School of Biological Sciences

Scholarships and funding

Supporting your study

We offer many funding opportunities to support both undergraduate and postgraduate students, including a broad range of University of Essex scholarships, studentships within the School, and studentships from EnvEast. 


Search our Scholarship Finder to see the funding you can apply for. Our range of scholarships and bursaries to support talented students ensure we remain accessible to all with the potential to succeed, regardless of financial circumstances.

PhD studentships

PhD studentships are offered by the School of Biological Sciences, EnvEast (NERC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership) and the EU (Horizon 2020). Details of our current opportunities are listed below. 

For further information, please contact the Graduate Administrator, Emma Revill ( 



Current PhD studentships

Developing artificial hemoglobin-based blood substitutes: Understanding the mechanisms and effects of targeting damaging oxidative reactions and nitric oxide scavenging.

The use of cell-free synthetic Hemoglobin (Hb) is an ideal starting material for blood substitutes or oxygen therapeutics. However, these Hemoglobin Based Oxygen Carriers (HBOCs) display an inherent capacity to induce oxidative reactions, causing cell and tissue damage. They also scavenge nitric oxide (NO) leading to hypertension. At Essex we have engineered HBOCs that are designed to decrease the intrinsic damaging oxidative reactivity of Hb through enhanced ferryl and ferric reductase activities. In addition, we have also developed HBOCs with decreased NO scavenging without associated loss of heme from the protein.

Informal queries may be addressed in the first instance to Dr Brandon Reeder

Deadline: 28th February 2018

Structure-function relations of non-symbiotic plant hemoglobins and their role in stress response mechanisms.

Over the past couple of decades, several new classes of hemoglobin have been discovered that are appear not to bind oxygen as their main function. The physiological functions of these metalloproteins are largely unknown, unlike their well characterised oxygen-carrying cousins. Plants have three classes of the non-symbiotic hemoglobins (nsHbs). Each class of nsHb has distinct structural and biochemical properties likely relating to a diverse array of physiological roles, all related to their ability to act as redox active enzymes (1). Evidence suggests that class 1 nsHbs are related to nitric oxide regulation. Overexpressing class 2 nsHbs show enhanced survival to hypoxic stress and has been shown to promote the accumulation of polyunsaturated lipids in seeds. Combined class 1 and class 2 silencing leads to seedling death. Class 3 nsHbs (often referred to as the truncated Hbs) appear to be ubiquitous in plants, however very little is known about their cellular role. The first crystal structure of this class of protein from Arabidopsis thaliana was recently discovered at Essex (2).

Informal queries may be addressed in the first instance to Dr Brandon Reeder or Dr Uli Bechtold

Deadline: 28th February 2018

From biomass to fuel: Capturing the structural dynamics of catalysis in biomass degrading metalloenzymes

Deconstructing plant biomass is becoming a major industrial route to access “renewable” carbon to create biofuels and chemicals which can be used as precursors for pharmaceuticals. A bottle-neck to these processes is the recalcitrant nature of the components of plant biomass which pose a considerable chemical challenge to breakdown. Microbes such as Streptomyces secrete enzymes which act to deconstruct plant biomass in their natural habitats. Harnessing the catalytic power of these enzymes to create ‘cocktails’ for biotechnology applications is a major global initiative to achieve a low-cost carbon economy and other commodities for a greener future.

Informal queries may be addressed in the first instance to Dr Mike Hough, Dr Jonathan Worrall, Dr Richard Strange, or Dr Dima Svistunenko.

Deadline: 28th February 2018

Characterisation of RSK Isoforms in Cancer Proliferation and Metastasis.

30% of all human cancers feature upregulated MAPK signalling (including lung, breast, colorectal, pancreatic cancer and melanoma). Despite the promise of novel treatments targeting the MAPK pathway, the majority of patients ultimately develop therapy resistance. As such, there is a growing need for novel therapeutic strategies that can prevent and/or overcome therapy resistance. The p90 ribosomal S6 kinase (RSKs) protein family holds promise as a novel therapeutic target. In fact, RSKs are the very downstream effectors of the MAPK pathway and are implicated in cell proliferation, survival, migration, and invasion. Loss of RSK regulation can lead to tumorigenesis, cardiac disease, and incorrect neuronal development. RSKs are an important family of serine/threonine kinases composed of four isoforms: RSK1/2/3/4. Studies on samples from lung cancer patients have shown that RSK1 levels are reduced compared to non-tumorigenic samples, while the amount of RSK4 is increased. Although the connections between RSKs and cancer are established, there is very little information on the different roles the four members of the RSK family have in cancer.

Informal queries may be addressed in the first instance to Dr Filippo Prischi.

Deadline: 28th February 2018

Exploring the Effects of Microbiota and Genome Regulation in the Intestinal Epithelium and Brain

There are more bacterial cells living in our gut then the number of human cells that make up our body. Many of these bacteria are ‘good bacteria’ by helping us in digesting food, warding off pathogenic bacteria and training our immune system. How these bacteria interact with their host’s cells, e.g., the stem cells in the intestinal epithelium and how they affect gene expression and genome functions are important questions. The Varga-Weisz lab has recently revealed novel mechanisms involving chromatin dynamics by which the microbiota crosstalk to the host’s genome (Fellows et al., Nature Communications 105, 2018, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02651-5, direct link: The PhD project will build and extend on this work and will probe how the microbiota affect our genome function, in the intestinal epithelium and possibly other organs, such as the brain.

Additional questions and queries about the studentship can be addressed to Patrick Varga-Weisz.

Deadline: 12th March 2018

Utilising styrene-maleic acid copolymers (SMA) for structural studies of membrane transporters associated with bacterial antibiotic resistance and copper homeostasis

Bacteria possess numerous membrane-transporter proteins, which play key physiological roles, as well as contribute to their virulence and pathogenicity. Understanding the atomic structure of these transporters is critical for gaining insight into their mechanisms of action and ultimately for devising novel approaches to counter bacterial diseases.
Historically every in-vitro structural study of membrane proteins, including transporters, required a solubilisation stage using detergents to extract the protein from the membrane environment.
Such detergent treatment presents the protein with an unnatural environment, often impacting its folding, which for metal ion transporters can influence ion-coordination and subsequent transport.
Recently, a new technology of one-step membrane protein extraction from intact cells was developed based on the styrene-maleic acid copolymers (SMAs), which allows in preservation of the native lipid environment of the proteins and has the added benefits of SMA not being a competitive substrate for efflux pump transporters.

Informal queries may be addressed in the first instance to Dr Vassiliy Bavro or Dr Jonathan Worrall.

Deadline: 28th February 2018

Deep sea dispersal and connectivity across the North Atlantic

Corals are listed as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems by the United Nations General Assembly. Acanella arbuscula is an arborescent octocoral found across the North Atlantic from 200-2000m depth. This octocoral is, unusually, often found in soft sediment; habitat that is heavily impacted by bottom contact gear. Genetics is currently the most tractable method in the deep-sea to determine the processes underpinning persistence in deep-sea populations. Specifically, population genomics can be used to determine the appropriate size of conservation units for responsible management, as well as testing long-held deep-sea hypotheses about genetic connectivity e.g. the Depth Differentiation Hypothesis. This PhD will investigate population genomic connectivity and structure of A. arbuscula using single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) isolated using RAD-seq next generation sequencing technology. These data, alongside environmental data such as temperature, oxygen and productivity, will be combined in seascape genomic analyses (something not yet undertaken in the deep sea) to answer long-standing questions about the drivers of connectivity across the North Atlantic.

Deadline: 30th March 2018.

How to apply: For questions about this PhD and submission of application documents (CV, cover letter, two references - copies of transcripts and certificates will be requested if candidates are interviewed) please email Dr Michelle Taylor.

Long-term survival of microbes in halite brine inclusions

The overall aim is to understand the survival of halophilic microbial communities inside the brine inclusions of halite, providing a model system for investigating the conditions that could have preserved traces of life in evaporites both on Earth (e.g. Messinian halite) and Mars.

The selected PhD student will be part of a team of 15, working on the European Training Network, SALTGIANT. They will receive excellent training and a very competitive salary.

For further information, please contact primary supervisor Terry McGenity.

Deadline: 20th April 2018

Studentships within the Faculty of Science and Health

Details of our current opportunities are listed below. 

For further information, please contact the Graduate Administrator, Emma Revill ( 

Current Studentships

Data analysis for the 3D structure of the DNA – to start October 2018

It is now becoming possible to obtain information about the 3D organisation of the DNA using modern techniques that use a cross-linker to capture bits of DNA in close proximity. Recent developments have allowed us to push the boundaries of the resolutions of these maps to subkilobase and these types of experiments are currently being carried out in Dr Zabet’s lab as part of a Wellcome Trust funded project. The aim of the PhD project is to design and develop new statistical models to analyse the 3D structure of the DNA using new data generated by Hi-C experiments. Using these methods, we expect to unveil the functional role of the 3D structure of the DNA and its role in complex diseases, such as cancer.

Additional questions and queries about the studentship to be addressed to Dr Radu Zabet.

Deadline: 3rd April 2018

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