Student Opportunities

PhD Scholarship in Ecotoxicology, Curtin University

Seeking a highly motivated PhD candidate to undertake research in aquatic ecotoxicology, as part of a research team focused on assessing the impacts of oil and gas activities on the marine environment.

Overview: This is an exciting opportunity to join a small team of researchers to develop an ecotoxicological toolbox adapted to the oil and gas industry. The project involves the development and application of a variety of biochemical and molecular tools responsive to exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons in marine fish. The specific topic of the project is flexible and can be based on the skills of the candidate. The candidate will be expected to work as part of a team and to present to national and international conferences.

Please see the project outline for more details.

Please send your expression of interest and a CV to Assoc. Prof. Marthe Monique Gagnon

PhD Project: DustSafe – Measuring and evaluating the risk of harm from contaminants of concern in household dusts, Macquarie University

Fine dust particles are capable of penetrating deep into the lung and can contain a variety of harmful agents, including metals/metalloids, organic substances, microbes and allergens. Their ultra-fine nature means that they can readily migrate into the blood stream causing systemic adverse human health effects. Given that (a) communities are becoming more urbanised and (b) people spend up to 90% of their time indoors it is critically important that we are able to characterise potential exposures to such environmental agents so that a more complete understanding of the human health risks can be developed.

The PhD will form part of a new Australian Government funded citizen science project called DustSafe. This project involves a network of participating Australian and international institutions that will investigate human exposure to potentially harmful contaminants in household dust. Household dusts samples will be collected via a citizen participation platform across three continents: Australia, Europe and North America). Participants will be invited to submit their vacuum dust to the program for analysis, along with data about the home environment (metadata).

Further information is available at (under Under the Faculty of Science and Engineering tab)

PhD Project: NORM scale in the ocean: Assessing radiological and ecotoxicological effects on aquatic organisms, ANSTO

A PhD top up scholarship is available at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in southern Sydney for a potential PhD student affiliated with a partner university.

Successful decommissioning of subsea oil and gas infrastructure requires an effective and safe approach of assessing and managing radiological residues. Scale residues frequently accumulate on the interior surfaces of pipes and other structures, and may persist long after extraction operations have ceased. Within such scale materials are a range of metal contaminants, as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), dominated by the U-238 and Th-232 decay series. On older, uncleaned pipes, the resulting accumulation of scale can be substantial enough to reduce the internal diameter of a typical pipe by >20%.

The project will provide for a more valid assessment of the risk posed by NORM scale to aquatic organisms as compared with current methods which rely on default/reference parameters which may greatly misinterpret the risk. It is intended that this will enable improved strategies to be developed and potentially implemented, creating large cost-saving for both industry and government, whilst demonstrating environmental protection (stakeholder acceptance). Specifically, the project will address a critical step in achieving this goal: developing a data set of bioaccumulation (transfer) and organ distribution of NORM within pipe scale to bottom-dwelling (benthic) organisms from oil and gas distribution lines under several scenarios of pipe usage.

Please see the project outline for more details of the project.

For further information, please contact Dr. Tom Cresswell (; (02) 9717 9412.

Honours Project: De-icing salt effects on rivers in the Australian alpine national parks, University of Canberra

At least one (potentially two) honours project each with a $6,000 scholarship (paid to the honours student) plus external project funding are available at Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), University of Canberra.

Salt is used in the ski resorts during winter to keep roads safe for resort visitors. Inevitably salt is washed into the local streams of the national parks and this may damage aquatic biota. Resort managers need better information to decide how best to apply salt to keep drivers safe and to protect the rivers.

In this project, you will:

  • Get to work in the alpine areas in NSW and Victoria.
  • Learn how salt affect stream macroinvertebrates.
  • Be involved in research that informs the management of salt application.
  • Learn applied freshwater ecology techniques and their application. 


  • Ben Kefford
  • Sue Nichols
  • Simon Foster
  • Other IAE staff as appropriate

Contact: Dr Ben Kefford
Phone: (02) 6201 2086

Click here to find out more

To prevent ice forming on the road surface, salts are applied to roads in alpine areas in New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) using a combination of sodium chloride (NaCl) and calcium chloride (CaCl2). In northern USA and Canada road de-icing is a major source of pollution to freshwaters. For example, chloride concentrations of up to 25% of the concentration in seawater have been reported in streams in Maryland, New York, and New Hampshire (USA) during winters where road de-icing salts are applied (Kaushal et al. 2005). During summer chloride concentrations can be up to 100 times greater than in unaffected streams (Kaushal et al. 2005). The effect of road de-icing salts on salinity levels in Australian streams has not been studied; although salinity is expected to increase somewhat as the de-icing salts are transported to streams. The salinity levels in Australian alpine streams are naturally extremely low and the aquatic fauna typically has a high proportion of salt sensitive taxa (e.g. mayflies, stoneflies), thus a modest rise may potentially adversely affect the biota of alpine streams.

Issue: There are various management options for potentially reducing the amount of salt applied to roads and/or the salinity peaks in runoff. However, there is currently no indication if salinity increases occur from de-icing in Australia or what level of salinity is environmentally acceptable in Australian Alpine streams. This makes justifying changes in the management of road de-icing problematic.

The first honours project will: Determine the salinity sensitivity of stream macroinvertebrates through laboratory experiments and/or controlled field experiments that record the response of macroinvertebrates to additions of salts.

You will work with another honours student that is/has determined the increase in salinity and change in stream macroinvertebrate community upstream and downstream of roads where salt is applied.

You will need to have:

  • Completed (or about to complete) a three year (environmental/applied) science degree with studies in relevant disciplines e.g. aquatic/freshwater ecology and/or ecotoxicology.
  • A drivers licence and the ability to undertake field work in Alpine regions.
  • A grade point average of 5.0 or higher (for entry into honours) in the final two years of the course (or possess qualifications deemed equivalent by the University’s Admissions Committee).
  • Ready to commence the project, ideally in semester 1 of 2017.

In the event that more suitable students apply than we can offer scholarships, the scholarship(s) will be allocated based on the student’s academic record, the relevance of their academic record and any other experience relevant for the project, the interest of the student and references sought.

Students that are not Australian nor New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, please note that this scholarship (and associated project funds) does not cover international student fees.

Kaushal, S. S., P. M. Groffman, G. E. Likens, K. T. Belt, W. P. Stack, V. R. Kelly, L. B. Band, and G. T. Fisher. 2005. Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 38:13517-13520.