Postdoctoral Research Associate

Durham University

Durham, UK 🇬🇧

Durham University
Durham University is one of the world’s top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people’s lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

 The Department
Durham Earth Sciences is one of the very best UK Earth Science departments with an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching, research and both the satisfaction and employability of its students. It is regularly ranked in the top 5 of UK departments and is within the global top 30.

The department has around 35 academic staff, 10 research staff, 90 PhD students and 250 undergraduate students. Its research covers a spectrum of Earth Science disciplines around four broad themes: Solid Earth; Climate and Environmental Change; Geoenergy, Resources and Waste; Geohazards. The themes reflect our aim to not only undertake fundamental and intrinsically excellent research, but also research which is relevant to and which impacts society. We collaborate widely, and within Durham we work closely with both the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (link to and the Durham Energy Institute (link to ).

The Department is committed to providing the highest level of education to its students, giving them the knowledge, skills and confidence to contribute positively to the world beyond Durham. We provide research-led teaching with a large proportion of practical classes and a deep commitment to field-based teaching. We regularly receive > 90% satisfaction scores on the annual National Student Survey and our students are highly sought after by a range of employers.

The Department of Earth Sciences holds a departmental Bronze Athena SWAN award in recognition of its efforts to promote gender equality and address challenges particular to the earth sciences.

More information on the department, its research and its facilities can be found at

 The Role
We invite applications for a Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA) to join the Department of Earth Sciences, working with Prof Jeroen van Hunen on a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), “Geothermal Energy from Mines and Solar-Geothermal heat (GEMS)”. The position is fixed term for 36 months, with a start date for this position at 1st September 2021. This post is part of a larger project involving two further PDRAs in the School of Engineering and the department of Anthropology at Durham University, and involves close collaborations with 12 scientists from Durham University (Earth Sciences, Engineering, Anthropology and the Business School) and the British Geological Survey (BGS), as well as national and international project partners.

Warm water in the ~23,000 disused, flooded mines in the UK offer a huge, low-carbon geothermal energy resource that could heat, cool, and provide heat storage for a quarter of UK homes and businesses, notably economically disadvantaged regions, such as former mining and many urban communities. To utilise and optimise this enormous energy supply and storage opportunity, research is required on a number of aspects, including optimised abstraction strategies of those heat resources, introduction of innovative heat storage solutions to level out diurnal and seasonal energy demand fluctuations, mapping the financial landscape for mine geothermal energy, and integration of the technical aspects with governance frameworks, social acceptance and economic viability. The aim of the GEMS project is to provide integrated solutions, from initial heat extraction to the end user, for employing mine water geothermal heat energy as sustainable, low-carbon heat source by using simulation tools, innovative heat storage solutions, evaluation of the governance and economic landscape, and community participation.

The successful candidate will be expected to assess the potential of geothermal mine water as a sustainable energy resource. This will be done by using and further developing innovative, state-of-the-art numerical simulations, calibrated with mine records, mine monitoring data, field experiments, and citizen knowledge. The PDRA will work with the PI and the Earth Science team at Durham and the BGS to develop a state-of-the-art numerical thermo-hydraulic groundwater-mine water model. For model calibration, the PDRA will benefit from a data available through the BGS UK Geoenergy Observatory in Glasgow  and from several project partners. The modelling tool will be applied to prospective target mines in NE England and elsewhere. The PDRA will join the vibrant Durham Energy Institute, and will further benefit from the Department’s mentoring programme for Early Career Researchers. PDRAs are also encouraged to co-supervise MSc and undergraduate research projects.

 The successful candidate will be expected to contribute to the general activities of the research group and participate actively in the intellectual life of the department and university. There may be opportunities to teach/demonstrate in labs and field classes depending on the interests of the successful candidate. 

 Responsibilities :

  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops. 
  • To conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of the Principal Investigator.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator and other colleagues in the research group, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by participation in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.  

 This post is fixed term for 36 months due to the limited external funding available for this project.

 The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by another colleague. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

 Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1st September 2021.  

How to Apply
For informal enquiries please contact Prof. Jeroen van Hunen, [email protected]  All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence. 

 We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

 Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University .

 What to Submit
All applicants are asked to submit:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above;
  • A personal statement.

 Next Steps
The assessment for the post will include an online interview, including a short presentation of previous relevant research. 

The Requirements
1. Qualifications

  • A good first degree in Earth Sciences, Geoscience, Engineering or other relevant degree.
  • A PhD (or be close to submission) in a relevant area, e.g. Geophysics, Hydrogeology, Groundwater Hydrology

2. Experience

  • Experience in conducting high quality academic research.
  • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked international, peer reviewed journals.
  • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at national and international conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.
  • Demonstrable experience in modelling of fluid flow or groundwater flow, e.g. using FEFLOW or MODFLOW.
  • Demonstrable experience in advanced programming in Matlab, Python, C, or Fortran.

3. Skills

  • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
  • Ability to work in a multi-disciplinary research environment.
  • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Excellent level of numeracy.


4. Experience

  • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
  • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.
  • Demonstrable ability to develop research proposals and designs in collaboration with other academics.
  • Experience of overseeing students with respect to the development of their practical/research skills e.g. acting as a demonstrator; supervising student projects/practicals.
  • Knowledge of mine geothermal energy.
  • Knowledge of UK geology.
  • Experience with geomechanical modelling software and Petrel.

 5. Skills

  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research.