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PhD: Palaeochem: Biomolecular innovation and the evolution of animals: insights from taphonomy and the fossil record (subproject: Taphonomy of melanin)

Project Title

Palaeochem: Biomolecular innovation and the evolution of animals: insights from taphonomy and the fossil record (subproject: Taphonomy of melanin)


University College Cork

Supervisors and Institutions

Prof. Maria E. McNamara (University College Cork)

Funding Status

Funding is in place for this project

Project Description

Position Summary
Applications are invited for a four-year PhD researcher position investigating the taphonomy of vertebrate melanin. The position is funded by the European Research Council and forms part of a series of new hires in palaeontology at UCC.

The project
The successful candidate will undertake analysis of extant and fossil melanin and melanosomes, plus taphonomic experiments using in-house facilities for laboratory decay and high pressure-high temperature maturation. Key analytical techniques include SEM, AHPO-LCMS, Synchrotron-XRF, STEM, STXM. In addition to research, 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 PI and other members of the team, especially a post-doctoral researcher also working on the taphonomy of melanin.

The School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences
The School of BEES at University College Cork (UCC) is one of the most successful Schools in UCC in terms of grant capture and PhD completion, and has the distinction of having four ERC-funded projects in the last five years. It is located in three interconnected buildings on extensive grounds and comprises 30 academic staff, 20 postdoctoral researchers and >100 postgraduate students supported by 14 administrative and technical staff. The successful candidate will benefit from excellent laboratory facilities, including a dedicated palaeontology laboratory with high-spec facilities for experimental decay and maturation, melanin extraction, and tissue preparation for electron microscopy. The School’s new Mary Ward microbeam laboratory houses a new JEOL IT-100 VP SEM with sputter coater, a Perkin-Elmer Frontier uATR coupled to a Spotlight micro-FTIR, a Renishaw Raman microscope, extensive light microscopy facilities, and an ultramicrotome. Planned analytical facilities include a major new investment in a hyphenated headspace analyser-GC-MS facility for chemical analyses of maturation experiments in real time. Additional laboratory facilities include a furnace, dedicated histology lab, and photography facilities. Researchers in the palaeobiology group have access to additional analytical facilities elsewhere in the university, including cryotomy and immunofluorescences imaging.

The successful candidate will join us at a very exciting time, as part of a major expansion of the palaeontology group at UCC. This includes new PhD and postdoctoral researchers, research support officer, outreach officer, and a new lecturer in palaeontology. The successful candidate will benefit from the PI’s commitment to his/her career development and the PI’s extensive global network of collaborators.

Key Duties and Resposibilities
This title will apply to PhD researchers and will 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 a Principal Investigator (PI). 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 research however a particular emphasis during this stage should include;
• To conduct a specified programme of research under the supervision and direction of a Principal Investigator/Project Leader
• To engage in appropriate training and professional development opportunities as required by the Principal Investigator, School or College 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 a Principal Investigator
• To become familiar with the publication process
• To acquire generic and transferable skills (including project management, business skills and postgraduate mentoring/supervision)
• To engage in the wider research and scholarly activities of the research group, School or College

Essential Criteria
The successful candidate will provide a cover letter demonstrating evidence that they meet the following essential criteria:
• A 2:1 or 1:1 BSc or MSc in Geology, Zoology or Palaeontology
• Good laboratory skills
• Ability to work as part of a team
• Excellent problem solving skills
• Excellent communication skills

Informal enquiries can be made in confidence to Prof. Maria McNamara, Professor of Palaeontology, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. Email:

Funded by the European Research Council under the ERC Consolidator Grant “Palaeochem: Biomolecular innovation and the evolution of animals: insights from taphonomy and the fossil record”.

Contract Type: Fixed Term, Whole-Time

Position start date: between 1/9/2021 and 1/1/2022 (flexible)

Duration: 4 years

Stipend: €18,500 per annum plus EU fees. Non-EU candidates are welcome to apply but they will have to cover extra fees themselves.

Candidates should apply, in confidence, by submitting a CV (including contact details of two referees) and cover letter to before 5 pm (Irish Local Time) on Friday, 23rd April 2021.


Contact Name

Maria McNamara

Contact Email

Link to More Information

Closing Date

Friday, April 23, 2021

Expiry Date

Friday, April 23, 2021
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