PhD opportunities - additional studentships for 2017

The 2017 recruitment round for PhDs is now closed, however we have the following additional NERC funded studentships available for a start in October 2017. The application process is very short so please check any deadlines, application process and eligibility criteria carefully.

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All our doctoral training opportunities are through Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) or Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT). We do not fund individuals and you will usually apply directly through the host university or DTP.

Eligibility: NERC studentships are bound by the Research Councils UK Grant Terms and Conditions including residency and minimum qualifications. Doctoral Training in Environmental Research in the UK provides a useful summary of these.

The BGS has three categories of PhDs:

  • Hosted
  • CASE
  • Jointly supervised

Opportunities for PhDs starting in 2017 are listed by BGS science area below. New opportunities are added as they are made available so please check our site or Twitter @DocBGS regularly.

BGS Hosted opportunities

Addressing nuclear legacies: Geological modelling of complex Quaternary sequences under West Cumbrian nuclear sites to understand the fate and transport of nuclear contaminants in the sub-surface

BGS supervisor: Dr J Lee

University supervisor: Dr T Bradwell, University of Stirling, School of Biological & Environmental Sciences, Stirling

Industry supervisor: Prof N Smith, National Nuclear Laboratory


Project Description

West Cumbria hosts two sites of historic nuclear activity, Sellafield (the most complex industrial site in the UK) and the UK's national Low Level Water Repository (LLWR) at Drigg, and is in the early stages of site investigation for a new nuclear power station at Moorside. Both operational sites have a long history of nuclear activities, but as Sellafield site ceases reprocessing it will be decommissioned, whilst the LLWR will continue to dispose of Low Level Waste for decades to come.

All three sites are underlain by a highly-complex Quaternary succession that was laid-down, overridden and deformed (glacitectonic) by glaciers during the last (Mid-Late Devensian) glaciation. However, despite a number of high-resolution subsurface studies (Smith, 2010; Smith and Merritt, 2008; Shevelan and Smith, 2011), a large database comprising over 3000 boreholes, a wealth of site investigation (SI) data and an extensive regional knowledge, gained through these studies and the Nirex investigations during the 1990s, the focus has always been on underpinning the understanding of potential contaminant migration in groundwater in the vicinity of and under the sites, rather than understanding geological evolution. Coupled with a lack of ties of site databases to other databases (e.g. Nirex), means that geological evolution and properties of the substrate beneath both sites remains poorly constrained in the context of the wider regional lithostratigraphic outline.

The project aims to address this by using a multi-proxy approach utilising available field sections, geological mapping, laboratory analyses, borehole and SI data, onshore and offshore geophysical data combined with 3D geological modelling techniques to characterise the shallow sub-surface geology beneath the West Cumbrian coastal plain in the vicinity of the nuclear sites. Enhanced geological characterisation of the glacial geology has the potential to address a number of key scientific and applied issues. Scientifically, this study will enhance an understanding of how glaciers interact with substrates which the override providing insight into the significance of bed rheology and thermal regime in controlling both glacial processes and glacier dynamics. From an applied perspective, characterising the 3D geology of the sites, in the context of the regional Quaternary evolution, will lead to a much better understanding the fate and transport mechanisms of radionuclides and associated contaminants within groundwater.

The student will undertake the following:

  • Field-based mapping (inland) and sedimentological / structural description of available coastal sections;
  • Laboratory analysis of glacial sediments;
  • Collate and characterise available SI and geophysical data;
  • Characterise the 3D Quaternary geology of the surface and shallow sub-surface of the operational nuclear sites and their vicinity, using 3D geological modelling software;
  • Characterise the relationship of superficial geology with bedrock;
  • Develop a dynamic geological model documenting the Quaternary evolution of the Drigg and Sellafield sites, fitting it into the wider glacial evolution of northwest England during the Late Devensian;
  • Technical training and transferrable skills with the aim of enhancing post-PhD employment opportunities in either industry or academia;

Funding Notes

This fully funded IAPETUS PhD studentship includes industrial contribution from the National Nuclear Laboratory, and comprises full tuition fees at the Home/EU rate plus a tax-free stipend of £14,296 per year for 3.5 years. Research & Travel costs are also included within the studentship.

The successful candidate will join a thriving postgraduate research student community at the British Geological Survey based around our membership of Doctorial Training Partnerships. The project will involve also working with Prof N Smith, Lead Geologist at the National Nuclear Laboratory.


Livingstone, S J, et al. 2012. Glaciodynamics of the central sector of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet in Northern England. Earth Science Reviews 111, 25-55.

Merritt, J W, Auton, C A. 2000. An outline of the lithostratigraphy and depositional history of Quaternary deposits in the Sellafield district, West Cumbria. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society 53, 129-154.

Shevelan, J and Smith, N T. 2011. Characterisation of the Geology of the UK Low Level Waste Repository. 14th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management, Reims, September 2011.

Smith, N T. 2010. To what extent can GIS be used to address the needs of 2D, 3D and 4D environmental modelling at UK nuclear sites? Unpublished MSc thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester.

Smith, N T and Merritt, J W. 2008. Further insights into the Quaternary superficial geology of West Cumbria, using 3D geological modelling: implications for Devensian palaeogeographic evolution. 33rd International Geoscience Convention, Oslo, Norway.

Williams, G D, et al., 2001. Late Devensian glaciotectonic deformation at St Bees, Cumbria: a critical wedge model. Journal of the Geological Society 158, 125-135.


The studentship is suitable for candidates wishing to develop their skills, expertise and gain further practical experience in the fields of glacial geology, engineering geology and / or 3D geological modelling. A key emphasis of the PhD is developing the transferable and technical skills of the successful candidate, with the aim of providing them with a strong CV which will help them to move into employment following the completion of the PhD.

Applicants should have a First or Upper Second class honours degree in Geology, Earth Science or related subject and (preferably) a relevant Masters-level qualification. Other relevant research experience, skills and a willingness and enthusiasm to learn will also be taken into account. Experience and skills in some of the following would be beneficial: ArGIS, stratigraphy, Quaternary (glacial) geology, geomorphology, structural geology, sedimentology and 3D geological modelling.

How to apply:

Please send CV and personal statement to or

Application deadline: Closing date for applications is 5pm on June 16th 2017. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview between 20th - 22nd June. If travel to the UK is not possible, webcam interviews (Skype / Facetime) can be arranged.

Successful candidates will be expected to start their programme of research on October 2nd 2017.

Further details: If you wish to discuss an application for this project informally, please contact Tom Bradwell, Jonathan Lee or Nick Smith. However, all applications must be made in accordance with the University of Stirling guidelines.

IAPETUS – NERC DTP led by Durham University:

Funding and other information:

Advancing micro-analytical isotopic and trace-element ICP-MS techniques for future applications to ore genesis and exploration

BGS Supervisors: Dr Simon Tapster and Dr Matthew Horstwood – NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories (NIGL), British Geological Survey

University Supervisor: Dr Daniel Smith and Dr Tiffany Barry – University of Leicester

CASE Partner: Teledyne-CETAC Technologies


Project description:

Overview: Magmatic systems and their associated ore deposits are the end-products of protracted events that lead to complex and diverse signatures of geochemical processes and source inputs. Although whole-rock (bulk) analyses provide first-order assessments that can be used to great effect, there is an ever increasing need to assess system heterogeneity by delving into the wealth of information contained in the mineral-scale records of magmatic and ore forming systems. In order to interrogate these mineral-scale records, tracer isotopic systems (e.g. Lu-Hf, Sm-Nd, Rb-Sr, Pb-Pb) and trace element data need to be measured at a level of precision greater than system variations, whilst simultaneously achieving a spatial resolution that can be linked to detailed petrographic and geochronological records. For many isotopic and trace element analyses throughout the Earth Sciences, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is the versatile tool of choice. However, there are significant limitations to conventional methods of sample introduction that arise from low volumes of material, low elemental abundance, or the absence of well characterised reference materials. Until recently, these limitations have left considerable amounts of high resolution (spatial resolution or analytical precision) geological information 'off-limits'.

The new MVX-7100ul workstation developed by Teledyne-CETAC Technologies provides novel sample introduction technology for ICP-MS analysis that utilises a material quantity that can be reduced by at least an order of magnitude compared to standard solution analysis methods, whilst maintaining comparable levels of precision and accuracy in isotopic ratio determination. This technological leap realises the possibility to analyse isotopic systems and trace elements within samples previously thought to be present at too low an abundance and has the potential to have major impact in geochemical analysis. The challenge now faced is to turn a proof of concept into routine methods for both scientific research and industry application.

The aim of this project is to provide the transition between the state-of-the-art MVX-7100ul workstation technology and end-user applications. This will be achieved by:

  1. Defining measurement capabilities in low volumes or low concentrations of accessory phases commonly used for geochemical analyses within the Earth Sciences;
  2. Exploring new avenues of research utilising isotopic tracers (e.g. Lu-Hf, Sm-Nd, Rb-Sr, Pb-Pb) in non-conventional mineral phases where the elements of interest occur in low abundance;
  3. Improving characterisation of widely-used reference materials required throughout Earth sciences for micro-analytical work;
  4. Developing effective ways of linking your novel data sets to petrographic and U-Pb geochronological data to explore current paradigms and issues surrounding magmatic and ore forming systems in unprecedented detail.

The project outcomes will be fed back to the product developer and CASE partner Teledyne-CETAC Technologies to improve capability and efficiency of the MVX-7100ul workstation.

Methodology: This research project will be focussed on the application of the MVX-7100ul workstation to (Multi-collector and Single collector) ICP-MS analysis. Using a range of synthetic solutions and geological reference materials you will map out the achievable measurement precision and accuracy at low sample amounts, for a suite of widely-used tracer isotope systems and less commonly measured trace-elements. You will design and carry out experiments to evaluate potential matrix effects that mimic natural systems/minerals, and develop suitable ion exchange chemistry procedures to deal with the issues encountered for different elements, minerals and mineral volumes. These results will then be used to: 1) Identify efficiencies and trade-offs for analytical routines; 2) Provide new or better assessments of trace element and isotopic reference values for commonly used material; 3) target a number of key geological case studies that showcase the advantages of the techniques you have developed and how these can be coupled with detailed petrography and high-precision U-Pb geochronology to gain new insights into magmatic and ore forming processes.

Training and skills: The training programme will look to give the "best of both worlds" and equip you for a future career in either research or industry. Through the CENTA doctoral training programme you will benefit from 45 days training throughout your PhD. In the first year, students are trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. Any key geoscience knowledge gaps you might have can be addressed through comprehensive training courses available through the Access to comprehensive training courses will also be available through the BGS Geoschool and University of Leicester, offering amongst others, expertise in mineralogy, ore deposit geology and igneous systems.

The host institution, NIGL- British Geological Survey, is a NERC research facility that specialises in chronology and tracer-isotope analysis and interacts with a wide range of University and Industry partners. During the project you will gain a vast amount of hands-on advanced technical training in state-of-the ICP-MS techniques (single and multi-collector), high-precision U-Pb geochronology, clean laboratory sample preparation techniques, and statistical methods to evaluate uncertainty within geochemical data. Training in petrographic and compositional imaging techniques (e.g. optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, LA-ICP-MS) for mineralogical characterisation will also be provided. Your project will run in parallel with a large consortia research programme From Arc Magmas to Ore Systems (FAMOS), based on mineral systems approaches to define new proxies for ore deposit identification and low impact natural resource exploration.

To complete the spectrum of training available to you, you will work closely with the CASE partner Teledyne-CETAC Technologies - a world leader in sample introduction and sample handling equipment for elemental analysis for ICP-MS techniques, developing the symbiotic relationship between end-user application and technology/product development. This industry interaction, including a work placement (≤3 months), will provide you with hands on experience of how technology development can be translated into downstream end-user application.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE): CASE partner Teledyne-CETAC Technologies is a worldwide leader in sample introduction and sample handling equipment for elemental analysis for ICP-MS techniques. They manufacture and market a family of product based solutions for the analysis of elements in samples ranging from drinking water and high purity acids to radioactive waste and products and services for customers around the world, for use in every industry where rapid and accurate determination of trace element concentrations is required.

Dr Simon Tapster is an expert in high precision geochronology and leader in magmatic and ore systems at NIGL-BGS.

Dr Matthew Horstwood is the Plasma Mass Spectrometry Facility manager at NIGL-BGS and a specialist in isotope ratio ICP-MS data acquisition and interpretation.

Dr Tiffany Barry runs the LA-ICP-MS at Leicester and is an expert in wholerock geochemistry and radiogenic isotopes in magmatic systems.

Dr Dan Smith is a Lecturer in Applied and Environmental Geology, with research interests ore deposits, magmatic systems, and mineral micro-analysis for trace elements.

Further details: Applicants with enthusiasm for lab work and a methodical approach from all science and backgrounds are encouraged. Previous experience of the geoscience application areas is not essential but an interest in mass spectrometry is desirable. Details about the research carried out at NIGL-BGS can be found on our website.

The studentship is available for full-time registration is fully funded for three years 6 months, together with an annual tax-free stipend; the RCUK rate for 2017/18 is £14,553. The successful applicant will receive an RTSG (Researcher Training Support Grant) of £8,000 towards e.g. travel, conferences and running costs.

How to Apply

For more information, or to begin the application process please contact Dr Simon Tapster. The application deadline is 29th May 2017 and interviews are expected to be held online the following week.