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PhD Studentship in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics - Integrating palaeontological data in phylogenetic analysis – developing a principled statistical model for morphological evolution

School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics

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Dr TMW Nye No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Number of awards:

Start date and duration:
The post is for 42 months. Successful applicants will start in or before September 2020.

We invite applications for a PhD position in statistics at Newcastle University. The project involves the development of a statistical model for the evolution of morphological traits. Evolutionary trees, or phylogenies, are typically estimated or reconstructed using genetic sequence data from present-day species. On the other hand, palaeontological data make a unique contribution to our understanding of evolution, but integrating such data with modern molecular-based analytical techniques is challenging.

This project will develop a new probabilistic model of morphological evolution which will allow data from fossil organisms to be interrogated with the same rigour applied to genetic sequences – leading to quantitative statistical tests of diverse hypotheses of biological relationship and evolutionary processes. Morphological traits pose additional modelling challenges beyond those for molecular sequence data, such as dependence between features, and so new models are needed to approach this problem. The project will deliver training in widely-used statistical techniques (Markov processes, Bayesian inference, applied phylogenetic methods) and programming frameworks (Java, R), alongside training in morphological and palaeontological data analysis.

The successful applicant will join the Statistics Research Group in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics. In the REF2014 exercise, the School was ranked 11th place in the UK by GPA and 10th on publications, placing us in the top quartile for Mathematical Sciences.

The studentship includes a new desktop computer and travel allowance. Students also have the opportunity to take part in a range of paid teaching activities, with training provided.

Leverhulme Trust (Research Project Grant 2019-223, A fizzle or a bang: How fast was the Cambrian ‘explosion’?)

Name of supervisor(s):
Dr Tom Nye ( (Newcastle University) (, Dr Martin Smith (Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham)

Eligibility Criteria:
This studentship is available to home, EU, and international candidates who have/expect a first class or high 2:1 honours degree in mathematics, physics, engineering or a closely related discipline. Enthusiasm for research, an ability to think and work independently, excellent analytical skills and strong communication skills are essential requirements. Some knowledge of biology and an interest in evolutionary history are desirable.

Applicants whose first language is not English require a minimum of IELTS 6.5. International applicants may require an ATAS (Academic Technology Approval Scheme) clearance certificate prior to obtaining their visa and to study on this programme.

How to Apply:
You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application system (

You will need to:

insert the programme code 8080F in the programme of study section
select PhD Mathematics (full time) Statistics as the programme of study
insert the studentship code MSP018 in the studentship/partnership reference field
attach a covering letter and CV. The covering letter must state the title of the studentship, quote reference code MSP018 and state how your interests and experience relate to the project
attach degree transcripts and certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualifications.

Funding Notes

100% of UK/EU tuition fees paid and annual living expenses of £15,009.

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