Postdoctoral Research Associate

Durham University

Postdoctoral Research Associate (
Job Number:
Department of Earth Sciences
Grade 7:  £37,099 – £44,263 per annum
Fixed Term  Full Time
Contract Duration: 24 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date
: 24-May-2023, 6:59:00 PM
Disclosure and Barring Service Requirement: Not Applicable. 

Job Title: Postdoctoral Research Associate (PDRA)
Department: Department of Earth Sciences  
Grade: Grade 7 
Salary range: £37,099 – £44,263 per annum
Working arrangements: Full-time (35 hours per week), Fixed-Term for 24 months. 
Closing date: 24/05/2023
Potential interview date
: tbd   

The University

At Durham University we are proud of our people.  A globally outstanding centre of educational excellence, a collegiate community of extraordinary people, a unique and historic setting – Durham is a university like no other. We believe that inspiring our people to do outstanding things at Durham enables Durham people to do outstanding things professionally and personally.  
Across the University we have a huge variety of roles and career opportunities, which together make us a large and successful community, which is a key hub of activity within our region and nationally.  We would be thrilled if you would consider joining our thriving University. Further information about the University can be found here.

The Role and 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 5 of UK departments and is within the global top 30. 
The department has around 35 academic staff, 20 research staff, 60 postgraduate students and 250 undergraduate students. Its research covers a spectrum of Earth Science disciplines around three broad themes: Earth Surface Processes and Hazards; Climate, Environment and Resources; and Physics and Chemistry of Earth and Planetary Processes. 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. Within this context, our research is grouped into four Impact Themes: Towards Net Zero; Sustainable Resource Management; Environment and Climate Change; and Geohazards. We collaborate widely, and within Durham we work closely with both the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (link to ) and the Durham Energy Institute (link to ). 
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 of Earth Sciences holds a departmental Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of its efforts to promote gender equality and address challenges particular to the earth sciences. More information on the department, its research and its facilities can be found at .


The Role
We invite applications for a Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA) to join the Department of Earth Sciences, working with Dr Madeleine Humphreys on a project funded by the European Research Council, “Storage and Eruption of Mushy Magma Systems (STEMMS)”. The position is fixed term for 24 months, with a start date for this position of 1st August 2023.   
The aim of the project is to use apatite volatile geochemistry and numerical modelling to understand the timing and nature of volatile saturation during magma storage within the crust. The project will examine whether magmas are stored at volatile-saturated or at volatile-undersaturated conditions and how this is linked to the growth and maintenance of crustal magma reservoirs. Results will be integrated with independent textural constraints on the conditions of crystal mush formation, to help define the architecture, crystallisation timescales and remobilisation conditions of mushy magmatic systems. The project will also investigate activity of carbonate in apatite, with the aim of understanding the impact of carbonate assimilation on magma storage, gas exsolution and mush remobilisation. Target case studies are anticipated to include Santorini (Greece), Sumbing (Indonesia) and possibly Mt Vesuvius (Italy). A sample suite already exists for Santorini and investigation of volatiles in apatite from this suite will be the initial focus of the position.  
The successful applicant will be expected to sample, prepare and analyse suites of apatite crystals using a variety of a microanalytical approaches; to perform and interpret numerical modelling of the volatile data; and to undertake textural and geochemical characterization of the natural host materials to be integrated with the apatite data. The PDRA will work with the PI to interpret the results and produce high-impact publications based on the findings. The PDRA will benefit from close interaction with a wide range of expertise within the broader project collaboration network, and will be expected to attend conferences to present their work. The PDRA will join the vibrant volcanology group at Durham University, and will further benefit from the Department’s mentoring programme for Early Career Researchers. PDRAs are also encouraged to co-supervise MSc and undergraduate research projects. 
The successful candidate will be expected to contribute to the general activities of the volcanology group and participate actively in the intellectual life of the department. There may be opportunities to teach/demonstrate in labs and field classes depending on the interests of the successful candidate. 
Responsibilities will include : 

  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions, leading 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 national and international 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 under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder. In particular:
    • To sample, prepare and analyse apatite major, trace and volatile element geochemistry for targets identified for study.
    • To use existing MATLAB tools to analyse new and existing geochemical datasets in order to explore the timing of exsolution, and amount and salinity of exsolved gases.
    • To undertake textural characterisation and major/ trace element analysis of host rocks and natural minerals, in order to constrain magma storage conditions and interpret textural constraints on the crystallisation environment.
    • To assist and work with other members of the ERC project team where necessary
  • 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 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 engage with appropriate outreach and impact activities.

This post is fixed term for 24 months. The research project funding is from ERC and is available for the fixed-term period only. 

The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by the PI. 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 in August 2023.

Working at Durham 

A competitive salary is only one part of the many fantastic benefits you will receive if you join the University: you will also receive access to the following fantastic benefits:

  • 30 Days annual leave per year in addition to 8 public holidays and 4 customary days per year – a total of 42 days per year. 
  • The University closes between Christmas and New Year.
  • We offer a generous pension scheme, As a new member of staff you will be automatically enrolled  into the University Superannuation Scheme (USS).
  • No matter how you travel to work, we have you covered.  We have parking across campus, a cycle to work scheme which helps you to buy a bike and discount with local bus and train companies.
  • There is a genuine commitment to developing our colleagues professionally and personally.  There is a comprehensive range of development courses, apprenticeships and access to qualifications and routes to develop your career in the University.  All staff have dedicated annual time to concentrate on their personal development opportunities.
  • Lots of support for health and wellbeing including discounted membership for our state of the art sport and gym facilities and access to a 24-7 Employee Assistance Programme.
  • On site nursery is available and children’s clubs in the summer holidays.
  • Family friendly policies, including maternity and adoption leave, which are among the most generous in the higher education sector (and likely above and beyond many employers).
  • The opportunity to take part in staff volunteering activities to make a difference in the local community.
  • Discounts are available via our benefits portal including; money off at supermarkets, high street retailers, IT products such as Apple, the cinema and days out at various attractions.
  • A salary sacrifice scheme is also available to help you take advantage of tax savings on benefits.
  • If you are moving to Durham, we can help with removal costs and we have a dedicated team who can help you with the practicalities such as house hunting and schools.  If you need a visa, we cover most visa costs and offer an interest free loan scheme to pay for dependant visas.

Durham University is committed to equality diversity, inclusion and values

Our collective aim is to create an open and inclusive environment where everyone can reach their full potential and we believe our staff should reflect the diversity of the global community in which we work.  As a University equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are a key part of the University’s Strategy and a central part of everything we do.  We also live by our values and our Staff Code of Conduct.  At Durham we actively work towards providing an environment where our staff and students can study, work and live in a community which is supportive and inclusive. It’s important to us that all of our colleagues are aligned to both our values and commitment to EDI.

We welcome and encourage applications from members of groups who are under-represented in our work force including people with disabilities, women and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.  If you have taken time out of your career, and you feel it relevant, let us know about it in your application.  If you are a candidate with a disability, we are committed to ensuring fair treatment throughout the recruitment process. We will make adjustments to support the interview process wherever it is reasonable to do so and, where successful, reasonable adjustments will be made to support people within their role.

Contact Information 

Department contact for academic-related enquiries 

For informal enquiries please contact  Dr Madeleine Humphreys ([email protected]).   All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence. 

Contact information for technical difficulties when submitting your application 

If you encounter technical difficulties when using the online application form, we prefer you send enquiries by email.  Please send your name along with a brief description of the problem you’re experiencing to [email protected]  

Alternatively, you may call 0191 334 6801 from the UK, or +44 191 334 6801 from outside the UK. This number operates during the hours of 09.00 and 17.00 Monday to Friday, UK time.  We will normally respond within one working day (Monday to Friday, excluding UK public holidays).  

University contact for general queries about the recruitment process 

How to Apply  

To progress to the assessment stage, candidates must evidence each of the essential criteria required for the role in the person specification below. It will be at the discretion of the recruiting panel as to whether they will also consider any desirable criteria, but we would urge candidates to provide evidence for all criteria.  

While some criteria will be considered at the shortlisting stage, other criteria may be considered later in the assessment process, such as questions at interview.  

Submitting your application 

We prefer to receive applications online.   We will update you about your application at various points throughout the selection process, via automated emails from our e-recruitment system. Please check your spam/junk folder periodically to make sure you have not missed any of our updates.

What to Submit 

All applicants are asked to submit: 

  • A CV;
  • A cover letter which details your experience, skills, and achievements in meeting (or the potential to meet) the criteria set out below and;
  • Details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.
  • Next Steps 

    Short-listed candidates will be invited to the University, either virtually or in-person and will have the opportunity to meet key members of the Department.  The assessment for the post will normally include an interview and a task related to the project. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment in May 2023.

    In the event that you are unable to attend in person on the date offered, it may not be possible to offer you an interview on an alternative date. 

    Please note that in submitting your application Durham University will be processing your data. We would ask you to consider the relevant University Privacy Statement which provides information on the collation, storing and use of data.   

    When appointing to this role the University must ensure that it meets any applicable immigration requirements, including salary thresholds which are applicable to some visas.

    Person Specification

    Essential Criteria:


    1.     A PhD (or be close to submission) in Earth Sciences, Geochemistry or a related subject.


    2.     Experience in conducting high quality academic research.

    3.     Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly ranked journals.

    4.     Demonstrable ability to present research at conferences, symposia or meetings and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.

    5.     A strong understanding of mineral geochemistry and textures, and their significance in petrology.  


    6.     Strong analytical ability with micro-analytical techniques including SEM and electron microprobe (EPMA).

    7.     Organised and meticulous approach to laboratory work.

    8.     Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team.

    9.     Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.

    10.  Excellent interpersonal and communication skills including written and spoken English.

    11.  Ability to work and solve problems independently.

    12.  Enthusiasm and personal initiative for research.

    Desirable Criteria:


    13.  Experience working with secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS).

    14.  Experience of microanalysis of apatite.

    15.  Experience with mineral separation techniques for accessory mineral phases (heavy liquids and/or magnetic methods).

    16.  Field volcanology experience (e.g. sampling pyroclastic deposits).

    17.  A strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.


    18.  Ability to use models written in MATLAB to interpret natural geochemical data.

    19.  Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 

    20.  Strong petrographic and microscopy skills.

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