Applications for this PhD have now closed.
Location Western Sydney University, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment
App. deadline 08/01/2018
  • Scholarship available
Project ID 2018_055
Eligibility Open to international applicants


The Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE)(opens in new window) is a research institute within Western Sydney University. HIE has rapidly become a research leader in environmental and ecological research, with a strong reputation for delivering research outcomes of the highest quality. HIE houses a team of over 50 academic research scientists and over 50 PhD students with access to a unique suite of world-class research facilities.

We are now offering a fully funded research scholarship to a highly motivated PhD student to work within a research group addressing the functional role of plant silicon in insect-plant interactions.

About the project

Plants use silicon, which they obtain from the soil, to alleviate a range of biotic and abiotic stresses. Recent advances have shown that is one of the most universal anti-herbivore defences that plants have in their arsenal but the impacts of silicon on herbivores depends on how herbivores feed (e.g. chewers versus sap-feeders). Silicon-based defence can be physical (e.g. cellular toughness) or involve stimulation of hormone-regulated defence genes in the plant. Silicon can even prime plants to be better defended even before herbivores attack and may allow subsequent generations of plants to be ready for attack too. New genetic tools are opening doors for understanding how silicon affects gene expression when plants experience mechanical and herbivore stress. This project will provide an exciting opportunity use these tools to answer some of these questions. The three goals will be to:

I. Determine which hormone-regulated genes are affected by silicon supplementation and how this affects key plant functions, including growth and herbivore defence.

II. Characterise the effects of such changes on the fitness of herbivores from different feeding guilds.

III. Establish how silicon can prime plants for future herbivore attack, especially when under mechanical stress, and determine whether priming persists in future generations of plants.

The project provides fantastic training opportunities in plant analytical and molecular techniques to answer important questions about how plants use silicon to defend themselves from herbivory. In particular, the student will receive training to quantify gene expression using qPCR, creation of next generation sequencing libraries for transcriptomic approaches and analysis of bioinformatics data. The supervisory panel comprises Dr Scott Johnson (HIE), Dr Chris Cazzonelli (HIE), and Professor Sue Hartley (University of York).

What does the scholarship provide?

  • Domestic students will receive a tax-free stipend of $26,682 per annum and a funded place in the doctoral degree.
  • International students will receive a tax-free stipend of $26,682 per annum. Those with a strong track record will be eligible for a tuition fee waiver.
  • Funding is available for project costs and conference travel.

Eligibility criteria

We welcome applicants from a range of backgrounds, who are keen to apply their skills to key issues in environmental biology. In particular, the project is suitable for candidates with strong interests in plant biology, genetics or entomology.

The successful applicant should:

  • hold qualifications and experience equal to one of the following (i) an Australian First Class Bachelor (Honours) degree, (ii) coursework Masters with at least 25% research component, (iii) Research Masters degree, or (iv) equivalent overseas qualifications.
  • demonstrate strong academic performance in subjects relevant to ecology, genetics, plants and entomology.
  • have an understanding of the importance of sustainable plant protection strategies.
  • be willing to learn analytical techniques applicable to plant chemistry and molecular ecology.
  • be enthusiastic and highly motivated to undertake further study at an advanced level.

International applicants must also demonstrate a high level of English language proficiency.(opens in new window)

How to apply

1. Contact Dr Scott Johnson ( to discuss your eligibility, the project requirements and your intention to apply.

2. Complete the scholarship application form (PDF, 222.11 KB).(opens in new window)

3. Compile your CV, contact information for two referees and a one-page proposal stating how your research interests align with the project aims.

4. Ensure all documentation is certified according to Western Sydney University requirements.(opens in new window)

5. All applications and supporting documentation must be submitted directly to the Graduate Research School as follows:

  • Use the email subject line: Application_2018_055_HIE
  • Submit to
  • All attached documents must be submitted as PDF.
  • In the body of your email, include your full name, your student ID (if you are a current or previous Western Sydney University student) and the full title of the scholarship.

Incomplete applications or applications that do not conform to the above requirements will not be considered.

Please contact the Graduate Research School via email at for more information.

Please Note: Should this listing mention details of an available scholarship, it is your responsibility to confirm the specifics with the university / institute prior to applyiing. Terms and conditions are in some cases subject to change and are not always reflected immediately within listings.

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