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Using less land better - manipulating growth of individual plants, synchronising maturity and reducing crop wastage (Ref: CTP-SAI-047)


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  Dr Jim Monaghan, Dr Andrew Beacham, Prof Julian Hibberd, Ms Emma Garfield  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The aim of this PhD is to reduce crop wastage by developing robust technologies to decrease environment-derived growth heterogeneity in lettuce production. With the development of precision agriculture technology, such as plant-scale UAV imaging, sensor networks and plant-scale spraying applications, it is possible to monitor growing microclimates and crop development at the individual plant level and respond by applying treatments to specific plants. This opens up the possibility of manipulating the growth of individual plants through localised treatments that mitigate the response to underlying environmental factors, at a crop or planting scale; reducing variability and increasing the offtake from the field, reducing in-field waste and maximising crop production per unit of CO2e. 

This project will study whole head lettuce as an example of a transplanted, high value leafy vegetable crop. The hypothesis underpinning this studentship is that plants identified as developing significantly faster than the crop population average could have their growth delayed or held by treatments to reduce variation of plant size at harvest. The student will apply their knowledge of plant science to investigate the underlying physiology that may be manipulated to limit individual plant growth through transient environmental stress treatments, or the application of hormones and/or anti-transpirants that temporarily reduce photosynthesis.  


Identify and optimise stress treatments that alter relative growth rates of lettuce plants.

  1. Establish the relationship between rates of photosynthesis and lettuce growth
  2. Identify and optimise photosynthesis reducing treatments that alter relative growth rates of lettuce plants.
  3. Demonstrate and quantify the practical application of growth rate manipulation in lettuce crops.


This PhD will be based and registered at Harper Adams University. Glasshouse, CE and field work will be based at the Fresh Produce Research Centre at Harper Adams University (https://www.harper-adams.ac.uk/research/fprc/) with time spent at the Hibberd lab at Cambridge University (http://hibberdlab.com/). Field trials will also be established at G’s, located in Cambridgeshire (https://www.gs-fresh.com/).


This project will give the student training and experience in photosynthesis, plant physiology, agronomy, soil and crop assessments and spatial statistical analyses, as well as experience of the technical challenges of commercial crop production during a 3-month placement at G’s.

Students will have access to training opportunities through their University to complement their scientific development. This will be augmented by training in key bioscience areas such as statistics through the CTP-SAI.

There will be additional skills training to enhance employability and research capability. All CTP-SAI students will receive Graduate Training in Leadership and Management from MDS (www.mds-ltd.co.uk). Additionally, students will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring pertinent to their career plans and skills development in addition to the scientific project supervision.


Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate and it is anticipated that the candidate will spend 3 months at the G’s technical team in Ely, Cambridgeshire.


Contact Prof Jim Monaghan for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD. You can find more information on Jim’s profile page

Beginning in October 2023, the successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.

We welcome UK, EU, and international applicants. Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. Candidates should check the requirements for each host organization they are applying to, but IELTS 6.5 (with no component below 6.0) or equivalent is usually the minimum standard. 

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 6th January 2023. Interviews will take place at the end of January/beginning of February 2023.

Please contact [Email Address Removed] for further application details.

Apply now

Funding Notes

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These are:
An annual maintenance stipend of £17,668, fee support of £4,596, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.
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