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Evaluating the impact of nature-based solutions on microbial water quality, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Medical Science

   Medical School

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  Prof W Gaze, Dr A Leonard, Dr R Brazier  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

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 Background

Surface waters are affected by various sources of faecal pollution, introducing microbiological agents (including antimicrobial resistant microorganisms), posing a threat to the health of people and ecosystems, and increasing costs of water treatment. Nature-based solutions, such as beaver reintroductions, are low-cost sustainable water management strategies that work with nature and deliver multiple ecosystem services. For example, studies have shown improved resilience to flooding, increases in biodiversity, improved carbon capture, and reduced nutrient levels downstream of nature-based interventions1-5. However, little is known about whether these strategies reduce freshwater microbial pollution that threatens the health of people and ecosystems. Evaluating the ability of nature-based solutions to regulate microbiological water quality will help inform discussions on land and water management strategies at regional and national levels through engagement with members of the water industry, government organisations, and charities. 

Project Aims and Methods

This interdisciplinary project will evaluate nature-based solutions used to address microbiological water pollution in UK river catchments. This will involve field studies, and experimental microbiology in the labs. There will be scope for the student to contribute their own ideas to the research design. In the event of unanticipated disruption to field or lab work, there are opportunities to perform desk-based studies, such as evidence synthesis and cost-benefit analyses. 

Candidate requirements

Microbiological experience, along with strong statistical and numeracy skills are required. Experience of field work is desirable but not essential as training will be provided.

Project partners 

This project involves an exciting interdisciplinary collaboration between experienced researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Cardiff, and is supported by CASE partner, South West Water. The student will benefit from the supervisors’ world-leading expertise and networks across habitat restoration, environmental microbiology, and freshwater ecosystems. The student will be based at the University of Exeter in the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Penryn Campus, where they will have access to state-of-the-art microbiology labs, computing facilities and a vibrant, interdisciplinary community of researchers. The student can also access facilities at the Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste on Exeter’s Streatham Campus. 


The student will receive training in field work, microbiological techniques, evidence synthesis, and cost-benefit analyses (as required), and may undertake field work in the UK. In addition, they will have access to a wide range of courses provided by the University of Exeter Doctoral College to support their personal and professional development. 


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

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 -

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) Puttock et al. 2017 2) Puttock et al. 2018 3) Brazier et al. 2020 4) Puttock et al. 2020 5) Graham et al. 2022.
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