Postdoctoral Research Associate in Organic Geochemistry

Durham, United Kingdom
£33,797 - £35,845 per annum
Friday, 8 January 2021
End of advertisement period
Friday, 5 February 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Geography

Grade 7: - £33,797 - £35,845 per annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 15 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 05-Feb-2021, 7:59:00 AM

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

The Department of Geography at Durham comprises 68 academic staff (approximately equally divided between physical and human geography), a graduate school of around 100 research students, around 40 taught postgraduate students and more than 650 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 7th overall in the world, its 5th year in the top ten, and 1st for citations in the discipline. The department is recurrently ranked in the top handful of programmes in the UK by various league tables; in 2016, we were ranked 2nd in the Times Good University Guide and 3rd in both the Complete University Guide and the Guardian University Guide. The Department was graded top for research power (quality weighted by volume) in UK geography in REF 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.

The Role

The Department of Geography at Durham University seeks to appoint a full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA) in Organic Geochemistry to join the research team led by Prof. Bob Hilton as part of the European Research Council (ERC)-funded 5 year project “ROC-CO2”. The post is fixed term for 15 months.

The ROC-CO2 project (Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by Rock-derived Organic Carbon oxidation) aims to quantify the rates and controls on the CO2 release by chemical weathering of organic carbon in sedimentary rocks, which is a major component of the geological carbon cycle (see http://roc-co2.weebly.com/ for further information).

A key unknown is how microbial communities help to breakdown of organic matter in rocks. There is evidence that organic carbon in rocks is bioavailable, and can support microorganisms in soils. As such, the first steps to weather rock organic carbon, and to release CO2, may be the assimilation into a live microbial biomass.

The PDRA will assess this using organic geochemistry techniques to characterise and track the abundance of live microbial biomass (e.g. Phospholipid Fatty Acids), alongside complimentary information provided by microbial community profiling. The PDRA will focus on shale samples collected across four seasons, with large changes in temperature, from two field sites at the Draix Bleone Observatory in France. The samples have been collected and stored for these specific analyses. Additional field sampling may be possible, depending on the skills and interests of the PDRA.

The applicant will have experience of organic geochemistry techniques applied to sediment samples (e.g. soils, river or marine sediments) and/or experience in culture independent molecular microbial techniques. Please see the full list additional responsibilities and the personal specification provided below.

The successful applicant will join the ERC-funded ROC-CO2 team, which involves PI Hilton, two PhD students at Durham and one PDRA in Geomorphology (parallel job vacancy) and an internationally-recognized group of researchers in the Department of Geography and Durham Geochemistry Centre. The Department of Geography at Durham hosts extensive facilities to characterise the abundance, distribution and isotopic composition of biomarkers. The PDRA will also collaborative with Prof. Erin McClymont and Prof. Neil Gray (Newcastle University). The appointee will be expected to be involved in the intellectual development of the project, the authorship of publications with the Principal Investigator, as well as participating in a range of dissemination activities including conferences.


  •  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 conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • 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.   
  • to bring specific skills in organic geochemistry relevant to examining the transformation of organic matter during weathering.
  • to undertake geochemical analyses of archived sediment samples 

This post is fixed term for 15 months and is available from 1 February 2021. The project is time-limited and will end on 31 May 2022. 

The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by another colleague. 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 March 2021 

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Bob Hilton (r.g.hilton@durham.ac.uk, 00 44 191 33 41970).  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:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out below;
  • 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 herein. We anticipate that the screening and ranking of candidates will take place in late January. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment in early February. 

The Requirements



  • A good first degree in earth sciences, physical geography, or a physical science
  • A PhD (or be close to submission) in biogeochemistry, Earth Sciences or a related subject 


  • 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.
  • Experience of organic geochemistry sample preparation and purification methods.
  • Experience of analytical techniques to characterise and quantify lipid biomarker abundance (e.g. GC-MS, GC-IRMS).
  • Knowledge of processes relevant to organic matter degradation by microbial organisms.


  • Demonstrable geochemical kills in the quantification and characterisation of biomarkers in sediment samples.
  • 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. 



  • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
  • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.
  • Demonstrable ability to develop research proposals and designs in collaboration with other academics.
  • Experience of overseeing students with respect to the development of their practical/research skills e.g. acting as a demonstrator; supervising student projects/practicals. 


  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 
  • Knowledge of chemical weathering processes and reactions
  • Knowledge of pre-treatment methods to prepare environmental samples

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.

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