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Evaluating the combined effects of environmental pollutants on the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Medical Science.

   Medical School

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  Dr A Murray  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Project details

Project Background

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest threats to modern society. The environment is increasingly recognised as playing an important role in the evolution, emergence, and dissemination of AMR. Antibiotics enter the environment from a variety of sources, where they reside at low concentrations that have been shown to select for AMR. However, most research to date has only studied effects of single antibiotics, despite the fact antibiotics in the environment are found in complex mixtures with other pollutants that could co-select for AMR. 

Project Aims and Methods

A growing body of research has demonstrated that the minimal selective concentrations of antibiotics can be very low, similar to concentrations of antibiotics measured in the environment. Antibiotic pollution may therefore select for antimicrobial resistance in the environment. However, many other environmental pollutants exhibit antimicrobial activity, and these may also generate a selective pressure that favours resistant bacteria. This project will explore the potential mixture effects of antibiotics and other pollutants on the evolution of antimicrobial resistance. We encourage applicants to be actively involved in the design and direction of the research. 

Candidate requirements

Experience in microbiology, with skills in molecular microbiology, are desirable.

Project partners 

The student will benefit from training, cohort support and networking opportunities through the GW4 Antimicrobial Resistance Alliance, the University of Exeter Microbes in Society and Microbiology networks. Based at the University of Exeter Penryn campus, they will join a thriving research and postgraduate student community, particularly in the areas of microbiology, environment, ecology, and evolution, within the Environment and Sustainability Institute and European Centre for Environment and Human Health, two interdisciplinary and highly collaborative environments. The Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath has excellent analytical infrastructure for environmental antibiotic/chemical samples. The student will benefit from CASE sponsorship by the Environment Agency, who will provide policy insights and perspectives.


Supported by the interdisciplinary supervisory team and their respective research groups, the successful applicant will develop skills in microbiology (culture-based and molecular), evolution, ecology, bioinformatics (supervisor Dr Murray and co-supervisors Profs Gaze and Buckling), environmental chemistry (co-supervisor Prof Kasprzyk-Hordern), modelling, statistical analyses (co-supervisor Associate Prof Recker), academic writing, and presentation skills. The student will engage directly with policy makers via the CASE partner (Environment Agency), improving communication skills and gaining insight into policy development within the UK. This PhD studentship will run alongside a NERC New Investigator grant (“Exploring understudied aspects of antimicrobial resistance evolution to improve environmental pollution policy”, 2022 – 2025), providing ample opportunities for support, training, access to data and networking opportunities within academia and with relevant stakeholders. 


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals. For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2023 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

How to Apply

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 2359 hours GMT Monday 9 January 2023. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2023. For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit https://nercgw4plus.ac.uk

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed]. Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

For further information including entry requirements and academic qualifications, and to submit an application please visit - https://www.exeter.ac.uk/study/funding/award/?id=4609

Funding Notes

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:
An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 p.a. for 2022-23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
Payment of university tuition fees;
A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses


1. Murray et al., 2021. Dawning of a new ERA: Environmental Risk Assessment of antibiotics and their potential to select for antibiotic resistance, Water Research. 2. Hayes, Murray et al., 2022. Predicting selection for antimicrobial resistance in wastewater in England and Wales: ciprofloxacin poses a significant risk, Environment International.
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