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Evolution Education Trust PhD project - Morphological phylogenetics of living and fossil arthropods: how can we make it better?

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, February 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this PhD opportunity based at the Milner Centre for Evolution, a unique, cross-faculty research centre bridging biology, health and education. The Centre is dedicated to a broad range of fundamental research questions relating to evolutionary biology; from in deep time to the micro-evolutionary dynamics of a disease outbreak. We have a strong focus on public engagement and outreach. We are located in a dedicated multi-million-pound building that opened on the University campus in September 2018. Visit our website:

Supervisory Team:

Professor Matthew Wills, Milner Centre for Evolution (lead supervisor)
Dr. Nicholas Priest, Milner Centre for Evolution
Dr. Greg Edgecombe, National History Museum
Dr. Robert Sansom, University of Manchester
Dr. Marcello Ruta, University of Lincoln

Project Overview:

Arthropods are dizzyingly diverse, both today and throughout the fossil record. There are principally four living “groups”: insects, crustaceans, chelicerates (e.g., spiders) and myriapods (e.g., millipedes). Classical attempts to unpick their evolutionary relationships relied upon morphology, and ran into the problem that strikingly similar structures have often evolved more than once in distantly related groups (homoplasy). This meant that nearly every possible tree of the major groups was supported by at least some of the data – an impasse. From the 1990s onwards, molecular data were brought to bear, but only in the last 10 years has a stable consensus emerged.

What, then, should we do with the rich heritage of morphological character data? This project will use three allied approaches to make better sense and better use of it.

Firstly, we will use well-supported molecular tree as benchmarks, and determine if some body regions yield more informative characters than others. We expect the answer to differ between major groups and at different “depths” within the tree. How do trees differ when we give greater weight to these “good” characters?

Secondly, we will test for “modules” of characters that evolve in concert, which may not correspond with body regions. We will explore the effects of partitioning morphological data sets by modules in both likelihood and Bayesian analyses.

Thirdly, are inferred relationships of fossil arthropods altered significantly, and are weighted and partitioned trees more or less congruent with fossil first occurrence dates and patterns of biogeographical distribution as tests of probable accuracy?


Applicants should have an excellent academic record and hold, or expect to obtain, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Enquiries and Applications:

All enquiries should be addressed to Professor Matthew Wills, .

** Candidates are strongly encouraged to discuss projects directly with the lead supervisor before submitting an application.**

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology:

On the application form, please ensure that you quote ‘Evolution Education Trust’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. Should you wish to be considered for more than one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

It is essential that your application is complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. You should ensure that you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees who are available and willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). In addition, you should ensure that you have uploaded the following documents:
• a scanned copy of the certificate/s for any degree/s you have been awarded;
• a scanned copy of your degree transcript/s or your interim transcript if you are still studying;
• an up-to-date CV;
• a personal statement explaining your motivation for wishing to study a PhD and your interest in the specific project for which you are applying;
• English language test certificate (if available) for EU candidates.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Interviews will take place in Bath on Friday 3 April 2020.

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Unfortunately, we are NOT able to consider international applicants for this project.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a 3.5-year Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 for 2019/20) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses.

Note: Only UK and EU applicants are eligible for studentship funding.

How good is research at University of Bath in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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