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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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DORLING_UENV18EE - Weatherproofing for a smarter, resilient and more sustainable agri-sector (CASE studentship with the National Institute for Agricultural Botany and British Society of Plant Breeders)

Project description

Selected other project supervisors:
Professor Andrew Lovett (UEA)
Professor Ian Mackay (National Institute for Agricultural Botany, NIAB)
Dr Alison Bentley (NIAB)

Wheat is one of the most important crops grown worldwide and, specifically, in the UK. Yet the most recent research shows that we don’t fully understand what the relative effects of climate variability and varietal selection are on UK wheat yields and this is desperately needed by the agricultural sector to mitigate against losses and to enhance food security.

In crops, data from historical variety trial series are a powerful large multi-environment trial series which can be re-analysed to generate and test hypotheses about climatic causes of variety instability and adaptability. This project will build strongly on earlier analyses of historical trials data from the UK National List / Recommended List (NL/RL - Mackay et al. 2011). Ten years of additional data are now available and an exciting, more extensive project is now possible involving detailed study of variety sensitivities to local weather.

We believe incorporation of local weather records will, crucially, reveal the true impact of weather variability: the 2011 analysis detected differential variety sensitivity to winter temperatures and summer rainfall just by studying average weather patterns across years. The typical NL wheat variety is only in trial for six years, but is present at ~30 sites per year.  Assessment of variety sensitivities to local weather patterns will result in a fuller description of the causes of variety x environment interactions. This work can highlight novel breeding targets and lead to improved crop modeling and to better interpretation of NL and RL trials data for growers. The critical importance of this work is highlighted by additional financial support offered by the British Society of Plant Breeders.

We are looking for a student with a background and/or strong interest in climate, food security and/or statistics. On the climate side, the student will have access to the full undergraduate and masters training programmes at UEA, as well as an internship opportunity at the UEA-based Weatherquest Ltd to learn about the provision of agro-climatological services. With co-supervision from leading scientists at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, the student will also undertake periods of research and training at NIAB’s John Bingham Laboratory, a Centre of Excellence for crop genetics research.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Mackay, I. et al (2011) Reanalyses of the historical series of UK variety trials to quantify the contributions of genetic and environmental factors to trends and variability in yield over time. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 122, 225-238.
  2. Dorling, S. (2014) Managing climate variability in agriculture - using weather forecasting to support farming adaptation. Outlook on Agriculture, 43 (1), doi: 10.5367/oa.2014.0151.
  3. Nesbitt, A., Kemp, B., Steele, C., Lovett, A. and Dorling, S. (2016) Impacts of recent climate change and weather variability on the viability of UK viticulture - combining weather and climate records with producers' perspectives. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research 22, 324-335 doi: 10.1111/ajgw.12215