2020 applicants
Postgraduate Research Opportunity

How does the environment affect our epigenome?


Title: How does the environment affect our epigenome?

Funding: Full time Home/EU fees and a stipend of £15,009 p.a. (terms & conditions)

Application deadline: 17 May 2019

Start date: October 2019

Duration: 3 years (full time)

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in: School of Biological Sciences (in collaboration with the Institute for Social and Economic Research)


This studentship has now closed. View our current opportunities.


The association of environment with health has been widely recognised and for example there is evidence that air pollution can be more dangerous than smoking (e.g. "Air pollution responsible for more deaths than smoking" - Independent; Lelieveld et al., European Heart Journal, pii: ehz135 , 2019).

Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms by which these associations occur are unclear. We want to examine the association of different environmental factors with DNA methylation signatures, using a biosocial approach that examines carefully the role of social disadvantage and associated behaviours, such as smoking in these associations.

We plan to examine associations of different environmental factors (including pollution) with DNA methylation across the genome using data from the Understanding Society study and taking into account smoking, social disadvantage and other relevant factors (e.g., commuting habits).

Placed in both Biological Sciences and ISER, this studentship will take a biosocial approach to these analyses, i.e. integrating the detailed longitudinal social information in Understanding Society with publicly available datasets (e.g. pollution and -omics), in an attempt to provide robust evidence of the causal or non-causal processes in play. These findings will strengthen policy discussions on how the environment affects individuals, or target populations that are vulnerable to the impacts of the environment on health and well-being.

A keen interest in epigenetics alongside knowledge of R is desirable. The PhD project will have a strong computational and statistical component.


The award consists of a full Home/EU fee waiver or equivalent fee discount for overseas students (further fee details), a doctoral stipend equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,009 in 2019-20), plus £2,500 training bursary via Proficio funding, which may be used to cover the cost of advanced skills training including conference attendance and travel.

How to apply

You can apply for this postgraduate research opportunity online.

Please include your CV, covering letter, personal statement, and transcripts of UG and Masters degrees in your application.

Your personal statement should explain why you are applying for this specific project and what you could bring to the team in terms of skills, experience and enthusiasm.

Instruction to applicants

When you apply online you will be prompted to fill out several boxes in the form:

  • For "Course title" please put "PhD Biological Sciences"
  • For "Proposed research topic or area of research" please put the title of this studentship (How does the environment affect our epigenome?)
  • For "If you have contacted a potential supervisor..." please put the name of the lead supervisor (Dr Nicolae Radu Zabet)

If you have any informal queries about this opportunity please email the lead supervisor, Dr Nicolae Radu Zabet (nzabet@essex.ac.uk)

You can find the terms and conditions of this studentship here (.doc).