PDRA in Antarctic Molecular Ecology

Updated: 3 months ago
Location: Durham, ENGLAND

PDRA in Antarctic Molecular Ecology (
Job Number:
Department of Geography
Grade 7: - £33, 797 - £35,845 per annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 3 years
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date
: 24-May-2022, 6:59:00 PM 

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 Geography is a vibrant community of over 60 academic staff (approximately equally divided between physical and human geography), a graduate school of around 100 research and 40 taught postgraduate students and more than 750 undergraduates. The Department is well supported with technical staff, including a cartography unit, and administrative staff.

The most recent QS rankings for Geography placed Durham 12th overall in the world. The department is recurrently ranked in the top handful of programmes in the UK by various league tables; in 2021, we were ranked 2nd in The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide and 6th in the Guardian University Guide. The Department was graded top for research power (quality weighted by volume) among UK geography departments in the most recent Research Excellence Framework exercise in 2014 and 3rd for iGPA (average score scaled by proportion of staff submitted). With 43% of work assessed as being in the highest category, it produced the largest number of world-leading (4*) publications in the country.

Our aim is to sustain and support hubs of leadership in geographical scholarship – broadly conceived. We will maintain our reputation for theoretical and conceptual innovation so that we are shaping and leading debates globally.

Our research is organised around our seven research clusters: Culture & Economy, Geographies of Life, Politics-State-Space, Urban Worlds, Sea level Ice & Climate, Catchments and Rivers, and Hazards and Surface Change.

Across these clusters we engage in debates that move beyond disciplinary boundaries and actively engage with collaborators within and beyond the discipline, from the sciences, social sciences and humanities, in University Research Institutes (such as the Institute for Hazard Risk and Resilience, the Durham Energy Institute and the Institute for Medical Humanities) and Centres (such as the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures). Our staff collaborate with colleagues in many other disciplines in Durham, and with other geographers and interdisciplinary teams internationally.

The department fosters a lively research culture, supporting workshops and events which draw in international guests and mobilise the talents of our doctoral students. It provides financial support to develop collaborations and projects, be they for seeking funding or creating outputs. We are engaged with a wide variety of local, national and international bodies in both designing and implementing work addressing many of the global challenges. The pages at  https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/research/ describe our research organisation, cluster themes, staff and a range of active projects.

The post-holder will also work closely with the Department of Biosciences, a world-class research led department which comprises 55 staff in four groups (Animal Cells and Systems, Ecology, Evolution and Environment, Biomolecular Interactions and Molecular Plant Sciences), hosting 118 postgraduate students. The department is ranked 6th in the Complete University Guide and 8th in the UK for world-leading research impact.  In particular the affiliation would be with the Ecology, Evolution and Environment group, which explores the relationships between organisms and their changing environment, working at scales from global to sub-cellular, whilst considering also behavioural and evolutionary plasticity. The primary interests of the group are the role of evolution in shaping species relationships with their environment, the role of behaviour in modifying individual variation, and the impact of environmental change, particularly global climatic change and anthropogenic habitat alteration, on species.

The Role
The Department of Geography at Durham University seeks to appoint a full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Antarctic Molecular Ecology to join the inter-disciplinary research team led by Professor Erin McClymont as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded project “Unlocking evidence for Antarctic sea-ice evolution from a novel biological archive”. The post is fixed term for 3 years. The PDRA will work under the supervision of both Professor McClymont (Geography) and Professor Rus Hoelzel (Biosciences) at Durham University, and will collaborate with other members of the project team.

The overall Leverhulme Trust-funded project aims to reconstruct histories of Antarctic sea-ice ecosystems and environments from the Last Glacial Maximum to present, using a combination of geochemical and reconstructions of snow petrel diet, modern snow petrel observations and diet sampling, genetic evidence for changes to snow petrel diet and populations, and modelling sea ice ecosystems for the past, present and future. A parallel project funded by the European Research Council, includes additional snow petrel observation work and climate/sea ice modelling. Across the two projects, the team includes 4 PhD researchers, 3 PDRAs, and investigators at both Durham University (Geography, Biosciences) and the British Antarctic Survey.

The overall aim of this PDRA position will be to generate and interrogate genetic information for the past diets of snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea ) and to examine how snow petrel colonies have changed over time. Snow petrels forage within the sea ice, but nest on exposed slopes above the Antarctic ice sheet. Their diet has been observed to change today under different sea-ice conditions but also in the past (McClymont et al., 2022, Climate of the Past) as a result of accumulated stomach-oil deposits at nesting sites. The PDRA will analyse modern snow petrel stomach oils and prey to characterise the dominant prey species in the diet, and apply ancient DNA metabarcoding analysis to the deposits in order to complement ongoing geochemical reconstructions of past diet. The PDRA will then use DNA preserved in both modern snow petrel samples and the stomach-oil deposits to investigate the size, structure, connectivity and changes to snow petrel colonies through time. The project has recovered samples from four geographical regions, which have some overlap, and will test the hypothesis that isolation of snow petrel colonies during times of more extended sea and land ice led to separate lines of evolution.

Please see the full list of responsibilities and person specification given below.

The successful applicant will join the Leverhulme Trust and ERC project teams (12 members) and large internationally recognised groups of researchers in the Departments of Geography and Biosciences Durham University, including the ‘Ecology, Evolution and Environment’ cluster (https://www.durham.ac.uk/departments/academic/biosciences/research/groups/ecology-evolution-and-environment/ ) and the ‘Sea Level, Ice and Climate’ cluster (https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/slic/ ). In Biosciences, the applicant will join the Molecular Ecology Group, a vibrant group of staff, PDRAs and postgraduates, many of whom work on population genomic and metagenomic projects. Work on ancient DNA is well established in the group, including a study that amplified a mitogenome from an Eemian deer (~130,000 years old).  The PDRA will have access to excellent facilities for labwork in molecular ecology, including an inclusive set of equipment for NGS QC work, and a dedicated ancient DNA lab.  The department’s DBS Genomics facility also has HiSeq and MiSeq machines together with a dedicated sequencing and bioinformatics staff.  Prof. Hoelzel is the academic lead of this facility.  Durham also has an excellent high processing computing core, including shared memory cores well suited to bioinformatic work.

Responsibilities  :

  • To generate metabarcoding and population genomic data towards the assessment of diet, population structure and historical population dynamics, including work with ancient DNA.
  • To apply the most current and useful bioinformatics methods and pipelines to analyse the DNA sequence data in support of the project aims and objectives, and contribute to the further analysis and interpretation of the results.
  • 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: research sponsors, 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 under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, 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 or Grant-holder 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, as appropriate, and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • 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 a maximum of 36 months; the project is time-limited and will end on 30 September 2025. Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1st September 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.


The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by Professor Erin McClymont. 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 2022


How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Erin McClymont (erin.mcclymont@durham.ac.uk ) and/or Professor Rus Hoelzel (a.r.hoelzel@durham.ac.uk ).  All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence. 


We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/ . 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:
  • An acadmic CV
  • A covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above;
  • Contact details of 3 academic/research referees. Referees will be contacted following the short-listing process

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will be based on the criteria outlined here.  Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment on a date to be confirmed.





The Requirements
  • Qualifications
    • A good first degree in biological sciences, or a related discipline
    • A PhD (or be close to submission) in population or evolutionary genetics/ genomics, or molecular ecology.

    • Experience
    • Experience in lab-based and analytical molecular ecology including some experience with genomic data generation and analysis.
    • Experience in conducting high quality academic research.
    • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked journals.
    • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at [national/international ] conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community  

            Skills ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ 

    • Molecular ecology lab skills including DNA extraction, electrophoresis and DNA sequencing (including library production for NGS).
    • Familiarity with the bioinformatics associated with NGS.
    • Demonstrable ability to analyse molecular genetic data to address questions about population structure, diversity, species identification and historical dynamics.
    • Understanding of the procedures for metabarcoding and ancient DNA extraction.
    • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
    • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
    • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

  • Experience
    • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
    • Experience with ancient DNA extraction and handling.
    • Experience with metabarcoding and the associated bioinformatics.
    • Knowledge of Antarctic ecology and/or knowledge of marine systems and seabirds.
    • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.
  • Skills
    • DNA metabarcoding for species identificantion including the associated bioinformatics.
    • Ancient DNA extraction.
    • Phylogentic reconstruction and analysis.
    • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 

    DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.
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