CENTA PhD Studentships

Qualification: PhD

Departments: School of Chemistry Genetics Geography Geology School of Physics and Astronomy

Application deadline: 11th January 2021

Start date: 27 September 2021


The Central England NERC Training Alliance is a partnership involving the Universities of Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Warwick, Cranfield, and the Open University, together with the British Geological Survey and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. CENTA has been awarded £4.9 million from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which, with additional support from the partners, will fund around 120 PhD studentships over five years, training the next generation of Environmental and Earth Scientists.

CENTA has now entered is second phase "CENTA2", with increased funding and studentships. 

The University of Leicester has expertise in a number of areas where the CENTA Partnership has particular research strength. These are:

  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability: key areas of strength include pollutants in the atmosphere and aquatic environments, and satellite-based observations of the climate system.
  • Organisms and Ecosystems: key areas of strength include modern and ancient ecosystems, responses to environmental change, vertebrates (living and fossil), exceptional preservation of fossils and their evolutionary implications, microfossils and how they link to climate change studies, and hydrocarbon exploration.
  • Dynamic Earth: key areas of strength include magma dynamics, tectonic and Earth surface processes, rates and timescales of geological processes, palaeoenvironments and palaeoclimates, all underpinned by cross-cutting excellence in chemical analysis of rocks, fossils and geological processes.

As a CENTA student, you will belong to a consortium well-resourced to provide you with extensive training to give you confidence in all aspects of your research. The partnership draws together relevant expertise from a complementary set of research organisations to train scientists capable of making outstanding contributions to their discipline, and able to apply their knowledge to the challenges facing the UK economy, the quality of life of its citizens, and the state of the global environment.


See tab below for projects now available for September 2021 entry.

How to apply

Please refer to the How to Apply section towards the bottom of this page and follow the guidelines ensuring you download the CENTA Funding application form, complete it and upload it with your online PhD application.


Doctoral training partnerships

Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) are multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional schemes designed to support the training of the next generation of world-class researchers. The University of Leicester is a lead partner in four DTPs/CDTs through which we can offer funded PhD studentships in a wide range of research areas. 

Studentships are available to highly motivated and qualified applicants and provide a generous support package usually including a full fee waiver, annual stipend, and research training support grant. Studentships are in most cases offered early in the year for October start. Enquiries outside of the main application periods are welcomed.

CENTA Projects 2021


Heiko Balzter (NECO) CENTA2-NCEO1-BALZ  Mapping forest biomass and ecosystem services in England 

Fernando Espirito-Santo  CENTA2-SGGE8-ESPI  Analysing forest aboveground carbon dynamics in the Amazonia forests using dense time-series of satellite data and artificial intelligence

Arnoud Boom  CENTA2-SGGE4-BOOM  Environmental controls on the geochemistry of the Central African Peatland Complex 

Andrew Carr  CENTA2-SGGE3-CAR2  Integrating luminescence dating and geophysical methods to unravel varied Pleistocene coastal landscape response in South Africa

Andrew Carr  CENTA2-SGGE2-CAR1 Unpicking the drivers of spatial-temporal (palaeo)hydroclimatic variation in southern Africa 

David Unwin  CENTA2-SGGE6-UNWI  Pteraichnites’ and their implications for pterosaur terrestrial palaeoecology and evolution

Mick Whelan  CENTA2-SGGE14-WHEL  Rethinking the hydrology of drained agricultural catchments based on insights from natural abundance stable isotopes of water

Chris Evans CENTA-CEH1-EVAN  Sheep versus sea-lions? Quantifying human impacts on the carbon and greenhouse gas balance of peatlands in the Falkland Islands.


Tiffany Barry  CENTA2-SGGE16-BARR Unpicking global mantle convection influences from the local: investigating asthenospheric versus lithospheric constraints on the evolution of landscapes

Mike Branney  CENTA2-SGGE15-BRAN Catastrophic emplacement and depositional processes during large asteroid impacts: lithofacies analysis and applied volcanology, Manicouagan (Canada) and Chicxulub (Mexico).

Tom Harvey  CENTA2-SGGE17-HARV A hidden record of early animal evolution? Exploring the Cambrian diversity of acritarchs and small carbonaceous fossils.

Andrew Miles  CENTA2-SGGE1-MILE  Apatite: a proxy for pre-eruptive volcanic gas emissions?

Dan Smith  CENTA2-SGGE5-SMIT New techniques in ore analysis

Eric Guiry  CENTA2-SGGE7-GUIR Developing deep-time perspectives on fish behaviour to improve conservation: historical ecology of sheepshead in the Gulf of Mexico

Jens Zinke   CENTA2-SGGE10-ZIN2  The Anthropocene geochemical footprint in the Great Barrier Reef

Mark Purnell  CENTA2-SGGE11-PUR1  Bridging the gap between ecology and palaeoecology – testing hypotheses of dietary niche shifts in cichlid fishes over historical and longer timescales

Mark Purnell  CENTA2-SGGE12-PUR2 Dining after the dinosaurs? Dietary diversity and niche partitioning in Palaeocene mammals

Mark Williams  CENTA2-SGGE13-WILL Building resilient ecologies in a post-COVID 19 Anthropocene landscape


Stephen Ball  CENTA2-CHEM3-BALL Atmospheric iodine emitted from the ocean

Andrew Ellis  CENTA2-CHEM1-ELLI  Nucleation of Atmospheric Aerosols studied by Laser Spectroscopy

Andy Abbott  CENTA2-CHEM2-ABBO  Process Design for Efficient Metal Extraction from Concentrates 

Paul Monks  CENTA2-CHEM4-MONK COVID-19 and Air Pollution - views of possible futures?


Pat Heslop-Harrison   CENTA2-GENE1-HESL Biodiversity and relationships of Urochloa grasses for application in sustainable tropical forage systems

Roberto Feuda  CENTA2-GENE2-FEUD  Molecules, neurons and morphology: the evolution of the nervous system in metazoan


Hartmut Boesch  CENTA2-PHYS4-BOES  Machine Learning Methods for Satellite Remote Sensing in Support of CO2 Emission Monitoring   

John Remedios  CENTA2-PHYS5-REME  Using satellites to map the spatial characteristics of urban air pollution from aerosols at a time of climate change, health choices and pandemics 

Darren Wright  CENTA2-PHYS1-WRIG  Solar variability and forcing of the lower atmosphere

National Centre for Earth Observation (NECO) Apply for Physics

Darren Ghent  CENTA2-NCEO2-GHEN  Improving temperature observations from Space to close the energy budget of the Earth in support of UNFCCC objectives and the Paris Agreement

Jeremy Harrison  CENTA2-NCEO3-HARR  Monitoring air quality from space: fast retrievals of short-lived atmospheric pollutants and precursors 

Robert Parker  CENTA2-NCEO4-PARK Peatland fires in cold regions and their impact on greenhouse gas emissions: constraining climate feedbacks using modelling and earth observations



CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by NERC. In addition to the full payment of your tuition fees, you will receive the following financial support:

  • Annual stipend, currently set at £15,285 (2020/1)
  • Research training support grant (RTSG)

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

  • Applicants must have or expect to obtain a first class or upper second class BSc and/or M-level degree (or an equivalent overseas qualification) in a relevant subject.
  • Applicants who hold a lower second class honours degree (or an equivalent overseas qualification) in a relevant subject may be considered for admission provided that they also hold a Masters degree in a relevant subject.
  • University of Leicester English language requirements apply as necessary.

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Please forward your project and application enquiries to CENTA at Leicester.

For general enquiries regarding the CENTA DTP see the CENTA website.

How to apply

How to apply

1. Download and complete the CENTA Studentship Application Form

2. Complete and submit your University PhD application using the Apply button at the bottom of the page for the subject area your project is based in. (part time option is only available if you do not require a visa to study in the UK)

Guidelines for your PhD application:

  • Upload your completed CENTA Studentship Application Form to the ‘Research Proposal’ section
  • Upload your supporting documents (CV, degree transcripts and certificates, reference letters if already obtained).
  • Enter the names and contact details of referees in the space provided only if you have not uploaded reference letters, and we will contact your referees for you. Please be sure to let your referees know to expect a reference request from us. 
  • Include your CENTA project code in the project title tab in research proposal section. The project code can be found on the project listing on the tab below.
  • Personal statement - Prepare a personal statement, no longer than 500 words, outlining your interest in and suitability for the research project. Explain why you would like to work in this area, describe any relevant research experience (including any research projects that you have undertaken -as part of your degree, for example), and list any academic work you have published or which is currently in press awaiting publication.
  • Under the 'Funding Section' of the online application form select 'STUDENTSHIP' and in the drop down menu select 'NERC CENTA'.

If you are applying for projects in different Schools, please complete separate online PhD applications for each project using the appropriate Apply button at the bottom of the page and follow the above guidelines.

If you apply for more than one project in the same School, please submit one online PhD application with the first CENTA studentship application form uploaded and email the second CENTA studentship application form and a relevant personal statement to centa@le.ac.uk quoting your Leicester ID number.



Our project-based studentships are open to all applicants who meet the academic requirements (at least a 2:1 at UK BSc level or at least a pass at UK MSc level or equivalent). Please note that unless you are eligible for a Home award, you will need to consider how you will be able to meet any shortfall in funding for tuition fees. Different institutions will have different requirements for this, please contact the supervisors listed on the project for more information.

To be eligible for a full (Home) award a student must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship.

(For further information please see Annex B in the document).

University of Leicester English language requirements apply.