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Durham University

Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience



PhD Studentship - GCRF Centre for Doctoral Training

(9 August 2018)

Durham University
Global Challenges Research Fund
Centre for Doctoral Training

Durham University has established a new Global Challenges Research Fund Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) with fully funded PhD studentships beginning in February 2019. The CDT will support a cohort of around 20 students working on a specific challenge in one or more of the areas of the UN Sustainable Development Goals with all PhD students coming from a DAC nation. All PhD projects are interdisciplinary and will be supervised by academic staff from different departments in partnership with a university in an overseas DAC nation, and may include collaboration with other organisations. PhD candidates in the CDT will participate in a wide ranging and comprehensive training programme to equip them to make an effective contribution in their area of expertise following completion of their PhD. The PhD will include a placement in the partner DAC nation.

Available Project:


This project will be based in the department of Geography with the principal supervisor Professor Nick Rosser (

Project Summary: This PhD project aims to explore how to align scientific knowledge on natural hazards with cultural beliefs and understandings, for improved disaster risk reduction. We focus on the well-known limits to the sustainable implementation of early warning systems (EWS), which themselves are a central tenant of the SDGs and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. EWS are often complex systems, reliant on science-based protocols for data collection and analysis, yet are intended to benefit communities with limited literacy and numeracy, who in many instances hold alternative world views to explain the environmental changes that they experience. A consequence of this tension is limited trust and ownership of the information that EWS provide, limiting their sustainability.

We are seeking to recruit a student to undertake novel interdisciplinary doctoral research, combining long-term research on local understandings of risk from social anthropology, with scientific research on hazards, to explore the potential for more nuanced and culturally attuned methods of making observations about the landscape, and using these to inform risk reduction strategies. We focus specifically on monsoon-triggered landslides impacting the rural population in mountainous Nepal. Such settings are symptomatic of poor mountainous areas worldwide, where landslide management is often reactionary, with little formal capacity for proactive risk reduction. As householders are often left to cope with the risks they face, the tools that this studentship will develop must be both practical and effective at reducing risk.

The PhD has 2 main objectives as a starting point:

A. Conduct an in-depth ethnographic study of seasonal community practise and how this relates to understandings of and decision making around landslide hazard. Importantly, the PhD will seek to capture the seasonal norms that shape how communities live alongside landslides, from supra-natural explanations (including: pre-monsoon rituals, the worshipping of deities), to pragmatic risk avoidance strategies (including: livelihood diversification, distributed land holdings, seasonal migration). As such, this research aims to fill the gap left by normally short-term light-touch snapshots of risk perception and response, by considering day-to-day village life over the seasonal timescales (dry season to monsoon) across which landslide risk changes from negligible to extreme.

B. Building upon the example of the ‘vigías’ network of Tungurahua (Ecuador) (Stone et al., 2014), we seek to explore with communities the potential for establishing a network of ‘landslide observers’. This will be the first time such a network has been developed specifically for landslides. We will build upon the ideas around ‘participatory numbers’ (Gaillard et al., 2016), to consider how (1) new forms of local observations (e.g. recording rainfall), that are congruous with seasonal community practise and decision making, could become a basis for decision making, and (2) to identify where more scientific information (e.g. simple community landslide monitoring) may complement this. The network is intended to function simultaneously as a means of generating observations; as a communication channel for increasing awareness; and ultimately as an EWS. The research will also explore the indirect benefits of systematizing such observations around enhanced social capital, via the generation of new capabilities, improved trust and engagement in community-led risk reduction.

We anticipate that the project will be well-suited to candidates with interests and experience of one or more of the following: geography, anthropology, engineering geology, disaster risk reduction, and development. Importantly, we are seeking to appoint a highly motivated candidate with an appetite for curiosity-led field-based research in Nepal.

The supervisory team includes: Dr Ben Campbell (Anthropology, Durham), Prof. Mukta Lama Tamang (Tribhuvan University, Anthropology), and Prof. Megh Raj Dhital (Tribhuvan University, Geology). The project partners in Nepal are the National Society for Earthquake Technology – NSET, and the Government of Nepal, Department of Water Induced Disaster Management (DWIDM).

Financial Support
PhD projects are fully funded for three years full-time beginning February 2019. The award covers:

  • Full payment of all fees
  • A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s National Rate which is £14,777 per year for 2018/19
  • Return travel and visa costs for the applicant’s home nation
  • An allowance to cover research costs and research training
  • Support for an overseas placement during the PhD at the DAC nation partner university.

Eligibility and Other Requirements
Funding is available to an overseas candidate based in a DAC nation. Fluency in Nepali is preferable. Applicants must meet the university’s academic PhD entry requirement which is a 2:1 honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject. Candidates may also hold a Masters degree in an area relevant to the project. Applicants should also demonstrate research potential. Non-native English speakers require an English language qualification equivalent to IELTS 6.5 with no element less than 6.0. Applicants must be able to start their PhD on 1 February 2019.

How to Apply
Applicants must complete the university online postgraduate application: As part of the application process applicants will be required to provide:

  • A current CV
  • Two academic references
  • Official transcripts of previous qualifications
  • Evidence of English Language proficiency.

Applicants must state on the application form the title of the project they are applying for and the name of the main supervisor. Applications will be considered by the department hosting the PhD project. The deadline for applications is 31 August 2018. Any questions should be address to Professor Nick Rosser (