PhD Scholarship - Characterisation of novel substances in wastewater that select for antimicrobial resistance

The University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of Exeter are seeking an exceptional student for this PhD Scholarship: Characterisation of novel substances in wastewater that select for antimicrobial resistance as part of the QUEX Institute. This joint PhD scholarship provides a fantastic opportunity for a talented doctoral student to work closely with a world class research group and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions. The successful applicant will have the chance to study in Australia and the UK, and will graduate with a joint degree from The University of Queensland and the University of Exeter.

In addition to this project, a further six UQ-based projects are available, along with seven Exeter-based projects.


Project details

Characterisation of novel substances in wastewater that select for antimicrobial resistance

Project team Project description Preferred academic background


Professor Kevin Thomas

Dr Jianhua Guo

Dr Jake O’Brien


Dr Aimee Murray

Professor Will Gaze


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


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.

How to apply

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.