EPSRC PhD Studentship in: Investigating the impact of biofilms on drinking water microbial compliance

The University of Sheffield

Sheffield, UK 🇬🇧


The University of Sheffield, Sheffield Water Centre in collaboration with Severn Trent Water, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Scottish Water and the Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience.

EPSRC PhD Studentship in: Investigating the impact of biofilms on drinking water microbial compliance

Stipend: This post will fully cover university tuition and provide a tax-free stipend for UK students of £21,000 per year.

Closing Date for Applications: 27th March 2023

Start Date: 25th September 2023 (contract duration 4 years)

This interdisciplinary PhD will combine engineering and biology, advancing understanding of biofilm dynamics and interactions with bulk-water to improve resilience of drinking water systems and microbial water safety.

The PhD will specifically study sample lines, the narrow pipes that transport water from the main water supply to the tap where regulatory samples (used to monitor water quality) are collected. This research will examine the potential for sample line biofilms to be a source of regulatory target organisms (and other pathogens), causing bacteriological exceedances in samples when mobilised, which would be unrepresentative of (and not necessarily reflect) the actual bulk-water quality. Current biofilm management strategies lack a scientific basis, resulting in a reluctance to modify operational (e.g. flushing) procedures due to fears of exacerbating the situation.

Ensuring sample lines are designed and operated to mitigate impacts of biofilms will eliminate false positives (which have significant implications, including their effect on Compliance Risk Index scores), ensuring resources are better distributed to investigate true exceedances, protecting water quality and public health.

Working within a dynamic and supportive research team of industrial and academic collaborators, the research will involve:

• Combining laboratory work using full-scale facilities at The University of Sheffield with fieldwork (with project partners, costs covered)

• Investigating the impact of sample line design, operation (e.g. hydraulics) and final water characteristics on biofilm growth and stability, to develop evidence-based management and sampling strategies

• Furthering understanding of biofilm ecology, including providing insight into coliform and biofilm dynamics to advance root cause analysis of bacteriological failures

• Providing an evidence-based approach to determine and evaluate the role of sample line biofilms in bacteriological exceedances

• Informing guidance on optimal sample line design, operation and management to mitigate biofilm impacts on regulatory samples

This is an exciting opportunity for motivated individuals to contribute to world-leading, applied biofilm research and inform practices within the water sector.

The PhD programme benefits from being part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (CDT WIRe). CDT WIRe is a collaboration between the three leading UK Universities in water resilient infrastructure. Students will benefit from a bespoke training scheme delivered by world leading experts from academia and industry, access to world-leading experimental and computational facilities as well as close and regular contact with industry and end user partners. CDT WIRe is committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive community, and offer a range of family friendly, inclusive employment policies. For further information on the CDT WIRe scheme visit the web site at: https://cdtwire.com/


The project will be supervised by Dr Fish, Prof Boxall and Dr Pick in collaboration with partners from Severn Trent Water, Welsh Water and Scottish Water.

Eligibility Criteria

This studentship is supported by EPSRC WIRe CDT and the University of Sheffield.

Eligibly criteria are based on residence; further information can be found at:


International applications to this CDT are subject to a quota; hence overseas applicants may not receive feedback until sufficient applications have been processed.

Selection Criteria

• A good first degree in a relevant science or engineering discipline

• Enthusiasm for the topic area

• Experience of experimental work

• Microbiological, molecular or environmental analysis experience would be beneficial

How to apply

Interested candidates should email a covering letter and their Curriculum

Vitae to Lindsay Hopcroft (l.hopcroft@sheffield.ac.uk).

For information and informal enquiries, please contact: Katherine Fish (k.fish@sheffield.ac.uk)

Funding Notes

This post will fully cover university tuition fees and provide a tax-free stipend for UK students of £21,000 per year.





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