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Understanding the materiality of biodiversity tipping points and using it to enable positive action in the boardroom. NERC RENEW PhD Studentship 2022/23

   Department of Geography

  , Prof Gail Whiteman, Dr Tom Powell, Dr Jesse Abrams  Monday, February 13, 2023  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

General Information:

The ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities to address the environment and climate crises.

The RENEW project is inherently interdisciplinary and encompasses biosciences, social sciences, politics, humanities, environmental intelligence, biodiversity economics, and conservation and is being managed in collaboration with the National Trust.

A principal goal of the RENEW Studentships programme is to create a new generation of interdisciplinary, solutions-focussed researchers who have experienced a rich culture including fundamental research and engagement with key partners.

A fully funded RENEW studentship will cover:

• A stipend for 4 years (currently £17,668 for 2022-23 entry) in line with the UK Research and Innovation rates

• Payment of the university tuition fees

• Research and Training costs

Project Information:

The biosphere and ecosystems are complex adaptive systems, full of interacting feedback loops, which can sometimes exhibit tipping points where a small change in forcing causes an abrupt change in the state of the system that is hard to reverse. The risk of tipping points that are detrimental to biodiversity and the benefits we derive from it is escalating with global change. This risk includes both large-scale tipping points e.g. dieback of coral reefs or the Amazon rainforest, and smaller-scale tipping points e.g. abrupt land degradation, or loss of fish stocks. Equally for degraded ecosystems there are opportunities for positive tipping points of abrupt biodiversity gain. Businesses and finance are beginning to grapple with the financial materiality of biodiversity, but they are doing so in a linear thinking framework that has yet to incorporate the potential for tipping point changes.

This PhD project will develop a framework to assess the materiality of biodiversity tipping points, e.g. in terms of the financial value of the industries dependent on the corresponding ecosystems. The aim will be to explore how the tipping point qualities of abruptness, self-propelling change and irreversibility alter the assessment of materiality (both of financial risks and opportunities). The student will undertake a series of case study applications of the framework ranging from inherently large-scale tipping points e.g. Amazon rainforest dieback, to local tipping points that may occur in many places e.g. abrupt land degradation, to opportunities for positive tipping points, e.g. tropical forest regeneration. The aim is twofold: to inform tools being used to assess associated financial risks and opportunities, and to explore the potential to enable positive action in the boardroom. For the latter, a series of evidence-based tipping points narratives will be developed, and their effectiveness tested. The PhD will be transdisciplinary - spanning relevant disciplines and involving action-oriented co-production of knowledge with J.O. Hambro capital management.

The student would be based at Exeter’s Streatham campus.

Eligibility for funding

RENEW 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..

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate discipline to the project. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

If English is not your first language, you would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

How to apply

The closing date for applications is Monday 13th February 2023 2359 GMT

Interviews will be held early w/c 20th February 2023 for a start date as soon as thereafter.

In the application process, you will be asked to upload several documents. Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

• CV

• Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience, and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained. This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference Information

You will be asked to name two referees as part of the application process, please ensure that you include this information, and where possible upload the reference documents. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

• Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, if you do not upload them at the time of submitting your application you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the application deadline.

• If your named referee would prefer to send us their document directly please ask them to forward the documents to 

• References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email .

Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

For further information and to submit an application please visit -

Funding Notes

A fully funded RENEW studentship will cover • A stipend for 4 years (currently £17,668 for 2022-23 entry) in line with the UK Research and Innovation rates • Payment of the university tuition fees • Research and Training costs

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