A PhD studentship on Modelling geomagnetic bird navigation

New: extended DL (1 Sept 2018) and a simplified application procedure.

We invite applications from qualified and highly motivated students for a 3-year PhD studentship in Geographic Information Science, fully funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The PhD studentship is based at the School of Geography & Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK and the work will be performed in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology (MPIO) in Radolfzell, Germany. The student will be supervised by Dr Urška Demšar and Dr Jed Long at the University of St Andrews and Prof Martin Wikelski and Dr Kamran Safi at the MPIO as external advisors.

The Leverhulme PhD studentship covers tuition fees at the UK/EU level and a yearly stipend of £14,553/year for 3 years, plus additional funding for research and conference travel as part of the project. Note that this studentship is available for UK/EU citizens only (applications from non UK/EU citizens will not be considered).

The studentship starts on 27 October 2018.

Project description:

This project will model how migratory birds use the information in the Earth’s magnetic field to find their way during their long journeys. We will employ a big data analytics approach to better understand what strategies the birds use for their navigational feats. For this, we will collect real geomagnetic data with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle surveys under both calm and disturbed geomagnetic conditions – St Andrews is located at a relatively high northern latitude and therefore frequently experiences disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar storms. These real geomagnetic data will then be used as the conceptual space within which we will simulate various bird navigational strategies through Agent-Based Modelling (ABM), which is frequently used for investigation of human navigation, but has rarely been applied in the context of animal movement. Simulations will be grounded in ornithological research and will correspond to several proposed (but not yet confirmed) geomagnetic navigation strategies, which were identified through ecological experiments. Results will be validated through a comparison with real navigational patterns from MPIO bird tracking studies. The ultimate goal is to find out if and how our data-driven navigational simulations corroborate the biological theory.

This is primarily a data science project, consisting of the collection of geomagnetic data and development of new ABM methods for navigation within these data. The work will however be fully informed with biological domain knowledge through the collaboration with MPIO. The project is expected to result in a completed PhD thesis and in several journal publications.

We are looking for a candidate who fulfils the following requirements:

  • Interest in GIScience and specifically in movement analytics.
  • Ability to work with and develop new methods for big spatial data.
  • An MSc in a relevant discipline: GIScience, Geoinformatics, Remote Sensing, Surveying Engineering, Computer Science, Ecology, Statistics, Mathematics, Data Science.
  • Excellent English skills (note that University of St Andrews requires 6.5 or 7.0 on IELTS for admission of PhD students and that the successful candidate will be required to either provide an IELTS (or equivalent) certificate or take the test as soon as possible after acceptance in order to obtain an unconditional offer from the University).
  • Coding skills (preferably in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) environments: Python, R, QGIS).

How to apply:

Given the short application DL, we have simplified the application procedure.

To apply, send an email to urska.demsar@st-andrews.ac.uk with the subject “Application for the Leverhulme PhD position” and the following attachments:

  • Cover letter, where you outline your interest in the topic and your suitability for this project.
  • Academic qualifications – provide a scanned copy of your diploma and academic transcripts
  • CV with contact details (including Skype name and/or google email address for interview set-up)
  • Contact details of two academic referees
  • Academic writing sample – provide a recent text you wrote (e.g. your MSc thesis or a paper your wrote for your modules)
  • Proof of English: (for non native speakers only) if already available, attach a scanned copy of the IELTS certificate (or equivalent). If not, skip this.

New application DL: 1 Sept 2018

Interviews with shortlisted candidates will be scheduled for the week starting 3 Sept 2018. Interviews for non-local candidates will be conducted via Skype/Google Hangouts.

The successful candidate will be asked to fill in the official application to the University of St Andrews.

For more information email urska.demsar@st-andrews.ac.uk.