PhD Student

Last application date
Apr 18, 2022 00:00
WE13 - Department of Geology
Limited duration
MSc in Geology, Earth Sciences, Biology, Palaeontology, (Geo)Chemistry, or an equivalent degree in related fields pertinent to the research project
Occupancy rate
Vacancy type
Research staff

Job description

Position Summary:

Applications are invited for a four-year PhD researcher position investigating the palaeobiology and environmental implications of teratologic microfossils during Silurian extinction events. The position is funded by the Research Foundation, Flanders (FWO) under the collaborative research grant “Monsters of the Apocalypse: A link between Anoxia, Mutation, Extinction, and Stratabound REE Ores” ( This is a new project by an international consortium, involving researchers at Ghent University, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Illinois Geological Survey (IGS). The PhD student will be based at UGent and will join a team of fellow PhD students working on related topics (Palaeozoic and Mesozoic teratological microfossils). Supervisors are Thijs Vandenbroucke (UGent – palaeontology), Poul Emsbo (USGS – ore geology) and Pat McLaughlin (IGS – chemostratigrapy).

The project:

The successful candidate will undertake analyses of organic walled microfossils (palynomorphs) with aberrant morphologies and textures associated with extinction events in the fossil record.

The student will be trained in key analytical techniques including optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), laser ablation - inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) and secondary ion microprobe mass spectrometry (SIMS). In addition to analytical research skills, the successful candidate will have opportunities to undertake training in transferable skills, to gain experience in mentorship, and to participate in fieldwork. The successful candidate will work closely with the PIs and other members of the wider team.

The successful candidate will join the team at a very exciting time, as part of a major expansion of our studies of new causative models for the Ordovician-Silurian biogeochemical events. Our new model has been developed by combining approaches, analytical tools, and data from two normally distant fields: ore geology and palaeontology. Stratigraphically, this PhD project will focus entirely on key sections in the Silurian System, which, combined, contain evidence of extinctions, economic ore deposits and ocean anoxic events (OAEs) that are at the very core of our emerging model. Mechanistically, we focus on testing if fossil teratology could become an independent proxy for monitoring the original chemistry of the palaeo-ocean. Being able to use teratology as a key link between OAEs and biosphere extinction would represent an extraordinary opportunity to reshape the understanding of Earth System processes at a time that changed the trajectory of Earth’s evolution.

The PIs are Thijs Vandenbroucke (UGent), Poul Emsbo (USGS) and Pat McLaughlin (IGS), respectively responsible for aspects of palaeontology, ore geology and chemostratigrapy in the project, which represents a wide range of expertise for the student to drawn on. The successful candidate will benefit from the PI’s commitment to their career development and the joint PI’s extensive global network of collaborators. For instance, the project will run in parallel with a recently funded HFSP Research project that includes researchers at the universities of Ghent, Nottingham, California, Berkeley, and Utrecht, and offers additional expertise in geology, palaeontology, biology and chemistry.

The host lab at UGent focuses on reconstructing environmental conditions and the evolution of life from ancient Palaeozoic times to the current Anthropocene. The group currently includes 9 PhD students and 1 postdoc working on various aspects of micropalaeontology, which will constitute a rich working environment for the successful candidate ( OR

Job profile

Key Duties and Responsibilities:

The position focusses on research but will also be considered as a period of training as the researcher will have dual goals in terms of the research project and their own career development. The researcher will be mentored by the consortium of PIs. It is expected that a researcher would spend not more than 4 years at the PhD level.

The primary focus of the PhD Researcher will be to conduct the specified programme of research; however, a particular emphasis during this stage should also include:

  • to engage in appropriate training and professional development opportunities as required by the PI or University in order to develop research skills and competencies;
  • to engage in the dissemination of the results of the research in which they are engaged, as directed by, with the support of and under the supervision of the PIs;
  • to become familiar with the publication process;
  • to acquire generic and transferable skills (including project management and postgraduate mentoring/supervision);
  • to engage in the wider research and scholarly activities of the research group.

Essential Criteria:

The successful candidate will provide a cover letter demonstrating evidence that they meet the following essential criteria:

  • Excellent scholarly results obtained during an MSc in Geology, Earth Sciences, Biology, Palaeontology, (Geo)Chemistry, or an equivalent degree in related fields pertinent to the research project. MSc degree required at the start of the appointment, but we accept applications by students currently in their final year.
  • Good analytical and laboratory skills
  • Ability to work as part of a(n international) team combined with an ability to manage tasks independently
  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • Excellent communication skills, particularly in English
  • Strongly motivated and ambitious attitude

How to apply

Informal enquiries can be made in confidence to Prof. Thijs Vandenbroucke, Department of Geology, UGent. Email:

Candidates should apply, in confidence, by submitting a single application document to before noon 12.00 (Belgian Local Time) on Monday, 18th April 2022.

This application should contain the following items, merged into a single .pdf document:

  • A cover letter
  • Your CV
  • The contact details of two referees (actual letters of support are accepted but not required at this stage)
  • A copy of your diplomas and the full transcripts of the scores/results you have obtained during your degree(s); if possible indicate your position in the cohort of students graduated the degree in your graduation year (note that this is an indicative criterion only)
  • Students currently in their final year of their MSc are invited also to include a progress statement by their current academic supervisor

In addition, it should contain a summary of your past achievements using an MS Excel template that can be downloaded here:

We reserve the right to reject applications that are incomplete or do not follow these guidelines, and to accept applications beyond the deadline if no successful candidates have been selected yet. Shortlists will be drawn up swiftly and interviews will normally be scheduled in May-June 2022. Interviews will be held via videoconferencing. All applicants (regardless of whether they make the) shortlist will be contacted about the result of their application.