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NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship: Developing sustainable options for reducing the concentration of pharmaceuticals entering the environment

   Department of Psychology

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  Prof Julie Barnett  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP) for entry in October 2021.

The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter and Cardiff University plus five prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad multi-disciplinary training, designed to produce tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.


Lead supervisor: Prof Julie Barnett, University of Bath, Department of Psychology

Co-supervisors: Prof Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern (Bath), Ruth Barden (Wessex Water) and Dr Rebecca Lovell (Exeter)

CASE Partner: Wessex Water

Collaborative Partner: Natural England


This PhD is an opportunity for a social scientist to explore the relationship between human and environmental health. Globally, there is growing concern about the health of the natural environment. One aspect of this is the use of pharmaceuticals and the impact they may have on the natural environment. The number of pharmaceuticals prescribed in England increased from 852 million in 2008 to more than 1.1 billion in 2018. Pharmaceuticals are ingested and excreted into the environment through sewerage systems and are thus one of the key pathways of pharmaceuticals into the aquatic environment. A second pathway sees unused or expired pharmaceutical disposed in general waste and down toilets and sinks. Both pathways have been demonstrated to lead to deleterious effects on wildlife and ecosystems.

How can this be addressed? Rather than simply focusing on water treatment the ongoing research partnership of Wessex Water and the University of Bath are exploring innovative methods of pathway control. Specifically, to conduct research into sustainable options for reducing the concentration of pharmaceuticals entering the environment using a control at source approach. This uses two main approaches. First the use of social prescribing to avoid or divert patients away from medical prescriptions for a range of non-communicable diseases and second to reduce the amount of medicines that are incorrectly disposed of into sewerage systems.

This approach was tested in a pilot project and the possibility for it to reduce pharmaceutical inputs into wastewater was subsequently recognised by the Environment Agency as having potential implications for the wider water industry in the UK.

This PhD thus provides a unique opportunity to develop a research project at the intersection of water chemistry and social science with the potential to impact regulatory practice.

The successful candidate will be able to undertake a placement at CASE Partner, Wessex Water, which will provide the opportunity to engage with water sampling collection processes and to develop an understanding of the regulatory requirements that underlie the importance of the project.


Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in field of a social science. Particular consideration will be given to candidates who show evidence of achievement and/or engagement in natural as well as social sciences.


Enquiries relating to the project should be directed to Prof Julie Barnett, [Email Address Removed].

Enquiries relating to the application process should be directed to [Email Address Removed].

Candidates should apply formally using the relevant University of Bath online application form:

When completing the form, please state in the ‘Finance’ section that you wish to be considered for NERC GW4+ DTP funding and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section. If you wish, you may apply for more than one project within the same application but you should submit a separate personal statement for each one.

If you have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, please upload documentary evidence with your application.

More information on how to apply may be found here:

Funding Notes

Studentships cover tuition fees at the ‘Home’ level, research/training costs and a stipend (£15,285 p.a., 2020/21 rate) for 3.5 years.

Candidates normally eligible for 'Home' fees are:
UK nationals*
Irish nationals living in the UK/Ireland
Applicants with settled or pre-settled* status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme
Applicants with indefinite leave to enter/remain in the UK

* must have lived in the UK/EEA/Switzerland continuously since September 2018.

International applicants, not eligible for ‘Home’ fees, may apply and will be considered for a limited number of fee discounts equivalent to the difference between the ‘Home' and ‘Overseas’ tuition fees.


Husk, K., Blockley, K., Lovell, R., Bethel, A., Lang, I., Byng, R. and Garside, R., 2020. What approaches to social prescribing work, for whom, and in what circumstances? A realist review, Health & social care in the community, 28(2), pp.309-324.

Jani, A., Pitini, E., Jungmann, S., Adamo, G., Conibear, J. and Mistry, P., 2019. A social prescriptions formulary: bringing social prescribing on par with pharmaceutical prescribing. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 112(12), pp.498-502.

Rempel, E. S., Wilson, E. N., Durrant, H., & Barnett, J. (2017). Preparing the prescription: A review of the aim and measurement of social referral programmes. BMJ Open, 7(10), [e017734].

Rice, J., Kannan, A.M., Castrignanò, E. Jagadeesan, K., Kasprzyk-Hordern,B. (2020) Wastewater-based epidemiology combined with local prescription analysis as a tool for temporal monitoring of drugs trends - A UK perspective, Science of The Total Environment, 735,

Sims, N., & Kasprzyk-Hordern, B. (2020). Future perspectives of wastewater-based epidemiology: Monitoring infectious disease spread and resistance to the community level. Environment International, 139, 105689. [105689].

Masterton, W., Carver, H., Parkes, T. and Park, K., 2020. Greenspace interventions for mental health in clinical and non-clinical populations: What works, for whom, and in what circumstances?. Health & Place, 64, p.102338.

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