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Development and application of a new approach for understanding uncertainty in next-generation risk assessment


   Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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  Dr D Childs  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

ECORISC Partner organisation: Bayer

Project Overview

Synthetic chemicals are a pervasive and essential component of modern societies. They bring many benefits that enhance human health and wellbeing. However, if released into the environment, many synthetic chemicals can have adverse effects on ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. Regulatory decision-makers have to weigh the human benefits of using a chemical against the potential environmental impacts when deciding whether to place chemicals on the market. Environmental risk assessment (ERA) is how we assess a chemical's potential to cause adverse effects. However, the outcome of ERA is uncertain as ecosystems are complex. It is therefore essential to understand and reduce this uncertainty. Uncertainty analysis formalises uncertainties in decision-making problems. Qualitative methods use expert knowledge to categorise and rank the different sources of uncertainty. In contrast, quantitative methods aim to quantify the biases and uncertainties associated with different variables. Uncertainty analysis in regulatory ERA is currently driven by applying standardised assessment factors applied to endpoints (e.g. NOEC, LC50) from a limited number of standardised single-species toxicity tests. 

The emergence of non-traditional modelling methodologies represents an opportunity to characterise hazard and risk in a more detailed way. However, the performance of these non-traditional methodologies compared to traditional approaches remains largely untested. This project will assess how these emerging methods can reduce uncertainty in environmental risk assessment compared to current approaches. The project will develop a stepwise approach to addressing uncertainty, starting from no chemical-specific information to detailed chemical-specific information, via four objectives: 

  1. Simulate a 'universe' of aquatic systems over a range of plausible impacts calibrated without reference to a specific chemical, using an established ecosystem model.
  2. Conduct standard risk assessments using a representative subset of reference scenarios taken from the universe of simulated systems to serve as baselines scenario.
  3. Incorporate information from non-conventional methods into the simulated risk assessment to determine how much uncertainty in different ERA targets is reduced by each methodology.
  4. Apply the candidate risk assessment procedure to the case study system; specifically, explore how linking landscape scale complexity to variation at lower levels can improve decision making.

The student will develop expertise in ecotoxicology and environmental risk assessment, freshwater aquatic ecology, computational modelling, and state-of-the-art uncertainty analysis.

The ECORISC CDT

This project is one of 12 projects being advertised by the NERC-funded ECORISC (Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use) Centre for Doctoral Training programme. More information on the CDT can be found at: https://www.york.ac.uk/environment/postgraduate/ecorisc/. Funding will be provided for 3 years and 10 months. During this time you will work on your research project but will also receive a unique and outstanding training in pollution science and transferrable skills. 

Over the first two years of their PhD programme, you will receive subject-specific training, in: i) ecotoxicology; ii) environmental chemistry; iii) ecology; and iv) risk assessment; and v) core skills required for an environmental specialist. Successful completion of this training will result in the award of phase 1 of the Certified Environmental Risk Assessor qualification from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The formal training programme will be complemented by yearly residential challenge events, ECORISC annual conferences and tailored specialist skills training conducted as group and individual exercises.

ECORISC students will also be required to undertake two workplace experiences based with our business, policy and regulation, third sector and research organisation partners. 

An inclusive CDT programme

Inclusivity is at the heart of the ECORISC programme. We strongly encourage applications from under-represented groups and are employing a number of mechanisms, such as the possibility of part-time working, to ensure the programme is open to all. We will ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process. If you have any questions, then please don’t hesitate to contact us at [Email Address Removed].

Eligibility and Application process

The studentships are open to highly motivated UK and international/EU applicants with at least an upper second class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Successful applicants will be passionate about environmental pollution science and want their science to make a difference. 

To be considered for this and other PhD’s offered under the ECORISC CDT, you should initially complete a short online application form available at: https://cardiff.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/ecorisc-cdt-student-application-2020212. Applications should be submitted before 1700 (British Summer Time) on 16th May. Your will be notified of the outcome of the process by 25th May.

Successful applicants, will be provided with an opportunity to meet with supervisory teams and then be invited to submit a project-specific application form which will be used to shortlist candidates for an interview.

If you have any questions on the ECORISC CDT or the application process, please contact us at [Email Address Removed].


Funding Notes

Funding will be provided for 3 years and 10 months. During this time you will work on your research project but will also receive a unique and outstanding training in pollution science and transferrable skills.
The studentships are open to highly motivated UK and international/EU applicants with at least an upper second class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Successful applicants will be passionate about environmental pollution science and want their science to make a difference.
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