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The Cambridge - NERC Earth Systems Science DTP

PhD (ISCED 2011 level 8)


Duration 7 semesters
Entry level Master
Cost £15,009

The Cambridge Earth System Sciences (ESS) DTP provides PhD training across NERC science. Embedded in the outstanding research environment of the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), it is organised around three major research themes: Solid Earth, Climate and Biology. Students in the DTP cohort engage in research projects of global significance across the physical, chemical and biological sciences, and graduate with strong numerical and modelling skills. A network of links within national and international science, industry and government prepares students to become leaders in their chosen fields.

The University of Cambridge will offer more than 15 3.5 year NERC-funded PhD studentships to start each October. A wide range of projects is available within seven world-class departments and BAS (the British Antarctic Survey) under the broad themes of:

Solid-Earth Theme
The Solid Earth Theme stems from our outstanding research into solid-Earth processes. PhD training is available in areas of current research specialties including whole-Earth geophysics and geodynamics, petrology and volcanology, evolution of the oceanic and continental crust, and geochemical interactions between the solid Earth, atmosphere and oceans.

Climate Theme
The Climate Theme builds on long standing research programmes in modelling and observing the atmosphere and oceans, the cryosphere and paleoclimate. The theme offers PhD training across the whole range of research into climate, past, present and future.

Biology Theme (including palaeontology)
The Biology Theme provides exceptional training opportunities by embedding students in a wide range of strong, interdisciplinary research programmes. Training is structured around five core topics: ecosystem dynamics, conservation science, behavioural and evolutionary ecology, palaeontology, phylogeny and diversity, and epidemiology.

If you wish to find out more about a project, or the host Department, you can contact the named supervisor and discuss with them. Our staff will also be happy to devise projects with you, if you have specific interests that we share. If you wish to consider this approach you should investigate the interests of our staff and make a direct contact with them; when you apply you should include the name of a staff member working in the area which interests you.

Structural components

Application procedure

1) Take a look at the projects on offer and make contact with the lead supervisor for those that particularly interest you, as our prospective supervisors can often provide useful advice and information about the project. We are also happy to devise a project with you if you have research interests that we share; again you should get in touch with your prospective supervisor before applying.

There are several ways to search:1) by broad theme (Climate Change and Environmental ProcessesBiology and Conservation or Solid Earth and Geological Hazards); 2) by staff member/department (Staff Directory); or 3) by searching for keyword (e.g. 'Geography' or 'Greenland').

Please note that academic staff can act as lead supervisor for one C-CLEAR studentship per application round. To avoid potential clashes at appointment we ask you to provide a prioritised list of projects that you would consider.

2) Before completing the application, please read the following points:

Are you eligible to apply for admission?

Competition for admission to the University of Cambridge graduate programme is intense. We require our graduate entrants to have:

  1. at least a 2.1 in an Honours degree from a UK University or equivalent standard from an EU or Overseas University (e.g. CGPA 3.5/4.0) in a relevant subject (but see funding information).
  2. two outstanding academic references, please see the graduate prospectus pages below for more details (We advise that you request these well in advance of the application deadline)
  3. fluency in the English language - full information on the University's requirements can viewed here.

For more details of the University's academic requirements see the University's Graduate Admissions pages.

3) Once you are ready to apply please go to the University's Applicant Portal.

Before you start your application, please note the following:

Please select a Michaelmas Term 2020 start (01-Oct-2020).

Funding section: Please tick the box ‘Yes-I wish to apply for funding’

Research Council Funding: Where asked ‘If you are interested in a particular studentship’, please list the C-CLEAR DTP projects code(s) and title(s) here. If listing multiple studentships please indicate these in priority order.

Research section: When asked ‘Do you have any research information to add’ please tick ‘yes’. When prompted to add 'Research Title' please add the C-CLEAR DTP project code(s) and title(s) in priority order. For Research Supervisor, add the name of the Lead Supervisor(s).

There is no need to repeat the project description we have written here, but feel free to use the space to describe your motivation for applying for the project(s) you have chosen.

(If applying to the Department of Chemistry you may not see a research section; please indicate your interest in the NERC DTP via the course specific questions about research; please use this section to indicate the C-CLEAR DTP project codes, titles and supervisors that you wish to work with).


A) Projects for 2020 entry are anticipated to be announced the week of 22 October 2019.

B) The deadline / closing date for applications is anticipated to be noon Tuesday 7 January 2020. All supporting documentation including references must be submitted by this date.

It is anticipated that shortlisted candidates will be called for interview in Cambridge, which are planned to take place the week of 24 February 2020.

C) Offers will be communicated starting in late February with decisions to be made by the Universal Acceptance Date agreed by NERC on noon Wednesday 18 March 2020.

If you have any questions, we're happy to help. Contact Yvonne Gibbs, C-CLEAR DTP Administrator at or the departmental Graduate Administrators for your chosen project(s).


Grant opportunities

UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements will be eligible for a full NERC studentship. Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award. A full studentship will cover the cost of all fees and the student will receive the standard NERC maintenance allowance (for 2014/15 this was £13.863 pa).

Overseas students may be able to join the programme but will need to have their own funding (external bodies, home countries or international schemes). They can also apply for University wide funding schemes, such as the Gates Cambridge Trust and the Cambridge Overseas & Commonwealth Trusts.  Details of these schemes can be found on the Graduate Admission website Overseas students can also apply for funding from external bodies to support their studies as well as from their home countries or international schemes.


Graduate entrants are required to have:

  1. at least a 2.1 in an Honours degree from a UK University or equivalent standard from an EU or Overseas University (e.g. CGPA 3.5/4.0) in a relevant subject (but see funding information).
  2. two outstanding references from senior University staff at your most recent University
  3. fluency in the English language - recent IELTS test with an overall band score of at least 7.0 with not less than 7.0 in speaking, listening and writing, and 6.5 in reading. For further information on the University's English language requirements click here.

ISCED Categories

Marine Geology
Physical and chemical oceanography
Scientific modelling