Current postgraduate opportunities

  • Functional morphological adaptation to a changing environment in Pleistocene dormice.

    The ‘island effect’ is a well-documented evolutionary phenomenon whereby animal species that become isolated on islands undergo rapid morphological change. In particular, small species tend to get larger and large species become smaller. It has also been shown that such morphological changes are often associated with functional changes related to feeding biomechanics, such as changes in bite force. The fossil dormice of the genus Leithia from the Pleistocene of Malta and Sicily are excellent examples of the island effect. These two species, isolated from their mainland ancestors by rising sea levels in the Mediterranean, underwent gigantism, becoming much larger in body size. However, despite being a key component of the Early to Late Pleistocene Siculo-Maltese fauna, they remain poorly studied with attention focussing instead on more charismatic taxa such as the one-metre-tall dwarf elephant Palaeoloxodon falconeri.

    This project seeks to understand the effects of gigantism on the morphology and function of Leithia. Are the giant fossil dormice of Malta and Sicily simply scaled-up versions of their mainland relatives or has allometric shape change occurred as body size has increased? This project will use statistical shape analysis techniques (geometric morphometrics) to compare the morphology of Leithia specimens with their extant relatives. Furthermore, how has the change in size and shape affected the feeding performance of these dormouse species? The project will then use a state-of-the-art bioengineering methodology (finite element analysis) to simulate feeding in virtual models of different dormouse species. Finally, the results of the morphological and functional analyses will be analysed in the context of known environmental data from the Pleistocene of Malta and Sicily to shed light on the factors driving the evolution, and ultimately the extinction, of the giant Mediterranean dormice.

    This project would be ideal for a student with a background in zoology, anatomy, palaeontology or zooarchaeology. Prior experience with geometric morphometrics and/or finite element analysis would be a bonus, but is not essential as training will be provided during the course of the PhD. However, it is important that the student is competent in mathematics and data handling. The supervisory team includes expertise in functional morphology, biomechanics, imaging and palaeontology.

    Supervisory Team - Principal supervisor: Dr Phil Cox (Hull York Medical School, University of York)  Co-supervisors: Dr Victoria Herridge (Natural History Museum) and Dr Nathan Jeffery (University of Liverpool)

    Teaching Duties

    This is a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) position and in addition to their research, the successful candidate will be expected to contribute up to 250 hours per annum of teaching support in relation to both postgraduate and undergraduate teaching undertaken by CAHS. This will include the supervision of laboratory classes (in gross anatomy, physiology, virtual anthropology and evolutionary anatomy), day to day support for MSc students in relation to research projects, and general support to MBBS and MSc teaching and assessment as required. Such a wide portfolio will provide the student with a great deal of teaching experience, which will contribute significantly to the student’s employability post-PhD. As part of this position, there will also be the opportunity to gain a teaching qualification (York Learning and Teaching Award) if desired.

    We do not expect the successful candidate to each be able to cover all areas of teaching and research in the first instance – training will be provided in areas in which they are unfamiliar. Additionally, training will be provided in relation to University teaching methods, management and delivery. The principal base for the successful candidate’s research and teaching will be at the HYMS building on the University of York campus. However, teaching duties may occasionally involve physical presence at the HYMS University of Hull campus.

    You are encouraged to contact Dr Phil Cox ( directly to discuss this position prior to submitting your application. Details of his work and interests can be found here:


    A stipend at the Research Council UK rate (£14,296 for 2016/17, to be confirmed for 2017-18) and a fee waiver at the Home/EU rate will be provided.

    This competition is open to UK and EU graduates or graduates from overseas. If a successful candidate is not eligible to pay Home/EU fees, they will need to fund the difference in tuition fees between the prevailing Home/EU and Overseas fees.

    Start Date

    October 2017

    Qualifications and Skills Required

    The successful candidate will be expected to hold a first class honours degree or an upper second in a relevant subject area and, ideally, a Master’s degree in a relevant topic with honours or distinction. As part of your application you will need to submit a CV, and a personal statement outlining your career to date, career intentions as well as detailing your experience, skills and knowledge relevant to this position (up to 1000 words). Some experience in the delivery of academic or practical content to small groups would be preferred. You should have excellent written and oral communication skills, be able to work well independently and be highly motivated to undertake PhD research.

    How to Apply

    All applications MUST BE submitted to the HYMS Postgraduate Centre via the online application method:

    Please select ‘PhD in Human Sciences’ with a start date of ‘2017 October, full-time’.

    The deadline for applications is Monday 23rd January 2017 at 23h59.

    Please quote HYMS with the scholarship title when applying. In order for the Panel to get a sense of your academic background, commitment and interest, you are required to complete the application form in full and provide a research proposal/outline of academic interest. Research proposals and personal statements may be used in selecting applicants for interview. If you have any queries on how to apply please email

    Please note that this is a student scholarship.  If you will be employed by HYMS (e.g. on a fixed or short term contract) for the duration of your study, you will not be eligible to receive the student scholarship as a member of HYMS staff.  You should contact Elaine Brookes in Postgraduate Admissions if you still wish to apply to discuss different options.

    Interview Date

    Applicants who are shortlisted for interview will be sent details of the date, time and venue via email within a week of the deadline. If you are not invited for the interview, it means that your application has not been successful. Please note that we do not offer feedback to applicants who are not invited to the interview.

    Interview Outcome

    As soon as reasonably practicable after the interviews have taken place HYMS will write to the successful applicant offering him/her the post. Upon receipt of formal written acceptance of the post we will write to notify unsuccessful candidates. Whilst we try to do this in as effective and efficient manner as possible, sometimes the process can take rather longer than is ideal because of the need to recall candidates for a second interview and reconvene interview panels and/or due to routine disruptions caused by leave and other absences. We apologise for any delay and inconvenience caused in these circumstances