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Find a PhD at SAMS

We are currently recruiting for 2 funded Phd Projects

Funded by NERC, through the SUPER Doctoral Training Partnership, the 3½ year studentships cover:

1. A yearly stipend based on RCUK rates (£18,622 for the 2023/24 academic year, full-time study)
2. Maintenance grant at UKRI rate, approx. £17,000 per annum (full-time study)
3. Funding for research training 4. Part-time study is an option, with a minimum of 50% of full-time effort.


Mitigating harmful algal blooms with modified clay to safeguard marine aquaculture in a changing climate

While the use of MC in European marine waters is novel, the use of lanthanum modified benzoate clay to remove phosphorous from the water column and hence reduce algal blooms has been trialled in freshwater in Scotland (Lang et al. Water Research 97: 55-68, 2016). While not suitable for the mitigation of marine fish killing HABs, this set a precent for the regulatory approval of such approaches in Scottish waters.

The project’s objective is therefore to provide the first evaluation of the ability of electrostatically modified “clay” to mitigate harmful agal blooms in a UK/European aquaculture context but may also involve participation in experiments in China or Malaysia to gain experience of field application of the technique.

Within this objective, the project has 4 aims. These are to determine, at laboratory and aquarium tank scale, the impact of MC on:

1. key harmful taxa (both diatoms and dinoflagellates) of concern to UK aquaculture
2. water chemistry (absorption and release of inorganic nutrients and metals)
3. associated (benign) components of the microbial ecosystem (bacteria, other protists and zooplankton)
4. the health and welfare of farmed fish (smolt Atlantic salmon)

Project start date: 30 September 2024

Closing date: 29th January 2024

Lead Academic: Prof Keith Davidson

Click here to find out more


Understanding sea louse larval biology and natural abundance to inform modelling and assist management of the Scottish salmon industry

(CASE PhD project which benefits from additional funding for research costs from industrial partners MOWI and Scottish Sea Farms, £5k per annum).

The PhD project will take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding sea louse larval ecology and biology with the aim of supporting the salmonid aquaculture industry and wild fishery and their regulation in Scotland. The project will generate key parameters currently weakly supported in dispersal modelling, including improved understanding of sea louse: 1) larval abundance, 2) fecundity, 3) fertility, 4) metabolism, and 5) swimming behaviour. Host infection processes continue to be extensively studied elsewhere and therefore will not be examined here. Emphasis in this project will be placed on assessing all three larval stages including any differences resulting from local adaptation or between gravid female lice from farmed versus wild salmon. In support of this, expertise at SAMS has been recently developed in field sampling of sea lice larvae and aquarium-based zooplankton handling, manipulation, imaging, and experimentation. Animals will be obtained using an existing network of industry, fisheries trusts, and regulators developed through two previous projects (CES funded SPILLS project in partnership with industry and Marine Scotland Science, 2020-2022; and UHI Aquaculture Hub Industry Engagement Fund SeaLiceELS project in partnership with Mowi Scotland, 2022). Experimental work in the SAMS aquarium will involve maintaining larval hatcheries and controlled experiments to assess aspects of larval biology, behaviour, and bioenergetics.

The ultimate objective is to provide rigorous datasets to support accurate dispersal modelling of sea lice larvae, with specific objectives to:

1. Determine sea louse fecundity and fertility seasonally.
2. Determine respiration rates as a function of salinity and temperature representative of natural seasonal cycles.
3. Determine swimming behaviour (directed swimming and activity) as a function of salinity, temperature, pressure and light, representative of natural seasonal cycles.
4. Determine the importance of hydrodynamic features (salinity gradients / tidal fronts) in contributing to sea lice ‘hotspots’.
5. Integrate new empirical data into sea louse dispersion models.

Project start date: 30 September 2024

Closing date: 29th January 2024

Lead Academic: Dr Kim Last

Click here to find out more



Discuss your SELF-FUNDED PhD idea with a SAMS researcher

We are open to talk to prospective students who have an idea for a PhD research project that sits well within our research areas and who are able to fund the project themselves.

Here is some advice on the best way to pitch your idea to us:

> Firstly, learn more about our research areas and the research currently being conducted at SAMS. Decide which area your idea is relevant to and consider how it could enhance our research efforts.

> Look at the individual researcher pages over on our “People” page and identify who may be a suitable PhD supervisor for your research idea.

> Finally, make initial contact. There are two ways to go about this:

> Get in touch with our PhD team first to discuss your ideas and get advice about the costs of a PhD before going direct to the researcher. Send an email to phd@sams.ac.uk making it clear to the team that you have means to fund the project yourself. A member of staff will then be able to help advise on potential supervisors and may even be able to pass on your idea and enquiry to the relevant people.

> Go direct to the researcher. If you have full confidence in your research idea and have researched suitable supervisors, then contact them, preferably via email, with a summary of your idea, making it clear that you have means to self-fund the project. Please bear in mind that our scientists are very busy and may not reply straight away.

> Good luck!


Looking for self-funded PhD project ideas?

Our scientists have proposed some topics for self-funded students to consider. These are categorised into SAMS’ three core research areas:

Ocean Systems

>Arctic wide zooplankton migration behaviour (Professor Finlo Cottier and Dr Kim Last)

>Developing a fjord box model for high latitudes (Professor Mark Inall and Professor Finlo Cottier)

>How does vertical mixing influence ocean-glacier interactions? (Professor Mark Inall and Professor Finlo Cottier) 

Dynamic Coasts

> Prey selection by gadoid larvae (Dr Clive Fox)

> Feeding preferences of Nephrops larvae (Dr Clive Fox)

> Dispersal of early life stages of flatfish on the west of Scotland (Dr Clive Fox and Professor Michael Burrows)

> Using natural resources to remove microplastics from the marine environment (Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy and Professor Michele Stanley)

> Evaluating and comparing the perceived versus real problem of litter on Scottish island coastlines (Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy and Dr Andy Dale)

Blue Economy 

> Fine scale passive acoustic tracking of harbour porpoises: investigation of echolocation behaviour around artificial structures (Professor Ben Wilson)

> The genetic stability of microalgal strains used in biofuel production (Professor Michele Stanley)

> Modelling the hydrodynamics of large scale macroalgae cultivation (Professor Michele Stanley)

> Oyster culture in Scotland (Dr Adam Hughesand Professor Michele Stanley)

> Implications of large offshore renewables arrays for fisheries (Dr Clive Fox)






Many PhDs come with full studentships, which cover fees and living expenses, so that students can focus on their research and be expected to complete their studies in 3 or 3.5 years.

Self-funded students will require to have approximately £16,000 per year for living expenses to be in line with RCUK doctoral stipends on top of the fees.

For UHI PhD projects, click here for the current fees.

Most of our PhD projects are registered through the University of the Highlands and Islands, and this page outlines the application procedure for UHI PhDs. Please note that we have several other doctoral training partnerships - most notably with the University of Edinburgh, and applications to these programmes follow procedures by other universities. Information regarding these can be found on the individual project adverts.

We adhere strictly to equality and diversity policies during all phases of recruitment so that we find the most talented and motivated students to join us.


To be eligible to study for a PhD at SAMS UHI, who need to possess - in a relevant discipline and from a reputable institution:

  • A Master's qualification and / or
  • A Bachelor degree with first class or upper second class honours and / or
  • Another qualification or substantial experience that demonstrates your academic competence to complete doctoral training successfully (to be approved by the UHI Research Degrees Committee on the recommendation of the SAMS Director).
  • Additionally, international students whose first language is not English and who do not hold a prior degree obtained in English must hold an IELTS qualification with a score of 6 or over in every section with a minimum score of 6.5 overall (6+ in writing), gained within two years prior to your registration date.

How to Apply

Most importantly you need to have identified an approved PhD project (including a Director of Studies / supervisory team) that you are unquestionably excited by. This can be a ready made project advertised on these pages OR a proposal you have developed with a SAMS supervisor and have funding for.

If you wish to apply for an advertised studentship you will find this under the ‘Funded Projects’ tab. Please complete the application form provided in the advertisement.

Return your completed application to the email stated on the form, accompanied by your cv and any supporting documentation listed below. Please submit your whole application as one pdf. Your referees should use the reference form provided and also return it to the email stated on the application form.

Supporting Documentation Required

The following documents should be emailed with your application and CV as one pdf file:

  • Copies of all official qualification certificates and transcripts. If your official certificates/transcripts are not in English, they must be accompanied by a full certified translation provided by a professional translator/translation company.
  • If English is not your native language, an English language test certificate (IELTS or equivalent), gained within the past two years;
  • If you are not a UK national, a copy of the photo page of your passport. Also include any pages which indicate a right of abode in the UK;
  • 2 academic references. If references are not available at the time of submission, they can be excluded from the single pdf file, however applicants are responsible for ensuring their referees submit the references to the email given on the application form by the deadline.
  • If you wish to apply for more than one project, please submit separate applications.

Most PhD students will want to meet their potential supervisors to discuss the project, their personal suitability and to ascertain that they will be able to work together for a prolonged period of time.

For administrative issues, your first and main point of contact is the Postgraduate Academic Support Administrator who can be contacted by email to: phd@sams.ac.uk

The SAMS graduate school is convened by marine deep-sea ecologist and microplastic researcher, Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy:

E: Bhavani.Narayanaswamy@sams.ac.uk T: +44 (0) 1631 559 305 (direct)