PhD Opportunities

Apply for a PhD

through the University web pages HERE or through Find a PhD HERE

Please apply through the Institute for Molecular Plant Sciences link

Lab team work!!

PhD Opportunities

We are seeking highly motivated PhD candidates and are keen to assist outstanding individuals with applications for funding, including scholarships, their integration into the research group, and the Department.

We are looking for highly motivated students who are interested in working in the areas outlined below. The Halliday lab has a strong EQUALITY AND DIVERSITY agenda and we particularly encourage applications from "under-represented" groups.

Our Research

Molecular signalling: Define the environment-controlled molecular mechanisms that regulate plant growth and development. (molecular-genetics, physiology)

Modelling: Build mathematical models that can predict molecular or physiological biological behaviour. (maths/physics)

Crop development for the future: Develop food crops that can withstand the climate change. (molecular-genetics, physiology)

Social Impact: Working with Social Scientists to challenge descriminatory practices and to evolve an inclusive working environment that attracts and supports diverse employees in STEM.

PhD projects are advertised each Fall, but if you think you would like to join our lab - we strongly encourage you to contact us earlier in the year

Contact:, Tel. +44 +131 651 9083


Descriptions of PhD positions to start in 2019, application deadline December 2018


Project 1: Molecular mechanisms that control plant growth plasticity

Plants are inherently plastic organisms. Their general body plan is genetically encoded, but plant architecture can be modified to adjust to the environment that surrounds it. In this sense, external cues, such as light and temperature, have a profound effect on the way a plant grows and develops, ultimately affecting a plant’s fitness, disease resistance and productivity. Growth plasticity is particularly pronounced in leaves that are able to adapt to an extraordinary array of external conditions. This project will elucidate the light and temperature- activated molecular mechanisms that control cell proliferation, carbon partitioning and leaf architecture. Results from this PhD project will be highly relevant for crop research. For instance, an expected outcome is the identification of molecular strategies to improve plant architecture in dense cropping environments (that normally reduce yield). The project will also have broad reach as it will deepen our understanding of environment-driven growth plasticity, a fundamental property that underlies the extraordinary evolutionary success of plants on earth.

Recent work from the Halliday lab has shown that alterations photoreceptor signalling lead to dramatic changes in metabolism, carbon resource partitioning and leaf biomass.  This project will build on these findings new data form the Halliday lab that has identified molecular components that couple photoreceptor signalling to cell division. The aim will be to: i) elucidate the molecular connecting mechanism, ii) generate resources for molecular function analysis of key pathway components using cloning, gene editing and/or transgenic methods, iii) use our 3D imaging platform to quantify dynamic growth in photoreceptor / signalling pathway mutants, iv) quantify leaf photosynthesis and associated changes in carbon metabolism, v) conduct RNAseq and bioinformatics analysis that characterises the dynamical transciptome response through time, vi) work with theoretical scientists to model and predict the impacts of changing light and resource availability on growth: this will aid the development of strategies to improve plant growth and productivity in vegetation-rich field crop environments that exclude light.


Project 2: Resilient Soybean

This PhD project will be a collaboration between Edinburgh and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a non-profit institution that works on improving food security in sub-Saharan Africa.  Resilient soybean aims to improve tolerance to dense-planting and climatic stress of this important but relatively underdeveloped legume crop.  Across sub-Saharan Africa soybean is a staple food crop that maintains soil fertility, and a major revenue source for local farmers (e.g. Malawi Department of Agricultural Research Services, 2013). Yet current soybean varieties consistently underperform with average yield of 800 kgha-1 against the potential for 2000 to 2500 kgha-1. Dense cropping is used to improve Soybean yield (and reduce soil water loss), but this practice often induces lodging and reduced carbon allocation to yield, effects that are exacerbated by heat. This PhD project will exploit molecular advances by Halliday lab and others that can simultaneously improve plant stature in dense-cropping and provide protection from heat. A dual approach using high-throughput germplasm screening alongside more a targeted gene editing approach (using CRISPR) will be employed to develop better, fit-for-purpose varieties of Soybean. Lines will be subject to dynamic phenotypic growth analyses in light quality regimes that mimic dense cropping over a realistic temperature range. The best performing lines will be trialled at field sites in Nigeria and Malawi.  


Project 3: The Dual Function of Light in Controlling Plant Growth

Plants use light in two ways: as a source of energy to drive photosynthetic carbon (C) fixation, and as a signal to provide information about the environment. Both pathways are essential for growth and vitality: the former provides fuel and the latter the regulatory molecular machinery. Traditionally these light driven processes have mainly been studied separately, but recent work in the Halliday lab has shown that they are closely coupled. Phytochrome light receptors exert strong control on photosynthesis, and the levels of amino acids, organic acids and sugars. The PhD program will address two key hypotheses that emerge from this work: i) phytochromes control growth by manipulating carbon resources, rather than just relying on molecular signalling, as previously thought, ii) phytochrome regulation of the metabolite profile provides an important back-up stress-protection system. These lines of inquiry will provide novel insights into these ancient light-dependent systems that will be highly relevant for crop development.