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Education, engagement and inclusion in the search for life beyond Earth

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Davies
    Prof R Holliman
    Dr V Pearson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project intends to investigate how academics working in cutting-edge astrobiology research and innovation are responding to the challenges of delivering inclusive education and/or engagement.

Project Highlights:
• Exploring inclusive approaches to education and engagement in the search for how and where life might be found beyond Earth
• Developing, delivering and assessing practical interventions that address cutting-edge research in astrobiology and its implications for society.
• Assessing the methodologies and methods used to develop inclusive approaches in education and engagement involving researchers, end-users and members of the public.


Astrobiology is an emerging scientific field that asks questions around how and where life might be found beyond Earth. Using astrobiology research and innovation as a vehicle to explore issues of education, engagement and inclusion, this PhD project will seek to investigate and increase our understanding of the systems, principles and practices used to co-create, support, and evaluate high-quality education and engagement for diverse citizens.

Much has been written over the past 40 years about the tensions between education and engagement (e.g. Bodmer et al. 1985; Wynne, 1991; Laurillard, 2004; Jenkins, 2006; Weingart and Joubert, 2019). In the main, this literature has focused on the theoretical and practical tensions between the underpinning principles for education and/or engaging various stakeholders, publics and end-users with research and innovation (e.g. Holliman, 2017).

More recently, attempts have been made to promote positive connections between education and engagement, e.g. through the RCUK-funded Schools-University Partnership Initiative (e.g. Holliman et al. 2018). In a similar vein, STFC’s (2016) current, five-year Public Engagement Strategy (2016-2021) emphasises the need to be inclusive in engaging with diverse audiences in educational and other Figure 1: The four underpinning principles of ‘Science Capital’ (Archer et al. 2015). settings, drawing on the influential ‘science capital’ approach (Archer et al. 2015).

UKRI (2019) recently published its Delivery Plan for 2019, detailing four goals for cuttingedge research and innovation. Three of these goals have important implications for how researchers approach education and engagement and will form the basis of the research questions for this studentship:

• How are academics responding to the goal that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge astrobiology research and innovation?
• What are the key challenges and opportunities of empowering young people to participate in cutting-edge astrobiology research and innovation?
• What measures need to be in place to ensure that society plays an active role in shaping the direction of cutting-edge astrobiology research and innovation?

Eligibility and Requirements

E3 studentships are available to UK and EU applicants. A first degree at grade 2:1 or equivalent in a relevant science subject is required. A Masters degree (MSc or integrated MSci) or equivalent experience is desirable.

How to apply

We strongly advise you to contact the lead supervisor of the project(s) that interests you before submitting an application. The application process requires you to send an email to the following email address:

[Email Address Removed]

Please attach the following items to your email:
(1) a cover letter outlining why the project is of interest and how your skills match those required,
(2) your CV and contact details of 3 academic references,
(3) a E3 application form, and
(4) a completed Home OU application form (if you are resident in the UK or European Economic Area).

Closing date for applications: 30th September 2019 at (12pm, noon)

Interviews will take place between 21st and 28th October 2019, anticipated start date is 1st February 2020.

We promote diversity in employment and welcome applications from all sections of the community, particularly from groups that are otherwise underrepresented in academic communities.

Funding Notes

Astrobiology OU has recently been awarded £6.7 million by Research England to develop their capacity. This will allow the group to expand to bring together expertise in technology, international development and governance to address the scientific and governance challenges associated with the advancement of astrobiology and related space exploration missions. The funding for these studentships comes from this grant and covers a 3 year stipend, and a £8000 stipend for research and travel. The student will also benefit from a number of career development opportunities organized for all members of the group.

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