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: 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.

Supervisor: Dr Ariane Utomo

I am interested to supervise students working on topics related to population, development, and social change in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, drawing upon mixed-methods, and/or large population datasets. In particular, I am keen to supervise projects looking into marriage and family change, and on the intersections between gender, labour market, and the future of work in the region.

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 Rachel Hughes & A/Prof David Bissell

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: A/Prof Wolfram Dressler, Associate Professor Lisa Palmer, and Dr Trent Brown

Youth and Agrarian change in Southeast Asia

In the developing countries of Asia, large numbers of rural youth migrate to urban areas each year in search of employment. While this phenomenon has been studied in terms of the youth who leave their home villages, there has been comparatively little research on youth who continue to pursue rural livelihoods. The implications of the youth exodus from agriculture for sustainable rural development in these largely agrarian societies also needs greater research attention. This project will examine the changing characteristics of youth involvement in farming and rural livelihoods in the context of rural South and Southeast Asia. Relevant subthemes

  • Youth livelihood aspiration
  • Youth politics, social movements, and NGOs
  • Youth and gender
  • Youth migrations, remittances
  • Youth and agricultural skill development
  • Youth and sustainable rural development

Geographic areas: Timor-Leste, Indonesia, The Philippines, India

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: Dr Amy Prendergast

PhD Thesis Title: Late Quaternary environmental change and seasonal resource use along the Central Murray River using shell midden sclerochronology

  • Field location: Central Murray river, approximately between Mildura (VIC) and Renmark (SA)
  • Sponsor: The PhD project will be conducted within the framework of an existing ARC Discovery Project, Environmental and cultural change along the Central Murray River, and is supported by scholarship (see below)
  • Supervisors: This PhD Project would be supervised by Dr Amy Prendergast with co-supervision by Dr Jillian Garvey (School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University) and Dr Jan-Hendrik May (School of Geography, the University of Melbourne).
  • Project: Located on the Country of the Ngintait and First People of the Millewa Mallee, the semi-arid Central Murray Basin preserves a remarkable and interwoven record of landscape, environmental, and cultural change. This PhD project aims to understand how people in these riverine landscapes of the Murray-Darling Basin were influenced by and adapted to environmental change during the Late Quaternary using shell midden sclerochronology. The analysis of mollusc shell incremental growth patterns and chemistry (sclerochronology) can yield high-resolution environmental archives from annual to sub-daily time scales as well as records of seasonal resource use. This is an exciting emerging field as it offers rare sub-seasonal resolution environmental records from the mid to high latitudes. This project will utilise modern freshwater mollusc shell sclerochronology to calibrate new high-resolution palaeoenvironmental proxies. It will then apply these proxies to freshwater mussel shells from key Late Quaternary Aboriginal shell middens in the Central Murray Valley. The PhD researcher will work within a large multidisciplinary team to integrate their findings with ongoing archaeological, palaeoenvironmental, and geomorphological research as part of the ARC Discovery Project, Environmental and cultural change along the Central Murray River.
  • Skills required: We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated student to undertake a PhD project to reconstruct late Quaternary environmental changes and seasonal use of shellfish resources along the Murray River. We would encourage students with a first class Honours or Masters research degree or equivalent in physical geography, geoscience (particularly Quaternary Science) or archaeological science, to apply. It would be advantageous to have the following skills (or a strong interest in developing them): laboratory experience, geochemistry, archaeology, and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, or related disciplines. We also welcome the capacity to organize and sustain field work in small teams in remote locations along the Central Murray river.
  • Support: The applicant will receive a full stipend (living allowance) of $32,200 per year (increased annually). The student will also receive funding support to attend conferences during their candidature from the School. All costs of the project are covered by funds from the Project (this includes flights to remote locations, and field accommodation).
  • Research Environment: The University of Melbourne is a comprehensive research-intensive university, currently ranked number one in Australia (Times higher Education, 2019). It has a broad and significant, cross-School and cross-Faculty research capacity for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and human-environment interaction. The University is a leader in the application of carbonate geochemistry to environmental reconstruction with world-class facilities spanning the Schools of Geography, and Earth Sciences. You will join a lively, diverse and collegial network of post-graduate researchers in The School of Geography and will benefit from regular group mentoring and peer-connection through School and Faculty ECR Networks and workshops.
  • How to apply? Applications will be reviewed from the 20th of September 2020 to assess the eligibility to apply for a post-graduate scholarship through the Science Faculty of the University of Melbourne. Depending on the quality of the applicant, and if they are successful in winning a scholarship they could also receive a cash top-up to their stipend. Applicants should submit 1) a cover letter, 2) a CV, 3) academic transcripts and 4) the names and contact details of two referees via email to Dr Amy Prendergast (amy.prendergast@unimelb.edu.au) on or before 20th of September 2020.

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: Jan-Hendrik May

PhD Thesis Title: Riverine environments along the Central Murray river over the last glacial cycle

  • Field location: Central Murray river, approximately between Mildura (VIC) and Renmark (SA)
  • Sponsor: The PhD project will be conducted within the framework of an existing ARC Discovery Project and is supported by a UoM scholarship (see below)
  • Supervisors: This PhD Project would be supervised by Dr Jan-Hendrik May with co-supervision by Dr Amy Prendergast (both School of Geography, the University of Melbourne) and Dr Samuel Marx (SEALS, University of Wollongong).
  • Project: Situated immediately below the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers, the Central Murray river is characterized by an amazing geomorphic and environmental diversity, and has likely played a crucial role for Aboriginal peoples since their arrival in the region. This PhD will commence to unravel the major and minor changes to this landscape that have occurred over at least the last glacial cycle with a particular focus on reconstructing geomorphic and sedimentary dynamics. While the project accompanies ongoing archaeological and palaeo-environmental investigations, it will contribute data towards establishing new models of long-term human-environmental interactions in the region. In addition, the results of this thesis are expected to allow a detailed assessment of the impacts that relative climatic changes in the upstream tropical and temperature portions of the Murray and Darling rivers has had on catchment-wide sediment connectivity and geomorphic dynamics over time.
  • Skills required:   We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated student to undertake a PhD project examining the long-term late Quaternary geomorphic and sedimentary dynamics along the Murray River. We would encourage students with an Honours or Masters research degree or equivalent in geoscience, particularly Quaternary Science and Geomorphology, to apply. It would be advantageous to have the following skills (or a strong interest in developing them):  fluvial geomorphology, sedimentology, luminescence-based geochronology and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, or related disciplines. We also welcome the capacity to capacity to organize and sustain field work in small teams in remote locations along the Central Murray river.
  • Support: The applicant will receive a full stipend (living allowance) of up to $32,200 per year (increased annually). The student will also receive funding support to attend conferences during their candidature from the School.  All costs of the project are covered by funds from the Project (this includes flights to remote locations, and field accommodation).
  • Research Environment: The University of Melbourne is a research-intensive university and has an active program in key areas of Earth Surface Processes research. This spans from fluvial geomorphology, river management, and environmental reconstruction, in the School of Geography, to palaeo-climatology, the development of dating techniques and neotectonics in the School of Earth Sciences.  You will join a lively and collegial team of post-graduate students working on related projects.
  • How to apply?     Applications will be reviewed from the 20th of September 2020 to assess the eligibility to apply for a post-graduate scholarship through the Science Faculty of the University of Melbourne. Depending on the quality of the applicant, and if they are successful in winning a scholarship they could receive a cash top-up to their stipend. Applicants should submit 1) a cover letter, 2) a CV, 3) academic transcripts and 4) the names and contact details of two referees via email to Dr Jan-Hendrik May (janhendrikmay@unimelb.edu.au) on or before 20 September 2020.