Postdoctoral Research Associate in Microbial Astrobiology University of Edinburgh, School of Physics and Astronomy United Kingdom

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Microbial Astrobiology

Vacancy Ref: : 042506

Closing Date : 19-Feb-2018

Contact Person : Charles Cockell

Contact Number : 0131 650 2961

Contact Email :

We seek an outstanding microbiologist to take up a three-year STFC-funded PDRA position at the University of Edinburgh. Your work will involve understanding the effects of space conditions, including microgravity, on microbial communities, investigating their molecular biology and contributing to a broader interest in investigating life beyond Earth. An essential requirement of the position is a strong background in molecular biology either in –omics technologies or microbial molecular biology.


You should have a PhD in a biological sciences related area. You will work to help develop new experiments using orbital and space facilities. You will lead both laboratory based and theoretical research. You should also have a strong interest in technology transfer. The role will also entail responsibilities in contributing to research at Edinburgh by writing publications in high-impact factor journals and grant applications. We seek a highly self-motivated scientist who will play an active role in creating links with space agencies and other astrobiologists. You will also be responsible for supervision, training and oversight of other staff.


The start date is 01 April 2018.

1. Job Details

Job title: Postdoctoral Research Associate in Microbial Astrobiology
School/Support Department: School of Physics and Astronomy
Unit (if applicable): UK Centre for Astrobiology
Line manager: Charles Cockell


2. Job Purpose

The purpose of the job is to investigate the effects of space conditions, including microgravity, on microbial communities and using these data to advance our understanding of life in extreme environments and life beyond Earth.


3. Main Responsibilities Approx. % of time

  1. Carry out internationally competitive science on the behaviour of organisms in the space environment 40%
  2. Work on developing new experiments to be implemented on the International Space Station. 20%
  3. Develop new methods to study microbes in extraterrestrial environments, including the possibility of new instrumentation. 20%
  4. Develop new ideas and concepts for using space platforms to study organisms in the space environment. 10%
  5. Contribute to education and outreach activities. 10%

4. Planning and Organising

The holder will lead both laboratory based and theoretical research to microbial behaviour in space. They should also have an interest in technology transfer. In addition, they will help in PhD project work related to their core expertise. They will be required to manage work pressures and tight deadlines in the project and ensure that results are published in a timely manner.


5. Problem Solving

Working at the interface between microbiology and planetary sciences (astrobiology), at Edinburgh, the holder’s responsibilities will include advancing work on implementing and developing new methods to study microorganisms in space, particularly the International Space Station and other orbital platforms.
They will be required to develop new research techniques and methods for the project and use initiative and creativity to identify areas for research and develop new research methods.


6. Decision Making

The holder will make key decisions in carrying out the scientific research, in particular laboratory methods to be used to address the questions of interest. They will be able to make decisions on both an individual and collaborative basis that have an impact on the research team. They will provide input and recommendations to inform decisions of others, e.g. advise PhD and project students on data reduction techniques.


7. Key Contacts/Relationships

The holder will report to Charles Cockell, professor of Astrobiology – They will be responsible for writing papers, advising on research direction and working jointly with the PI to develop new experiments. They will be responsible for exchanging information with internal and/or external contacts and collaborators. The job holder will also work to build relationships and contacts to facilitate future research collaboration. They will collaborate with academic colleagues on areas of shared research interest. In particular they will work with scientists and space missions leaders at the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency


8. Knowledge, Skills and Experience Needed for the Job

A PhD in biological sciences.
Possesses sufficient breadth or depth of specialist knowledge in microbiology and of research methods and techniques to work within an established research programme.
Will engage in continuous professional development.
Will have shown a high degree of laboratory proficiency.
Essential skills for the job include: Microbial molecular biology (such as –omics technologies), proven skills in microbial culturing.
Desirable skills that will significantly improve competitiveness of the candidate include anaerobic microbiology, biological imaging technologies and the physiological and biochemical analysis of microbial populations.


9. Dimensions

The position will be undertaken within the context of the STFC Consortium grant awarded to the University of Edinburgh (to. C. Cockell).


10. Job Context and any other relevant information

This job is a three-year STFC-funded PDRA position is available at the UK Centre for Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh to investigate the behaviour of organisms in space, using the International Space Station and other orbital platforms. The work will involve understanding the effects of space conditions, including microgravity, on biological systems. They will work to help develop new experiments using orbital and space facilities. They will lead both laboratory based and theoretical research. They will have an interest in technology transfer. Working at the interface between microbiology and planetary sciences (astrobiology), at Edinburgh, the responsibilities will include advancing work on space experiments and the use of space facilities to carry out research.


Essential skills for the job include: Microbial molecular biology (such as –omics technologies), proven skills in microbial culturing and/or a high level of expertise in biofilm physiology and biochemistry.


Desirable skills that will significantly improve competitiveness of the candidate are experience include anaerobic microbiology, biological imaging technologies.


Application Procedure

All applicants should apply online by clicking the apply link at the bottom of this page and submitting an up to date CV. The application process is quick and easy to follow, and you will receive email confirmation of safe receipt of your application. The online system allows you to submit a CV and other attachments.


You will be notified by email whether you have been shortlisted for interview or not.


Closing date is 5pm GMT on 19 February 2018.


Eligibility to Work


In accordance with the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 the University of Edinburgh, as an employer, has a legal responsibility to prevent illegal working and therefore must check that all employees are entitled to work in the United Kingdom (UK).


To do so, the University of Edinburgh requires to see original documents evidencing right to work in the UK before commencement of employment and this is normally carried out at interview. Details will be provided in any letter of invitation to interview.


For further information on eligibility to work please visit our eligibility to work website


If you are not currently eligible to work in the UK, the University has the authority to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to successful candidates who meet the eligibility criteria. The CoS enables candidates to apply for a Tier 2 (general visa) in accordance with current UK Visas and Immigration rules.


For applicants interested in sponsorship information is available on our Working in the UK website


However, if you have previously been sponsored by an employer within the UK but your leave has expired or lapsed and you are no longer in the UK, according to Home Office Visa Immigration rules you cannot apply for sponsorship under any category of Tier 2 for a period of 12 months after the date your visa expired and/or you left the UK.


If you are an academic in the field of sciences; humanities; engineering; medicine; digital technology; or the arts and come from outside the EEA, it may be possible for you to apply for a Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa.


The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route offers a greater flexibility in your employment compared to other UK immigration routes, meaning you can, for example, move organisation, location and/or job role. By contrast with, a Tier 2 visa where you are ‘tied to a UK sponsor’. Tier 1 provides greater flexibility in undertaking additional engagements, such as collaborations and is intended as a route to settlement. Allowed absences from the UK are up to 180 days per year without losing the eligibility to qualify for settlement, with no restriction on the reason for absence (unlike Tier 2, where any absences from the UK must be for a purpose consistent with the person’s employment or economic activity, including paid annual leave, or for serious or compelling personal reasons).


You would initially need to apply to be endorsed as an internationally recognised leader or emerging leader in your particular field by a designated competent body (Arts Council England, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society, Tech City UK).


Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)


Once successfully endorsed, you are able to apply for a Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa. More information on this entry route is available at UKVI Website.


Conditions of Employment


Pension Scheme


This role is grade UE07 and therefore the post holder is automatically included in membership of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), subject to the USS membership criteria, unless they indicate that they choose not to join the Scheme.


For further information please visit our Pensions website.




The role is grade UE07 and attracts an annual salary of £32,548 to £38,833 for 35 hours each week. Salary is paid monthly by direct transfer to your Bank or Building Society account, normally on the 28th of the month. Salaries for part-time staff are calculated on the full-time scales, pro-rata to the Standard Working Week.


The University reserves the right to vary the candidate information or make no appointment at all. Neither in part, nor in whole does this information form part of any contract between the University and any individual.


Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems (ICMCS)
ICMCS deals with the emergent behaviour from many interacting objects. The traditional application of this is to Condensed matter physics (CMP), which is concerned with the study of liquids and solids, and ‘viscoelastic’ materials (such as polymers and suspensions) with properties in between. In essence, condensed matter physics is about discovering and characterising the behaviour of these materials in the laboratory, and understanding such behaviour in terms of the microscopic constituents (atoms, molecules, colloidal particle, etc.). Experimentally, the determination of structure, and the characterisation of static and dynamic optical, electrical, magnetic, mechanical, high pressure and other properties calls upon a very wide range of tools. To gain conceptual understanding of phenomena uncovered in the laboratory requires the methods of quantum, classical and statistical mechanics, applied both analytically and by computer simulations.


We have special expertise in extreme conditions physics (high pressures, high magnetic field, low temperature), and in soft matter, unravelling the complex behaviour of suspensions and polymers. Finally, we are now applying the methods and results of CMP to the study of non-equilibrium complex systems. This includes biological systems which are, after all, specialised forms of condensed matter. It also includes evolving and social systems such as ecosystems, economics and linguistics.


Applications of the Institute's work are very broad, ranging from life on mars, through terrestrial ecosystems, materials for nuclear reactors, antimicrobial drugs, crystallography at extreme conditions, synthesis of superhard materials, liquid crystals, paints, shampoo to tomato ketchup. It is therefore not surprising that more physicists work in CMP than in perhaps any other single sub-discipline of physics.


Further information can be viewed at

The School of Physics & Astronomy
The School of Physics and Astronomy is in the College of Science & Engineering and comprises the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics (IPNP), the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems (ICMCS) and the Institute for Astronomy (IfA).


The School has around seventy academic staff, over 100 research staff and around 50 professional services staff.


In the most recent Research Excellence Framework the School was ranked 2nd of the large Physics departments in UK universities and 4th overall. The submission was a joint exercise with St Andrews University (PHYESTA).


The School runs undergraduate programmes at BSc and MPhys level in Physics, Mathematical Physics, Theoretical Physics, Computational Physics, Astrophysics and (jointly with the School of Chemistry) Chemical Physics. The undergraduate programme has flexible entry and exit points, creating courses of variable duration and level.


The School accepts around 175 new undergraduates into its programmes each year and has current student populations of around 680 undergraduates, 55 taught postgraduates and 220 research postgraduates.


Further information about the School can be viewed at


Working within the School


We aim to ensure that our culture and systems support flexible and family-friendly working and recognise and value diversity across all our staff and students. The School has an active programme offering support and professional development for all staff; providing mentoring, training, and networking opportunities.


The School of Physics and Astronomy holds Athena SWAN Silver and IoP Juno Champion awards, in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality.

College of Science and Engineering (
The College of Science and Engineering (CSE) is one of the largest and highest-ranked science and engineering groupings in the UK. Headed by Professor Dave Robertson, CSE comprises seven Schools (Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Engineering, GeoSciences, Informatics, Mathematics, and Physics and Astronomy). Informatics is located in the University’s Central Area near George Square, with the other six 2 miles further south at the King’s Buildings. The College has over 3,000 academic and support staff, and educates some 6,000 undergraduates, over 1000 taught postgraduates and more than 2,000 research students. It is in the front rank of UK university science and engineering groupings for research quality and income, and is a key player in many European and international research collaborations.


Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014


In the 2014 REF over 95% of our staff were submitted. Of our seven submissions, four of which were as a joint research school in combination with a strategic research university partner through pooling, 3 were ranked top in the UK and all 7 were in the top 5 in their discipline in the Times Higher Power rankings.


The University of Edinburgh
For more than four centuries, our people and their achievements have rewritten history time and again. They’ve explored space, revolutionised surgery, published era-defining books, paved the way for life-saving medical breakthroughs and introduced to the world many inventions, discoveries and ideas from penicillin to Dolly the sheep. We have believed that anything is possible, we still do.
The latest Research Excellence Framework highlighted our place at the forefront of international research. This adds to our international reputation for the quality of our teaching and our student experience excellence. The University is proud of its success with online teaching initiatives, with 2550 students currently studying its online distance learning postgraduate programmes, and a total to date of more than 2 million enrolments for Edinburgh MOOCs.


As a member of staff, you will be part of one of the world's leading universities, with 20 Schools spread over 3 Colleges that offer more than 1600 undergraduate and 600 postgraduate programmes to over 35,000 students each year. Professional services are critical to this success as well as our world-class teaching, research and student facilities. In fact, we are one of the top employers in Edinburgh, with over 13,000 people spread across a wide range of academic and supporting roles.


As a world-changing, world-leading university, we offer an exciting, positive, creative, challenging and rewarding place to work. We give you support, nurture your talent, develop and reward success and integrate academic, professional and personal career goals, as well as give your career the benefit of a great and distinguished reputation. In addition, our employees benefit from a competitive reward package and a wide range of staff benefits, which include generous holiday entitlement, a defined benefits pension scheme, staff discounts and much more. Access our staff benefits page for further information and use our reward calculator to find out the total value of pay and benefits provided.


The University of Edinburgh holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. We are members of the Race Equality Charter and we are also Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champions, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment, including flexible working and childcare vouchers. See our University Initiatives website for further information.


University Family Friendly Initiatives

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

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