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Find a PhD at SAMS

For possible projects at the University of the Highlands and Islands please refer to the UHI Graduate School recruitment pages at this link.

At SAMS we currently have one funded studentship available:

Material development for global seaweed cultivation

This PhD will explore how settlement, development and attachment of north Atlantic seaweeds are influenced by the surface characteristics, focusing on the rhodophytes Palmaria palmata and Porphyra spp. This research will aid in the development of novel cultivation substrates for the global seaweed industry.  

The seaweed cultivation industry is expanding globally. Production has tripled since 2000, with 32.4 MT worth $13.3 billion harvested in 2018. Seaweed cultivation supports hundreds of thousands of people through the supply chain, particularly in low income regions of Asia (the site of 99% of production). As investment is made into sustainable development of marine resources to support blue economy growth, seaweed cultivation has the opportunity to expand rapidly throughout the globe. Cultivation can also bring numerous environmental benefits including CO2 drawdown, carbon sequestration, absorbing excess nutrients and acting as fishery no-take zones. 

Cultivation at sea requires the successful attachment of juvenile seaweed, produced in a nursery/hatchery, to a growth material substrate. Many factors determine the suitability of a growth substrate for use in the sea (i.e. tensile strength, cost, degradation tolerance, workability). On top of these, the material must be suitable for secure juvenile - then proceeding to - adult attachment.

Initial and juvenile attachment is due to the secretion of chemical adhesives, which may then be supplemented by mechanical attachment as the holdfast develops. Surface characteristics including chemistry, flexibility and micro/macrostructure and porosity will all influence the success of this attachment. The optimal surface characteristics are known to vary between growth stages, and species, but this has not been well-studied or documented. Currently, trade-offs are made in the substrate chosen e.g. using widely available aquaculture ropes (which have low suitability in terms of chemistry and structure). This can lead to low and unreliable farm yields, preventing industry expansion.

By building our understanding of seaweed attachment, the next generation of seaweed cultivation materials can be designed which optimise seaweed attachment depending on the species cultivated. This development could facilitate the expansion of the global seaweed industry into new world areas.

This PhD will explore how surface characteristics can be optimised to ensure successful seaweed attachment, using both controlled laboratory experiments and field trials at the SAMS experimental seaweed farm (Port a Bhuiltin). The PhD will focus on the rhodophyte species Palmaria palmata and Porphyra spp, both of which are cultivated at a small scale across Europe. Kelp species with established cultivation methods (e.g. Saccharina latissima and Alaria esculenta), may also be considered. Both laboratory trials and outplanting experiments at coastal seaweed farms will be used. 

Seaweeds exist as holobionts in association with a surface microbial community of epiflora. It is known that there is complex metabolite interaction between the host and its microbiome. Some microbes appear to be essential for normal seaweed development, and so the microbiome composition may promote or impede juvenile attachment and development.  The PhD will explore this topic by assessing how growth and photosynthesis are influenced by adjustments to the microbiome community, and changes to the microbiome over the course of development.

Outputs from this project will be impactful for the development of the seaweed industry by defining the surface characteristics needed for the successful attachment and healthy development of multiple species of commercial interest. Two deliverables will be produced a) on surface chemistry and b) surface texture (structure and porosity) combining both laboratory with seaweed farm trials. A third deliverable will be produced on the developmental influence of the microbiome. These three deliverables may translate directly into scientific papers.  A fourth deliverable may be possible on the use of chlorophyll a fluorometry, however, this data may be used to bolster the other three deliverables. A final output will be a synthesis evaluating the most important parameters for ensuring successful cultivation in each species.

Supervisory team

Dr Adam Hughes, SAMS

Dr Philip Kerrison, SAMS

Dr David Green, SAMS

Dr Adrian Macleod, SAMS

Norman Clough, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc

Funding Notes

This 3.5 year fully funded PhD studentship follows UKRI funding guidance.

To qualify for home fees status, applicants must be either a UK National (meeting residency requirements) or meet the requirements of the EU Settlement Scheme and have either settled status, pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements) or indefinite leave to remain or enter. The studentship covers home fees, a maintenance stipend and a research training grant.

All other International applicants will be required to cover the difference between home fees and international fees. Annual tuition fees are subject to revision and typically increase between 1.5-3% per annum.


Applicants should normally have, or be studying for:

A postgraduate Master’s degree from a degree-awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent, or

A first or upper second class honours degree from a degree awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent.

A master’s degree at postgraduate level of a University in the United Kingdom or equivalent, or

A first or upper second class honours degree of a University in the United Kingdom or equivalent, or

Other qualifications or experience that, in the opinion of the Research Degrees Committee and upon the recommendation of the Academic Partner Principal (or equivalent), affords sufficient evidence of their availability to benefit and study at the academic level required.

In addition, EU/International applicants must be able to demonstrate a high level of competence in written and spoken English with an IELTs score of 6.5 overall and not less than 6.0 in any element. See the University’s guide on English language requirements for our courses/programmes.

How to apply

Please download and complete our Application form for research studentship 2020-21 and Reference form for PhD applications 2021

Submit the application form with all supporting documentation as one single pdf file.

Applicants are responsible for ensuring their referees submit the references by the deadline.

Please email your application and references to: phd@sams.ac.uk


Closing date for applications: Friday 26th March 2021, 5pm

Interview date: Wednesday 14th April 2021

Start date: Summer 2021

For further project information


Below are some ideas put forward by staff for students who want to self-fund a PhD project:

  • >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 Hughes and Prof Michele Stanley)
  • >The war of the marine worlds: Do pathogens contribute to the resilience of marine ecosystems against biological invasions? (Dr Claire Gachon)
  • >Genomics of algal defenses against their pathogens (Dr Claire Gachon)
  • >The evolution of pathogenicity among oomycetes: a comparative genomics approach (Dr Claire Gachon)
  • >Implications of large offshore renewables arrays for fisheries (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Prey selection by gadoid larvae (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Behaviour of the marine predatory copepod Euchaeta norvegica (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Reproductive behaviour of a southern copepod in the changing environment of the west of Scotland (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)
  • >Fine scale passive acoustic tracking of harbour porpoises: investigation of echolocation behaviour and practical applications (Professor Ben Wilson)
  • >Arctic wide zooplankton migration behaviour (Professor Finlo Cottier and Dr Kim Last)
  • >Developing a fjord box model for high latitudes (Professor Mark Inall and Profesor Finlo Cottier)
  • >How does vertical mixing influence ocean-glacier interactions? (Professor Mark Inall and Professor Finlo Cottier) 

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 IRO £14,500 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 6.5 (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, Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy:

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