NERC RED ALERT CDT studentship for 2024 Entry – Future Fibres: A OneHealth approach to tracking microfibres through the wastewater system PhD in Biological Sciences

University of Exeter

Exeter, UK 🇬🇧

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Ceri Lewis, Biosciences, University of Exeter,

Additional Supervisors

David Baldock, (CREWW, South West Water)

Professor Barbara Kaspryzk-Hordern, University of Bath,

Professor Tamara Galloway, Biosciences, University of Exeter,

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

About the Partnership

Natural Environment Research Council funded RED ALERT Centre for Doctoral Training NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Real-Time Digital Water-Based Systems (RED-ALERT CDT) will provide training in water-based early warning systems for environmental and public health protection focused around 4 UK and 3 international Living Labs aimed to provide the in-depth knowledge and enable a step-change in managing environmental and public health.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Real-Time Digital Water-Based Systems for Environmental Health Protection (RED ALERT CDT).  The NERC RED ALERT CDT consists the University of Bath, Bangor University, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.  RED-ALERT CDT’s vision is to train and empower a new generation of leaders to transform how we manage aquatic   environmental health via Real-Time Digital Water-Based Systems.

For eligible successful applicants, the studentship comprises:

• A stipend for 3.5 years (£19,237 p.a. for 2024-25) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
• Payment of university tuition fee;
• A research budget of £11,000 for conferences, lab, field and research expenses;

Project Background:

The global fashion and textiles industry is a major source of water pollution; one fifth of the world’s industrial water pollution emanates from textile processing whilst microfibres (synthetic polymers, processed cellulosics and natural fibres) have been identified as emerging pollutants across all aquatic ecosystems, with concerns they may be potentially more damaging to biogeochemical processes, species and human health than other types of plastic waste. Microfibres are abundant in urban air and wastewater systems, restricting the return of sludge to land due to concern over impacts on human health and soils. Despite this, microfibres are largely absent from holistic, One Health frameworks for evaluating the health and environmental effects of water pollution and significant challenges surround their incorporation into digital, real-time monitoring and water fingerprinting technologies.

Project Aims and Methods:

The aim is to develop real-time, digital monitoring tools to track microfibres and textiles wastes through the wastewater system. A holistic, One Health inspired portfolio of methods will combine state of the art real-time monitoring tools (e.g. FLAIR: FLuorophore-based analysis and image recognition, forensics analysis of microfibres and novel barcoding methods to identify fibres through processing and ageing of additives) with Internet-of-Things inspired GPS tracking devices for identifying pathways of textile and fibre contamination and high throughput ecotoxicology tools to assess the impacts of fibres as pollutants to aquatic ecosystems. Key research questions include:

· What factors (e.g. spatial, temporal, socio-economic) influence movement of microfibres through the wastewater system?

· How does microfibre load affect the toxicity of wastewater and its products?

· How can microfibres and textiles-associated pollutants be incorporated into digital water fingerprinting early warning One Health systems?

This project incorporates cutting edge microplastics ecotoxicology, real-time digital monitoring and One Health indicators to understand more about how human populations and their activities influence contamination of water systems with textiles derived wastes and how this might be mitigated.

Project partners:

South West Water, CREWW

Training: This studentship will be based in CREWW (Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste), the first net-zero purpose built transdisciplinary research centre in the water sector. You will be joining a very active, award-winning research group focussing on the environmental impacts of plastic pollution. Access is provided to state-of-the-art equipment in our dedicated laboratories in Exeter and Bath, with training from experts in ecotoxicology (Exeter), chemical fingerprinting and wastewater epidemiology (Bath), working with government, NGO and industry partners to co-develop solutions driven research into textiles and fashion derived wastes. You will also be supported by the excellent researcher Development Programme within the University of Exeter’s Employability and Graduate Development unit.

Background reading and references

De Falco, F. et al. Evaluation of microplastic release caused by textile washing processes of synthetic fabrics. Environmental Pollution 236, 916-925, doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2017.10.057 (2018).

Galloway, T. S., Cole, M. & Lewis, C. Interactions of microplastic debris throughout the marine ecosystem. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0116 (2017).

Napper, I. E. & Thompson, R. C. Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions. Marine Pollution Bulletin 112, 39-45, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.09.025 (2016).

Rebelein, A., Int-Veen, I., Kammann, U. & Scharsack, J. P. Microplastic fibers – Underestimated threat to aquatic organisms. Science of the Total Environment 777, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146045 (2021).

Useful Links

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via:

Prospective applicants: For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via  Each project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.

Funding Eligibility

NERC RED ALERT CDT studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals. 

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC RED ALERT CDT full studentship starting in 2024 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship).

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities.  With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength.

We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status.  We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community.  Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

Entry requirements

Essential: This project is suitable for a candidate with a strong background in aquatic biology/ecology, who has relevant experience in ecotoxicological or chemical analysis approaches with a passion for environmental sustainability and ecosystem health.

Desired: The ideal candidate for this PhD would additionally have experience of approaches for analysing plastic/ microplastics in environmental samples such as FTIR or Ramen and be confident conducting fieldwork sampling as well as working in the laboratory.

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

How to apply

Apply now

To apply for this studentship you must apply via the ‘apply now’ button provided above. 

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

• CV
• Personal Statement
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an
   interim transcript if you are still studying.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence
  of your current proficiency in English, please see the entry requirements for details.
• Two references

Reference information

You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

General information

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 2359 hours GMT Thursday 14 March 2024.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email

Please quote reference number 5056 in correspondence.

Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:14th March 2024
Value:£19,237 per annum
Duration of award:Not applicable
Contact: Postgraduate Research Admissions





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