PhD in Water Informatics: Science and Engineering (WISE)

General information

Launched in September 2014, the Water Informatics: Science and Engineering (WISE) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) offers an exciting and innovative learning environment that provides students with the opportunity to develop and carry out PhD-level research with the added benefit of taught courses to give them a solid background in, and knowledge of, their chosen discipline.

The WISE CDT was awarded a £5.2M award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of the EPSRC funding stream aimed at securing the future supply of graduates in specific disciplinary areas. The EPSRC funded centres bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues and future challenges. They also provide a supportive and exciting environment for students, create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

Water informatics (also known as ‘hydroinfromatics’) is a relatively new discipline that seeks to take full advantage of the proliferation of remotely sensed information from space or ground based sensors with increasing capabilities in terms of spatial, temporal and spectral resolution. Information and knowledge gained from data allows more efficient and reliable monitoring and management of the water cycle over time at global, regional and local scales. Water informatics deals with the intersection of ‘big data’ with ‘smart technologies’, to deliver more sustainable water solutions over these diverse scales.

To deliver this the WISE CDT includes:

  • A supported cohort-based doctoral training experience
  • Transferable, enterprise-focussed soft skills training, with particular emphasis on project management, knowledge exchange and public engagement
  • Focus on national and international publications of peer reviewed conference papers prior to graduation
  • Formalised career development and placement experience at overseas academic or industry partners
  • Engagement with the British Science Association and the RCUK funded “Public Engagement with Research Catalyst” projects

PARTNER UNIVERSITIES. The four partner universities are internationally recognised for the quality of their research and education in the areas of water informatics, science and engineering, and have strong links with water industry and governmental organisations involved in managing and improving the water environment. Collectively over 40 Principle Investigators who have published over 800 papers in leading international journals.

Why a CDT PHD? A CDT brings “together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues, and future challenges. They also provide a supportive and exciting environment for students, create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.” {EPSRC}

The key difference between undertaking a regular PhD and one within a Centre for Doctoral Training are:

  • Guided freedom: In order to facilitate the process of empowering both students and supervisory teams to have a successful doctoral training experience, the WISE CDT offers bi-weekly student-led journal paper review seminars, participation in weekly cohort seminars/meetings and monthly ‘meet the expert’ social events at varying partner universities.
  • Innovative training approach: A balanced portfolio of training activities, including intensive training in the first two semesters of the doctoral programme through a Postgraduate School involving both broader disciplinary and wider research methodology training.
  • Continued academic development: You will undertake a large number of activities with the members of your cohort, and it is intended that you build long-lasting personal and professional relationships during this time. The Transferable Skills and Leadership Programme provides an extensive and structured provision of skills training throughout the 4 year programme in the form of week-long blocks. You are also able to pursue further specialist skills training available across the four universities through attendance at Specialist Masters Level Modules.
  • Wide exposure: familiarisation with facilities and academic groups from across the four partner universities is available through regular seminar visits and one-day mini conferences arranged across all of the sites. You also have the option of being co-supervised by an academic from another of the partner universities which will provide a wide breadth of multidisciplinary expertise to your project.
  • Cohort development and activities: An annual week-long residential Summer School (incorporating a mini conference) is just one of many opportunities for staff and PhD students from all cohorts to share their experiences of working on water and informatics related projects.
  • Peer-support groups: To strength the feeling of belonging to the WISE academic community and to reduce social isolation, the WISE programme has peer-support groups (a ‘buddy scheme’), whereby all incoming first year students are assigned to a second, third or final year PhD student who has volunteered to become a ‘buddy’.


All students who join the WISE CDT complete the Postgraduate School in Water Management & Informatics in their first year of study.  This programme of training ensure that all entrants to the CDT have a solid understanding of water informatics and wider research methodology skills training, before they develop and commence on their PhD project.

The Postgraduate School accounts for 120 credits (or eight modules) of taught masters level modules.  All modules are delivered on the Streatham campus of the University of Exeter. Throughout the Postgraduate School all students are provided with a laptop and desk, with all WISE CDT students located within the same rooms in Hope Hall.

The programme is comprised of eight modules worth a total of 120 credits:


  • ECMM124: Hydroinformatics Tools
  • ECMM410: Research Methodology
  • ECMM143: Software Programming​
  • ECMM144: Environmental and Computational Hydraulics
  • ECMM145: Computational Hydrology
  • ECMM146: Mathematical Modelling of Wastewater Treatment Process
  • ECMM132: Urban Drainage and Waste Water Management
  • ECMM133: Water Supply and Distribution Management

Of these modules, four have been created specifically for the WISE CDT and are only available to WISE CDT students.  Each one of these four modules is delivered by a different University partner to the CDT.  All remaining modules are offered as part of the University of Exeter MSc in Water Engineering, meaning that the WISE CDT students are provided with the opportunity to interact with a wide array of masters level students studying urban water engineering and management.
For current students, further information regarding the Postgraduate School can be found within the Student Handbook.


Following the completion of the Postgraduate School, WISE CDT students may wish to pursue further specialist skills training modules in the second and third year of their PhD.

Students are able to request to attend taught master’s level modules at any of the four partner universities, though due to the time commitments involved with the model of master teaching delivery, it is anticipated that the majority of requests will be for modules delivered at their home university.

Details of modules available at each of the partner universities can be found here:


WATER INFORMATICS. Water Informatics is a highly active research area in which computational techniques are applied to a variety of complex problems within various domains including water and wastewater distribution system operation, hydrologic applications, water re-use and recycling, water quality optimisation and the production of decision support tools for the water industry.

Some of the techniques that students of the CDT might seek to employ as part of their research include:

  • numerical modelling (data driven, physically based, mechanistic and including uncertainty estimation, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, data assimilation, etc.);
  • artificial intelligence and soft computing (tools and interfaces, machine learning, data mining, artificial neural networks, global optimisation, population and evolution-based algorithms, metaheuristics, fuzzy logic etc.);
  • high performance computing (parallel computing, multi-scalar distributed computing, Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) computing, etc.);
  • emerging technologies (cloud computing, smart grids, software as a service, embedded devices, Web of Things, etc.).

WATER SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. The twenty-first century will be a time of unprecedented change with many global pressures impacting on society and the natural environment. Sustainable management of water resources and water infrastructure will play a key role in supporting the quality of life in the global community. Water research encompasses a large number of science and engineering topics and disciplines for which our Centre partners are recognised internationally.

  • the physical system (flow paths for water through the physical environment of the earth, including: the atmosphere, oceans, coasts, estuaries, rivers, lakes, soils, aquifers, etc.);
  • the biogeochemical system (chemical constituents of water and transformations through macronutrient cycles, contaminants and other chemicals, such as pathogens, pesticides, endocrine disruptors, etc.);
  • the ecological system (life cycles of organisms that are dependent on their habitats, vegetation and the impact of hydrological variation and regimes on the viability of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems); and
  • the human/urban system (the engineered environment and infrastructure, water use, water resources management, pollution control, river and marine renewable energy, etc.).

COMPLEMENTARY RESEARCH. The challenges that we face in working towards a sustainable water supply for all, environmental protection, and an economically feasible water utility infrastructure require not only analysis of water informatics, and sound water science and engineering approaches, but also connection with areas including policy, consumer behaviour, new economic models and ecosystem services.

The WISE CDT consortium can offer research projects in the following areas:

  • statistical analysis (statistical data mining, geo-statistical analysis);
  • social sciences (equity, resilience, justice, ethics, behaviour);
  • economics(financial dimensions, water value, trade-offs and synergies);
  • policy science (social instruments, new markets, water rights);
  • business models for water utilities & markets based on digital services; and
  • complexity science (dynamical systems theory, water and climate, reliability, efficiency).


An annual week-long residential Summer School (incorporating a mini conference) delivers an opportunity for staff and PhD students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and from different stages of their research to network and share their experiences of working on water and informatics related projects and to network with other staff and students working on challenging topics.

The Summer School provides support for postgraduate research students from Years 1 to 4, with the emphasis on encouraging discussion and exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries (i.e., natural sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences). Each Summer School is organised around a central water/informatics topic.  For example, a ‘Water Hackathon’ will be organised to identify common water sector challenges and develop mobile phone “app” ideas to address these.

Workshops, group mini-projects and networking sessions during the Summer School are organised not only to address the overarching Summer School topic, but also to help in developing both specific and transferable research and generic skills to prepare participants for future careers both inside and outside of academia.

The participants meet every morning with academic and industrial experts (including those from nontechnical disciplines, e.g., business, ethics, law, psychology, marketing) to discuss their ideas and receive feedback.  The afternoon is reserved for development activities.  The Hackathon will finish with participants pitching their ideas to a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style panel of academic and industry representatives that will judge the proposed solutions and award prizes to the best ideas.

During the Summer School a one day mini conference/symposium is organised to allow participants to present their research ideas and progress on their PhD project.


The WISE CDT offers extensive and structured provision of transferable and leadership skills through a programme that will be arranged during the WISE Postgraduate School and continue over the subsequent years for each student in week-long blocks.

  • In Year 1 (Exeter), the programme concentrates on the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the research process and methodology, together with project management for researchers, personal effectiveness, communication skills (both written and oral), the relationship between science and society and an introduction to ethics.

In subsequent years all students will attend a week-long residential programme during the Spring which covers a wide range of areas including:

  • Year 2 (Bristol) – maintaining motivation & independence; preparation & delivery of conference papers and posters and writing & refereeing of journal articles and grant applications.
  • Year 3 (Cardiff) – management & team skills; professional etiquette, planning & writing a thesis, thinking of one’s career and entrepreneurship & leadership skills.
  • Year 4 (Bath) – viva preparation, industrial perspectives on scientific research, knowledge transfer & research exploitation and career development, opportunities & workshops.


The universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter have strong links with the international academic community, as well as consulting engineering and IT companies, water companies, government departments, and agencies involved in managing and improving the water environment.

Each WISE CDT student is able to spend 3 months undertaking a research visit as part of their programme. This visit could be overseas at a partner academic institution or in the UK, participating in a research visit with an industrial and/or government agency partner.

Whilst undertaking the research visit WISE students will work on her/his research in agreement with their primary supervisor and under the supervision of experts in their appropriate area. Our partner universities and companies have agreed to host WISE students and help develop their research and transferable and leadership skills. WISE students and external supervisors will be encouraged to write papers on the collaborative work, jointly with the primary supervisor(s), as appropriate.

WISE students are required to provide outline information on a proposal for a research visit to allow the WISE Programme Management Group (PMG) to evaluate how the proposed visit will contribute to the students PhD.


The University of Exeter Centre for Water Systems holds a weekly research seminar delivered by water industry representatives and academics from a variety of institutions around the globe. Talks are on current and emerging issues, solutions and research trends for better management of water and environmental systems; WISE CDT students are strongly encouraged to attend talks.

Past topics and speakers can be found here



Aims of the CDT. Management of the water cycle has already gained from advances in computing, ICT and hydroinformatics. However, for UK society to take full advantage of leading-edge technologies we need to develop hydroinformaticians, scientists and engineers who are capable of working at the interface of traditionally separate informatics, science and engineering disciplines to manage effectively the information and water cycles.

The overall aim of the WISE CDT is to fill the skills gap by offering a postgraduate programme that fosters new levels of innovation and collaboration to train a cohort of engineers and scientists at the boundary of water informatics, sciences and engineering.

The WISE CDT will also establish a vibrant research and learning community which is uniquely placed to train the highest calibre of students with the required skills in informatics, water science and engineering to address issues from across the Water Industry and community.

The WISE CDT will produce cohorts of highly employable, skilled and talented researchers who are equipped to deal with the multi-faceted challenges facing the water sector and wider society in the 21st century.

Contact Person: Prof. Dragan Savić (Centre Director) (


The highlighted icons, represent the fields of education (in compliance with ISCED Classification) engaged during this course/programme.


Venue: University of Exeter (Contact Office)
Exeter, United Kingdom

College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
North Park Road, Exeter EX4 4QF 



The programme invites applications from graduates in Engineering, Physics, Applied Mathematics, Geography and Computer Science that have demonstrated excellence at the undergraduate or MSc level in a relevant subject. Applicants should have an interest in specific aspects of water and informatics, and are expected to demonstrate creativity and be open-minded to collaborative work and innovation. 

Application Procedure:


We invite applications from graduates in Engineering, Physics, Applied Mathematics, Geography and Computer Science that have demonstrated excellence at the undergraduate or MSc level in a relevant subject.   Applicants should have an interest in specific aspects of water and informatics, and are expected to demonstrate creativity and be open-minded to collaborative work and innovation.

To apply for a WISE CDT PhD studentship, please send the following information:

  • A completed WISE CDT Studentship Application Form
  • An academic CV
  • Two academic references
  • A transcript of marks of your studies to date
  • Evidence of English language proficiency for non-nationals of a majority English speaking country. Please see individual institution websites for further information:University of Bath; University of Bristol;  Cardiff University; University of Exeter

All completed applications should be emailed to Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview at their preferred research institution. You will be informed if your application is to be considered for your second or third preferred institution. Applications will be shared with academic member of staff across the four partner universities, therefore all applicants are advised to read the WISE CDT Data Protection Statement prior to submitting an application.

Grant Opportunities:

Up to 20 fully funded four-year PhD studentships are available each year for UK and EU applicants. All successful applicants will be offered a WISE CDT PhD studentship which covers both tuition fees and a tax-free living allowance for the duration of the four year programme. The number of studentships available to EU applicants may be limited due to funding eligibility requirements, however we encourage all interested parties to submit an application. International students are welcome to apply to the CDT programme if they are able to provide their own source of funding.

Please note: applications to the WISE CDT are not passed along to other postgraduate programmes at the four partner universities.  All applicants are welcome to apply to any other postgraduate programmes through the standard online channels on the websites for Exeter, Bath, Bristol and Cardiff.


Academic level: PhD
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