Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Earth Sciences

Durham, United Kingdom
£33,797 - £40,322 per annum
30 Jul 2021
End of advertisement period
27 Aug 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Earth Sciences

Grade 7: - £33,797 - £40,322 per annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 15 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 27-Aug-2021, 6:59:00 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

Durham Earth Sciences is one of the very best UK Earth Science departments with an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching, research and both the satisfaction and employability of its students. It is regularly ranked in the top five UK departments and is within the global top 30.

The department has around 35 academic staff, 30 research staff, 90 PhD students and 250 undergraduate students. Its research covers a spectrum of Earth Science disciplines around four broad themes: Solid Earth; Climate and Environmental Change; Geoenergy, Resources and Waste; Geohazards. The themes reflect our aim to not only undertake fundamental and intrinsically excellent research, but also research which is relevant to and which impacts society. We collaborate widely, and within Durham we work closely with both the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (link to https://www.dur.ac.uk/ihrr/) and the Durham Energy Institute (link to https://www.dur.ac.uk/dei/).

The Department is committed to providing the highest level of education to its students, giving them the knowledge, skills and confidence to contribute positively to the world beyond Durham. We provide research-led teaching with a large proportion of practical classes and a deep commitment to field-based teaching. We regularly receive > 90% satisfaction scores on the annual National Student Survey and our students are highly sought after by a range of employers.

The Department strives for a collegial, collaborative and flexible working environment and is a member of the Athena SWAN Charter, currently holding a departmental Bronze Athena SWAN award.

More information on the department, its research and its facilities can be found at https://www.dur.ac.uk/earth.sciences/.

The Role

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Bayesian Chronostratigraphy, with a particular emphasis on the development and implementation of statistical approaches to correlation on geological time scales.

The Research Associate will join a ongoing research programme led by Martin Smith (PI, Earth Sciences), Andrew Millard (Archaeology) and Tom Nye (Statistics, Newcastle University). Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, this research project will develop new quantitative tools to infer evolutionary processes from the geological record, with a particular focus on the origin of complex animal ecosystems in the ‘Cambrian explosion’.

The successful applicant will take forwards the progress of the first 18 months of the project, developing, implementing and testing an objective Bayesian model for chronostratigraphic correlation that will be applied to geological and palaeontological datasets.

A coherent statistical technique for synthesizing all available data will generate precise stratigraphic correlations between independent geological sections, allowing simultaneous analysis of geochemical, ichnological, biostratigraphic and sequence stratigraphic information, and the integration of absolute radiometric age estimates. A Bayesian approach will allow uncertainties to propagate between data types, giving accurate age estimates with well-constrained error margins.

The principal output will be a stratigraphic model that takes as inputs radiometric dates, chemostratigraphic measurements, fossil occurrence data and observations of sequence stratigraphy. This will draw on analogous models developed for a Quaternary context by Co-Investigator Andrew Millard. Building on preliminary analyses of the best Cambrian sections, the model will be used to generate a coherent reference stratigraphy for the latest Ediacaran–early Cambrian, which will contribute to the formalization of the Cambrian timescale. More generally, the model will allow statistical tests of the synchroneity of biological and geochemical events, and thus inference about causality, throughout the geological column.


  • To conduct individual and collaborative research projects that contribute to the delivery of the Research Project Grant objectives, under the direction of the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigators.
  • To work with colleagues in the research team, as appropriate, to develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To identify and exploit appropriate opportunities to further develop the research program.
  • To understand and communicate material of a specialist or highly technical nature.
  • To communicate research activities and outputs to academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs in peer-reviewed journals, and to present research outputs at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator.
  • To create user-friendly, open source software implementations of statistical models generated during the position.
  • To identify and minimize problems that affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding and to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage research activity and resources.
  • To deliver training in research techniques and approaches to peers, visitors and students, as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision, as appropriate.
  • 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 15.5 months as the project is time limited.

The post-holder is employed to work on a research project led by Martin Smith. 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. The successful applicant will be supported to pursue fellowship opportunities to continue to take the project forwards beyond the term of the present appointment.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by no later than 1st January 2022.

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Martin Smith at martin.smith@durham.ac.uk or Andrew Millard at a.r.millard@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:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above;
  • Two research outputs (published or unpublished)

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include shortlisting based on application materials, and an oral interview. 

The Requirements


1. Qualifications

  • A good first degree in a subject related to the research project.
  • A PhD (or be close to submission) in Statistics, Earth Sciences, Archaeology, or a subject relevant to the research objectives.

2. Experience

  • 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 communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.
  • Experience in Bayesian statistics.
  • Programming experience, ideally including high-level languages (C/C++). 

3. Skills

  • 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.


4. Experience

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

5. Skills

  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.

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