Health Psychology - Life and Natural Sciences - University of Derby

PhD studentship (Graduate Teaching Assistant): Alternative methods for assessing habitat quality in UK waterways

Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, College of Life and Natural Sciences, University of Derby


Qualification type:



University of Derby, Kedleston Road campus

Funding for:

UK Students, EU Students

Funding amount:





4th January 2017




About the studentship:

Applications are invited for a full-time PhD studentship commencing February/March 2017 or as soon as possible thereafter. The successful applicant will work within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at the University of Derby to address a predefined research topic (see details below). The studentship will be granted in the form of a Graduate Teaching Assistantship which means that, alongside your research, you will undertake a limited amount of teaching through which you will contribute to the wider University community and develop skills you need for a successful academic career.

If granted the PhD studentship, subject to the interview process, and following satisfactory progress, you will receive £14,296 p.a. for three years and your fees will be fully covered at a UK/EU level.


About the research topic:

The PhD will explore alternative methods for assessing habitat quality in UK waterways.

Current methods for assessing the quality of waterways (rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs etc.) require laborious searching from dedicated individuals who need a good knowledge of the taxa they are searching for. In some instances, such knowledge is not sufficient and in many cases certain species often get overlooked. Moreover, surveying by species observation is invasive, causing disturbance, and can cause stress, injury or in some cases fatalities. Designing new methods which are quicker, cheaper and equally or more reliable than previous methods are therefore highly desirable to stakeholders including ecological consultants, developers, governing bodies and researchers alike.

In the UK, and nearly every country in the world, freshwater ecosystems are often the least studied habitat but have suffered major declines in native populations of both invertebrates and vertebrates. Yet if such studies are undertaken, valuable data can be gained for industrial mitigation that affects humans as well as the fate of individual species and the effects overall of the freshwater ecological chain. In addition, these systems host some of the most problematic invasive species including the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and the killer or demon shrimps (Dikerogammarus villosus and D. haemobaphes). The use of environmental DNA (also known as eDNA) is a newly emerging tool available to a growing demographic and offers the potential of vastly improving our detection of both native and invasive species throughout aquatic systems. This PhD aims to explore the use of this technology targeting a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate species throughout the UK. These include the previous examples, along with the Quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), the depressed river mussel (Pseudanodonta complanata), the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), the fine lined pea mussel (Pisidium tenuilineatum) and the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). The work will also include aspects of field work whereby the PhD student will optimise the collection methods for each species with a view to getting methodologies adopted by others ensuring that results are consistent across the country.  

This work would also underpin a further PhD project aimed at addressing a metagenomics approach in an attempt to cover a more comprehensive group of invertebrates tackling those usually classified in BMWP surveys and potentially expanding to cover invertebrate species especially fish. These new techniques will be validated against a range of existing techniques for surveying freshwater ecosystems.   


Further information about the research environment and supervisory package

You will join an active research group consisting of 6 PhD students and 2 Masters students and be supervised by Drs Michael Sweet and Andrew Ramsey (see details below). You will work closely with two of these PhD students who currently work on eDNA with native and invasive crayfish in the UK and bioremediation of mussels. Your commercial supervisor will be Troy White who is the Laboratory Manager at Surescreen Scientifics. Surescreen Scientifics is part of a medical and forensic company with two facilities in the Derby area, and the Morley site close to Derby, and has forensic, analytical and DNA facilities.

You will have full access to the new ‘Aquatic Research Facility’ to complete any ex situ work to validate your methods, along with access to the molecular and microbiology suites.

We will ensure that you have the required training necessary for you to complete your PhD over the next three years and encourage you to attend at least one international or national conference associated with the above research topic during your studentship.

You will be provided with your own desk and computing facilities at the University of Derby and at our commercial partners, Surescreen. You will also have regular meetings with both the academic supervisory team and the commercial team (Surescreen).

The work will likely involve outside partners including; Natural England, DEFRA, CEFAS and Bristol Zoo, continuing our current work and relationships with these project partners.

Please see the staff profiles or email the project supervisors for more information related to this project. 


Dr Michael Sweet, Senior Lecturer in Invertebrate Biology




Dr Andrew Ramsey, Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology





We are looking for a highly-motivated student who is capable of studying at PhD level and enjoys independent research. Prospective candidates are also expected to have a good Honours degree. An interest in the research topic is essential and a background in any of the following would be useful: molecular ecology, molecular biology, genetics, chemistry/biochemistry, aquatic ecology, freshwater ecology, aquaculture, consultancy.

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Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Michael Sweet (, or Dr Andrew Ramsey ( Please note that applications sent directly to these email addresses will not be accepted.


For details of how to apply, please see:


In addition to the application documents listed as required on the website, please upload the supporting documents listed below:

  1. A 2 page curriculum vitae
  2. A 500 word personal statement explaining your interest in and aptitude for this project. In particular we would like to learn about what skills you feel you can bring to the project and any novel ideas you would like to take forward under this theme if given the opportunity. Please reference where necessary. Use this opportunity to illustrate your background understanding of eDNA and the organisms we have highlighted in the project proposal.


Complete applications should be forwarded to Stuart Wain at quoting reference number HabQal16 in the title of your email.


Deadline for applications: Wednesday 4 January 2017


Interviews will be held mid to late January 2017. If you have not been contacted by then please assume that on this occasion you have not been shortlisted for interview.