete topological optimisation of the TDR design using level-set or gradient-based methods, and validate optimisation algorithms and outputs against in-vitro test data. The optimised disc design produced from this project will form the basis of a patient-specific, regenerative total disc replacement, which will be assessed in vitro for its ability to support the differentiation of human mesenchymal stems into the appropriate cellular phenotypes present in the IVD under loads mimicking those experienced by the IVD in humans.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at The University of Queensland.

Questions about this project should be directed to Professor Justin Cooper-White j.cooperwhite@uq.edu.au.

 

Patterns of objectively measured physical activity and healthy ageing: Does one-size-fit-all?

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Dr Gregore Iven Mielke

Professor Wendy J Brown

Exeter

Associate Professor Melvyn Hillsdon 

Dr Brad Metcalf

Population ageing is associated with increased economic and societal burden, due to multiple morbidities and loss of function. Physical activity (PA) is arguably the most important modifiable preventive factor associated with healthier ageing, especially if optimal patterns of PA are established in late-middle to early older age (referred to here as the 'young-old' life-stage). 

Public health guidelines for physical activity encourage adults to accumulate at least 150-minutes per week of moderate-vigorous intensity PA. However, this ‘one-size-fits-all’ recommendation may be less appropriate for young-old adults. Recent studies utilising objective measures of PA (accelerometers) have suggested that, at this life-stage, lower volumes of PA confer significant health benefits. Such studies have only focused on a few simple metrics that summarise the time spent in PA at different activity intensities. These metrics were based on calibration studies undertaken in young healthy populations and therefore are likely to misclassify levels of PA in older people.

The paucity of studies that precisely measure physical activity in young-old adults means that true associations between PA and healthy ageing are likely to be underestimated, and our understanding of the ‘optimal’ PA pattern for successful ageing is poorly understood.

The development of novel metrics that better reflect levels and patterns of PA at this life-stage would provide a better understanding of how physical activity patterns are related to specific health outcomes, which in turn could lead to more appropriate and targeted prevention interventions. This project will use systematic reviews, meta-analyses and new analyses of data from large population-based cohort studies in Australia and the UK that have measured physical activity using raw accelerometry in over 100,000 'young-old' adults, to investigate whether different patterns of PA are associated with different health outcomes.

The specific aims of this project are to:

  1. identify patterns of objectively-measured physical activity (assessed with wrist-worn accelerometers) and to develop novel metrics for assessing the relationships between PA and health outcomes in 'young-old' adults;
  2. investigate the socioeconomic, demographic, social and environmental (neighbourhood) determinants of specific patterns of objectively measured physical activity in 'young-old' adults;
  3. improve understanding of inequalities in physical activity at this life-stage.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Gregore Iven Mielke g.ivenmielke@uq.edu.au.

 

High-intensity interval exercise interventions in educational settings

Project team Project description Preferred academic background

UQ

Dr Michalis Stylianou

Dr Jacki Walker

Exeter

Dr Alan Barker

Dr Lisa Price

Despite only ~ 20% of children and adolescents meeting the physical activity guidelines and the identification of educational settings as ideal sites for physical activity promotion, contemporary systematic reviews show that traditional school-based interventions are unsuccessful.Accordingly, novel approaches in educational settings are needed to promote physical activity in children and adolescents and promote health and wellbeing.

Given recent data suggesting that health benefits (e.g. cardiometabolic health and fitness outcomes) are driven by vigorous intensity physical activity, nterventions targeting vigorous intensity physical activity have been identified as a novel approach to promoting health in youth. Specifically, there have been calls in recent physical activity guidelines in the UK and USA to focus on the role of high-intensity interval exercise (HIIE) training as a method to increase vigorous intensity physical activity, to promote health and wellbeing in children and adolescents. Relevant reviews support the utility of HIIE to reduce cardiometabolic risk and augment cardiorespiratory fitness in children and adolescents. However, the majority of HIIE research has been conducted in laboratories and relevant research in authentic educational settings such as schools, a unique and opportune location to target health behaviour modification in children and adolescents, is limited. Further, several shortcomings have been identified in school-based HIIE research.

Building on the recommendationsof the narrative review by Bond et al. and a systematic review by Stylianou, Barker, Walker, et al. [in progress], this project will address the following aims:

  1. Investigate the acceptability, feasibility, and process of delivery of HIIE interventions in educational settings.
  2. Investigate the effect of HIIE interventions in educational settings on: (a) markers of cardiometabolic health, (b) cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, (c) physical activity levels, (d) psychological factors relating to exercise participation (e.g. enjoyment) and wellbeing (e.g. self-esteem, anxiety), and (e) cognitive and academic outcomes.
  3. To examine the contribution of nutrition as a confounding factor or exploratory variable in HIIE interventions.
  4. To examine whether intervention outcomes are altered by participant characteristics (e.g. age, sex, body weight status), delivery setting (e.g. in class, before/after school), and intervention characteristics (e.g. modality, frequency, intensity, duration).

The uniqueness of this PhD lies in addressing the above novel aims, adopting a co-construction approach by involving stakeholders (e.g. students, teachers) in the design of HIIE interventions, and undertaking a comprehensive process evaluation.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Michalis Stylianou m.stylianou@uq.edu.au.

 

View Exeter-based projects open for expression of interest

Project team Name of project Contact details

Exeter

Dr Angela Gallego-Sala

UQ

Associate Professor Patrick Moss

Forests, peat, and past fires: understanding the drivers of past fire in Amazonian forests

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Angela Gallego-Sala a.gallego-sala@exeter.ac.uk

Exeter

Professor Anne Spencer

UQ

Dr Laura Deckx

Exploring the complex relationships between pre-existing conditions and cancer diagnosis in an ageing population

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Professor Anne Spencer a.e.spencer@exeter.ac.uk

Exeter

Professor Brett Day

UQ 

Associate Professor Jonathan Rhodes

Designing natural capital landscapes for changing and uncertain futures

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Professor Brett Day brett.day@exeter.ac.uk

Exeter

Dr Penda Diallo

UQ

Dr Kathryn Sturman

Understanding uptake of sustainable technologies by small-scale collective mining operations in West Africa
 

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Penda Diallo p.n.diallo@exeter.ac.uk

Exeter

Dr Rachel Freathy

UQ

Professor David Evans

Using Genetics to Investigate the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease in the UK Biobank Study and Other Large Scale Population Based Cohorts

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Rachel Freathy r.freathy@exeter.ac.uk

Exeter

Dr Sharon Dixon

UQ

Dr Anna Hatton

Optimised Sports Footwear Design Characteristics for Maintenance of Healthy Activity in Older Adult Populations

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Sharon Dixon s.j.dixon@exeter.ac.uk

Exeter

Dr Anna Murray

UQ

Professor Gita Mishra

Reproductive ageing

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University Exeter.

Questions about this project should be directed to Dr Anna Murray a.murray@exeter.ac.uk