PhD Projects

Applications are invited for PhD Projects in the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne.

We offer a number of PhD Projects each year, funded variously by the University, academic staff research grants or other sponsors (including for example Endeavour Scholarships, Australian Awards; the China Scholarship Council, and Vietnam International Education Development).  We seek high performing students with an average weighted mark in Honours and/or Masters of >85% (+GPA equivalent).

The School of Geography is one of Australia’s premier departments. Our current areas of world-leading research include international development, urbanisation, biogeography and earth surface processes, with an overarching interest in the environment and environmental change. We are also embarking on a new specialisation in health geography.

The following are some of our potential PhD Projects. For any information about these research Projects, contact the relevant supervisors.

Supervisor: Professor Anthony Bebbington

Mining, climate and water in the Andes and Central America: governing conflicts over resource access

This Project will address how climate change is affecting the governance of water resources in areas affected by both large and small scale mining.  Of particular interest is how conflicts over water among mines, farmers, communities and urban settlements take form, are negotiated, and affect broader institutions and technologies of water governance. These governance questions can be addressed at different scales (from the territory to national scales), depending on the interest of the student.  The Project is linked to a larger Australian Laureate Fellowship program addressing these questions across Latin America, SE Asia and Australia.

Extractive industries, the forest frontier and forest dependent communities

Large scale development plans, legislative reforms and policy decisions are encouraging the expansion of mining, oil, gas and energy investment in areas that are currently forested, as well as investment in large scale infrastructure also.  These forests also play critical roles in climate regulation, livelihoods and local cosmologies. This Project will document new pressures on forests, and address how competing claims over the forest are being governed.  The Project could be in the Amazon, Mesoamerica, Indonesia or Central Africa.  All forms of extraction are of interest, but especially research on coal mining and forests. The Project is linked to a Australian Laureate Fellowship program on mining, society and environment.

Supervisor: Professor Lesley Head

Culturally diverse perspectives on the Australian environment

We seek one or more PhD students to join a broader Project exploring culturally and ethnically diverse perspectives on nature and environment. Projects will examine how migrant communities in Melbourne interact with different places, including domestic contexts, urban environments and peri-urban bushland.

Supervisor: Dr Adam Bumpus

To what extent are incubators and accelerators assisting in local and global connections for clean energy innovation and entrepreneurship?

Interested in hearing Projects that look at the processes of innovation and roles of entrepreneurs, accelerators and incubators in getting companies off the ground and successful clean energy businesses and technologies into the mainstream. Empirical and theoretical Projects, and specifically interested in candidates with expertise in carrying this work out in India (although other regions also considered). Theoretical bases: Economic geography, open innovation, new business venturing.

What are new business models for scaling up distributed energy resources (DERs) and what social, economic, and environmental outcomes do they bring?

Empirical analyses of how DERs can be scaled up across different socio-economic, geographical, or sector-based business model approaches. Especially interested in business model testing as related to distributed smart solar+storage and/or microgrid business models and/or those that can be applied in both developed and developing world contexts. Theoretical bases: business model innovation, economic geography.

To what extent is the ‘mobile revolution’ assisting innovation for climate change solutions in developing countries?

How can mobile phones assist in adaptation and mitigation in developed and developing countries? How does communication fit into responses to climate change? Interested in candidates who are looking to develop technology and test it ‘in the wild’. Potentially co-supervise with professors in Computing and Information Sciences @unimelb. Theoretical bases: development geography, political ecology, economic geography.

Supervisor: A/Professor Wolfram Dressler and Dr Lisa Palmer

Youth and Agrarian change in Southeast Asia

This Project will examine the changing characteristics of youth involvement in farming in the context of rural island Southeast Asia. Relevant subthemes:

  • Youth livelihood aspiration
  • Youth politics, social movements
  • Youth and gender
  • Youth migrations, remittances
    Geographic areas: Timor-Leste, Indonesia, The Philippines

Supervisor: Dr Rachel Hughes

The Cambodian-Australian community and Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal

This Project seeks to explain why far fewer Cambodian-Australians have participated as ‘civil parties ‘(victim participants) in the United Nations-supported Cambodia-based Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) (2007-2017). Even when the smaller diaspora population in Australia is taken into account, participation by Cambodian-Australians has been low compared to Cambodian-American and French Cambodian communities. It will describe and explain knowledge and perceptions of the KRT within the Cambodian-Australian community, differentiated by generation, gender and level of education, specifically in communities in Melbourne and Sydney.
Field locations:  Australia (Sydney and Melbourne)
Interest/skills:  A demonstrated interest or background in cultural geography, ethnographic research or migration studies would be advantageous, as would Khmer language skills.

Wheels keep turning: an ‘environmental noise problem’ assemblage in NSW, Australia

This Project investigates the problem of ‘wheel-squeal’ associated with rail-freight operations throughout Australia. This is experienced by people, close to passing freight trains, as prolonged and very loud, high-pitched noise. An assemblage approach to community agitation in response to this ‘environmental problem’, and lived experiences of audio distress and sleeplessness, would focus on northern Sydney as a case study. Such an approach would also take into account the materiality of the freight wagons, the corporate economics of rail-freight transportation, the politics of EPA and NSW State Government approaches to the problem, the role of environmental law, and the relationships between residents and experts over the last five years.
Field locations:  Australia (Sydney)  
Interest/skills: A demonstrated interest or background in cultural, environmental or legal geography is preferred.

Supervisor: Professor Mark Wang

China’s South-to-North-Water-Transfer Project: What are the principal inter-jurisdictional conflicts and how are they being managed?

A research group within our School has been awarded a large ARC Discovery grant to study aspects of China’s South-North Water Transfer Project.  The SNWT Project is the largest inter-basin transfer program in the world, involving several mega-cities, dozens of smaller cities, a host of provincial-level administrations, and the resettlement of over 300 000 people. One potential PhD Project is about SNWT’s institutional setting arrangements and inter-jurisdictional conflicts.

Supervisor: Professor Barbara Downes

Recruitment limitation and species diversity in streams

Many species’ populations are limited by rates of recruitment from one life stage to the next, particularly in species with complex life-cycles (most of the world’s species). Nevertheless, we lack tests from diverse ecosystems. This Project would test whether insect populations are limited by recruitment rates that are reduced by shortages of suitable oviposition sites in streams. The Project would articulate with one or both of two, current ARC-funded Projects (Species diversity in a fractal world; Species coexistence in the real world) that are examining recruitment limitation in the context of testing models of species diversity. Click here to read more.

Supervisor: Dr Amy Prendergast

Developing high-resolution palaeoenvironmental proxies using mollusc shell sclerochronology

Using mollusc shell growth structures and chemistry (sclerochronology) to reconstruct palaeoenvironmental change is an exciting emerging field. Mollusc shells are high-resolution environmental archives. Their incremental growth patterns can yield environmental information from annual to sub-daily time scales, offering one of the few sub-seasonal climate proxies outside of the tropics. This Project will calibrate new palaeoenvironmental proxies using growth and chemistry of modern mollusc shells from the Australasian region. These newly calibrated proxies will then be applied to mollusc shells from Australasian archaeological shell middens to reconstruct high-resolution records of palaeoenvironmental change and human-environment interaction from the mid to late Holocene.

Supervisor: Dr Jan-Hendrik May

Reconstructing paleoenvironments and landscape change from desert pavements in Central Australia

Dust is a key player in Earth’s global biogeochemical cycles, and affects important Earth surface processes such as climate and soil formation. However, our understanding of dust dynamics over longer timescales is still limited due to the lack of suitable archives in dust producing regions. This PhD thesis will explore the use of dust accumulated under desert pavements in Central Australia to reconstruct late Quaternary dust and landscape dynamics by (i) establishing dust flux from luminescence based depositional and post-depositional histories, and (ii) investigating variations in transport processes and provenance over time with sedimentological and geochemical methods.

Investigating climate-driven sedimentary dynamics in the subtropical Andes of NW Argentina

Understanding the response of landscapes to climatic changes is crucial in sustainable development and natural disaster prevention, but is often complicated by the wide range of mechanism that control sedimentary dynamics over multiple timescales. This PhD thesis will explore catchment-wide sedimentary dynamics over Holocene timescales in the tectonically active high-mountain environment of the subtropical Andes by (i) establishing depositional histories in hillslope, valley and alluvial plain settings in the Quebrada de Humahuaca basin, NW Argentina, using stratigraphic, and novel sedimentological and geochemical methods, (ii) developing new luminescence based chronologies for these records, and (iii) linking them in space and time.

Supervisor: Dr Celia McMichael

Geographies of water, sanitation and hygiene

I am interested in supervising students with a focus on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in low- and middle-income contexts. With global efforts to achieve universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, as well as persistent difficulties – such as the growth of informal settlements, and water insecurity related to environmental and climatic challenges - research is required around the opportunities and challenges for WASH.

Health of migrants and refugees

I am also interested in supervising students with a focus on the health of migrants, refugees and forcibly displaced populations. The central area of focus could include, for example, the health of: resettled refugee populations, undocumented migrants, and migrants moving from and to sites of environmental vulnerability.

Supervisor: A/Prof David Bissell and Dr Ilan Wiesel

Urban governance and policy mobilities for the gig economy

This Project will explore how different cities are managing the rise of the gig economy. Through research with policymakers, it will evaluate how the mobilities of knowledge and policies between cities are shaping the evolution of this underexplored form of work. The candidate will be part of a larger Project team that is exploring how new digital on-demand ways of moving people, goods and services in cities are dramatically changing the power relations between consumption and production, creating wide-ranging and uneven social, political and economic risks and opportunities yet to be comprehensively understood and responded to.

Urban ethics of the gig economy

This Project will explore how digital on-demand mobile work is reshaping the ethical landscape of cities. It will evaluate how the practices involved in on-demand mobile work are creating new social relationships. The candidate will be part of a larger Project team that is exploring how new digital on-demand ways of moving people, goods and services in cities are dramatically changing the power relations between consumption and production, creating wide-ranging and uneven social, political and economic risks and opportunities yet to be comprehensively understood and responded to.