PhD supervisors

Staff at Reading welcome the opportunity to supervise PhD students in the following areas:


PhD in Agricultural, Environmental and Food Economics

Professor Kelvin Balcombe, Professor, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
I would be happy to supervise topics in any area of:

  • Stated Preference Studies of Non Market Goods
  • Economic Bubbles and Volatility of Prices
  • Risk and Uncertainty.

Applications in the above areas within the Food and Agriculture sectors are encouraged but not required.

Dr Nick Bardsley, Associate Professor, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
My research focuses on two areas. Firstly, I am researching the economics of energy and climate change, in particular mitigation, using ecological and behavioural economics. For example, a recent research project used experimental methods to study household energy use, aiming for insight into the 'rebound' phenomenon.

Secondly, I have been conducting experimental investigations of decision making, and have also addressed related methodological issues. For example, I have been looking at evidence contradicting received theories of economic behaviour and testing alternative theories, particularly ones positing 'social preferences' or 'collective rationality'. I have also been exploring social norms using behavioural games. The methodological work has concerned both the concepts involved in such enquiries, and issues for the conduct and interpretation of experiments involving human subjects.

I would welcome inquiries from research students in my areas of interest.

Professor Richard Bennett, Research Dean, Vice Chancellor's Office
I welcome PhD applications from those interested in undertaking research related to economic and social science aspects of livestock production, animal health and disease control, and animal welfare.

I also welcome applications from those more broadly interested in factors affecting behaviour in relation to food choice, especially how moral considerations (such as those associated with animal welfare) influence choice.

My current research interests, where I would particularly encourage applications, include:

  • Moral influences on food choice - the case of animal welfare
  • Modelling of livestock disease, including zoonoses, and of disease control, incorporating economic dimensions, behavioural considerations etc
  • Economic and/or broader political economy studies of animal health and/or welfare policies
  • Exploring the links and interactions between animal health/welfare and important societal issues/global challenges
  • Valuation studies relating to animal health, welfare, food production/consumption (e.g. willingness to pay approaches)

Dr Yiorgos Gadanakis, Lecturer in Agricultural Business Management
I am willing to supervise graduate research topics in the area of Farm Management. I have considerable expertise in the design and execution of farm production efficiency and productivity research studies both in the UK and in low/middle income countries.

Methodologically my research relies on econometric and linear programming (optimisation) methods (Data Envelopment Analysis, Stochastic Frontier Analysis, Mathematical programming and optimisation models).

  • An indicative list of topics of particular research interest include:
  • Sustainable intensification of farming systems
  • Management of natural resources (i.e. irrigation efficiency and soil management)
  • Agricultural financial management
  • Spatial differences and their impact in farm productivity and efficiency
  • Farm planning and control
  • Innovation in agriculture
  • Developing sustainable food value chains.

Dr Garth Holloway, Associate Professor, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
I welcome PhD applications from prospective students interested in working with data in empirical settings including, but not restricted to:

Exchangeability, Representation, Inference and Prediction to problems in Agriculture, Agricultural Economics, Anthropology, Biology, Botany, Climate Change, Conservation, Development, Ecology, Economics, Econometrics, Fisheries, Finance, Food Security, Futures, Game Theory, Household Production, Industrial Organization, Organics, Probability, Quantitative Methods, Risk and Uncertainty.

Current research surrounds the theoretical foundations for empirical models development and applications in diverse settings.

Former PhD supervision includes applications of formal probability structures to organic market development in Mexico; water rights evaluations in post-conflict Libya; land-rights determinations among transhumant Maasai; small-area poverty estimation in Latin America; household willingness-to-pay assessments for malarial loss abatement in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria; smallholder dairy farmer market immersion in Sri Lanka; and the removal of the Public Distribution System For Food Products in post-conflict Iraq.

Current PhD supervision includes evaluation of conservation tillage practices among subsistence Malawian agriculturalists and evaluation of the geographic hunting patterns of !Kung hunter-gatherers in Botswana.

Professor Julian Park, Head of the School, School of Agriculture Policy & Development
Recent and current PhD students have worked in the area of sustainable farming systems and technological innovation in agriculture. I welcome enquiries and applications from prospective PhD students who are interested in working on related issues.

Professor Elizabeth J Z Robinson, Professor of Environmental Economics, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
I welcome PhD applications from applied economists interested in working at the interface of people and renewable natural resources, whether here in the UK or in a low/middle income country. Methodologically my research relies on explicitly spatial and temporal models of resource extraction with an emphasis on forests and fish, on spatial optimal enforcement models, and combining anthropological and economic data collection approaches.

My current research interests, where I would particularly encourage applications, include:

  • The design of policies and institutions that protect both forest and marine-based livelihoods in low/middle income countries, and the natural resource base
  • Designing and implementing REDD+ programmes, particularly at the community level, linking to literature on payments for ecosystem services
  • Understanding energy transitions out of woodfuels, and the implications for charcoal and charcoal-based livelihoods in the context of deforestation, forest degradation, and climate change
  • Spatial temporal aspects of forest/woodland ecosystem services and forest/woodland management in the UK

Dr Chittur Srinivasan, Associate Professor, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
I would welcome PhD applications from applied/empirical economists in the following areas of my research interests:

  • Economics of intellectual property rights in agriculture - plant variety protection and patenting of biotechnology based agricultural innovations
  • Conservation and international exchange of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture in the context of the Convention of Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; farmers' rights issues
  • Diet, nutrition and health transitions in developed and developing countries
  • Exploration of agriculture and nutrition linkages through the dimensions of human energy expenditure, time-use and intra-household allocation of labour and consumption

Dr Giacomo Zanello, Lecturer in Food Economics and Health
My current research interests, where I would particularly encourage Ph.D. applications, include:

  • Food, nutrition and health: I am involved in work that sits at the intersection of food, nutrition and health primarily in low- and middle-income contexts. This includes the analysis of energy expenditure patterns of rural households, investigation of economic drivers of over- and under-nutrition, food and nutrition policy evaluation, and the role of agriculture and food systems in enabling better nutrition and health
  • Innovation, technology, and industrialisation: I investigate the innovation rich environment of low-income countries aiming to understand the diffusion and impacts of tech- and no-tech innovations
  • Role of transaction costs in rural agricultural markets: I am interested in better capturing and quantifying the transaction costs that limit the size of agricultural markets in low-income countries

I look forward to PhD applications from applied economists broadly interested in such topics and eager to develop robust empirical research aimed at strong policy implications.

Professor Richard Tranter, Professor of Rural Economy
I would welcome applications for graduate research in farmer attitudes and their decision-making behaviour, especially where this relates to changes as a result of policy developments.

I would also be interested in studies on the wider rural economy (e.g. forestry and diversification activities) as well as research on consumers' food choice behaviour particularly that concerning organic, animal welfare friendly and eco-label food production systems. 

PhD in Animal, Dairy and Food Chain Sciences

Professor Ian Givens, Professor of Food Chain Nutrition and Head of Animal Dairy & Food Chain Sciences, Animal Dairy & Food Chain Science
I am willing supervise PhD research in food chain nutrition. My research has a focus on animal-derived foods, their functionality and impact on long term cardiometabolic health usually working in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences.

The work may include human intervention studies, dietary pattern analysis and disease epidemiology and meta-analysis often in collaboration with the Universities of Cardiff, Copenhagen and Wageningen.

Topics of particular interest include dairy foods and their health benefits with a focus on type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Dr Hannah Jones, Senior Research Fellow
I can supervise students in crop or forage science from the field to the farm scale. I like to integrate farmer participation in research projects which enhances the relevance and the impact of the research outputs.

Dr Partha Ray, Lecturer in Dairy Animal Science
I would be happy to supervise graduate research in following topics:

  • Phosphorus digestion and metabolism in ruminants with an overall goal of identifying and developing nutritional strategies to improve nutrient utilization efficiency
  • Improved utilization of by-product feed ingredients in ruminant nutrition
  • Quantitative assessment of environmental loading of micropollutants/emerging contaminants (antimicrobial residues, antibiotic resistance genes, heavy metals) from livestock farms
  • Identification and development of manure management strategies to reduce environmental loading of nutrients and micropollutants from livestock farms

Dr Caroline Rymer, Associate Professor, Animal Science
I welcome PhD applications in the area of feed characterisation and animal nutrition. My current research is aimed at identifying what is the optimum composition of the gut microbiome and what is the optimum metabolite profile to support efficient performance in poultry and maintaining bird welfare. I am also interested in identifying and developing novel feeds and feed additives that would support this optimum microbiome/metabolome, and identifying the mechanism of action of these interventions. I am also interested in determining which dietary and management interventions may help to reduce the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in poultry.

Dr Sokratis Stergiadis, Lecturer in Animal Science
My research interests focus on ruminant nutrition, livestock greenhouse gases emissions and animal product quality. I would welcome PhD applications in the following areas:

  • Improve sustainability of livestock production
  • Novel forages, diets and grassland management systems, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy and nutrient utilisation efficiency in ruminants
  • Modelling feed nutritive value, energy and nutrient utilisation efficiency in ruminants and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farms
  • Applications of NMR-based metabolomics in dairy research
  • Effect of production system, animal diet, and crossbreeding on the productivity, health, fertility and nutritional quality of animal products"

Dr Kirsty Kliem, Senior Research Fellow
I am willing to supervise graduate research in improving the health quality of bovine milk by changing cow diets, and the impact of dietary changes on cow health. I am also interested in identification of biomarkers of disease in milk, and practical applications of this developing area.

PhD in Consumer Behaviour and Food Marketing

Dr Elena Millan, Lecturer, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
My expertise is in consumer behaviour, digital marketing, luxury brands, advertising, and retailing. My research draws from different theoretical and interdisciplinary perspectives and uses advanced qualitative and quantitative research approaches. I welcome PhD applications from strongly motivated candidates who have interest in any of the following research areas:

  • Digital marketing, brand engagement and experiences on social media, customer adoption of innovations and technology use
  • The role of cultural factors and cultural diversity in shaping consumer behaviour: both culture impact and cross-cultural variations in consumer behaviour outcomes
  • Fashion and luxury marketing, the meaning of brands in contemporary society: the role of brands and their symbolic and hedonic meanings in our daily lives and in our relationships with others; brand-building through the use of narrative stories
  • Consumer psychology and behaviours across diverse product categories
  • Online advertising, mobile advertising, advertising co-creation, customised and personalised advertising
  • Consumer food choices, diets and eating habits, causes and consequences of unhealthy food consumption (e.g., obesity, poor health)
  • Beyond lab product testing: The role of consumer insights and co-creation in new food product development
  • Retail marketing, e-commerce and multi-channel retailing, interactive marketing and the use of social media in retailing

PhD in Crop Sciences

Dr Jake Bishop, Lecturer in Crop Science and Production, Crop Production
I welcome PhD applications in crop science and agricultural ecology. My ongoing research interests lie at the interface between these two themes. I have expertise in designing and conducting complex experiments that integrate controlled environment and field research. Specific topics of interest to me, where I would particularly encourage applications, include:

  • Plant-pollinator interactions, and their response to climate variability
  • Crop responses to abiotic stress and to herbivory
  • Targeted agricultural management that maximizes the benefits of ecosystem services to reduce impacts of climate change on crop production, this may be through a variety of approaches (e.g. targeted placement of insect pollinator habitat in agricultural landscapes, spatially and temporally optimized release of biocontrol insects, rhizobia inoculations)

My primary study crop to date has been faba bean (Vicia faba) but I am open to the study of other crops, particularly soybean, oilseed rape, horticultural crops, and wheat.

Dr Tijana Blanusa, RHS Research Fellow, School of Agriculture Policy & Development
I welcome PhD applications from students with biological/horticultural/environmental science background, who are interested in understanding the impact of vegetation choices within green infrastructure on ecosystem services provision.

I work for the largest UK gardening charity, Royal Horticultural Society, so my particular interests are around domestic gardens and their contribution to services such as rainfall capture, localised cooling and pollutant uptake and capture.

Dr John P Hammond, Principal Research Fellow, Crop Production
I welcome PhD applications in the areas of plant molecular biology, physiology and genetics related to the mineral nutrition of plants.

Current opportunities:


SC2017-19 From Soils to Plants to Pollinators: Mechanisms and Impacts of Metal Transmission Through an Ecological System - Lead supervisor: John Hammond. Co-supervisors: Robbie Girling, Tom Sizmur

SC2017-12 Accumulation of Legacy Phosphorus in Farmland Ponds: Implications for Nutrient Management and Water Quality - Lead supervisor: Steve Robinson. Co-supervisors: Helen Jarvie (CEH), John Hammond (University of Reading), Rachael Dils (Environment Agency).

Other opportunities:

My current research interests, where I would particularly encourage applications, include:

  • The transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of plant responses to nutrient stress
  • Improving the mineral nutrient composition of crops for human nutrition
  • Nutrient use efficiency in arable crops
  • Plant roots and resource use efficiency
  • Identifying genes associated with tolerance to Arsenic stress
  • Alternative and sustainable use of fertilisers in agriculture
  • Improving and quantifying soil health

Dr Alistair Murdoch, Associate Professor in Crop and Weed Science, Crop Production

  • Robotic weeding
  • Socio-economics of adoption of precision agriculture
  • Applying precision agriculture to resource-poor small-scale farmers in developing countries
  • Ecology and mathematical modelling of seed germination and dormancy especially of weed seeds
  • Germination of parasitic weed seeds such as Orobanche and Striga

Professor Donal O'Sullivan, Professor in Crop Science, Crop Production
PhD vacancies - I am happy to support scholarship applications from well-qualified candidates interested in cereal or legume genetics and pre-breeding. Topics of particular current interest for 2017 include:

  • Genomic selection in faba bean
  • Genetic dissection of quantitative variation underpinning protein quality in faba bean
  • Development of software for automated recognition of crop features from RGB and multi-spectral imagery (for which a programming background would be useful)
  • Genetic interactions determining yield stability in wheat

Professor Mark Tibbett, Professor of Soil Ecology
I am currently considering PhD applications in the area of:

  • Mycorrhizal symbiosis
  • Plant-soil interactions and feedbacks
  • Soil phosphorus biogeochemistry
  • Soil ecology and biodiversity
  • rhizosphere processes
  • Soil organic matter and carbon sequestration

PhD application are encouraged in the areas of mine site rehabilitation, restoration ecology and ecosystem reconstruction Potential projects might include:

  • Early development of terrestrial ecosystems
  • Nutritional constraints to ecosystem development
  • Overcoming toxicity barriers to restoration
  • The development of soil biotic communities
  • Chronosequence studies of ecosystem development
  • Adaptations after long-term metal exposure in plant and microbial populations

Applicants may have their own mine sites of interest or request options via Prof Tibbett international contact network.

PhD in Ecology and Agri-Environmental Research

Professor Simon Potts, Research Professor, Agri-Environment
I am keen to take on high calibre PhD students in the area of agro-ecology and sustainable food production.

My research interests cover: the contribution of ecosystem services, particularly pollination and natural pest regulation, to production; management of agro-ecosystems for biodiversity conservation; impacts of environmental change and land management on biodiversity; relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services; the values of ecosystem service provision; and the use of evidence to support better management practices and policies. Our approaches are multi-disciplinary, with strong stakeholder involvement, and address UK, European and global challenges.

Dr Alice Mauchline, Senior Research Fellow, Agri-Environment
I would be interested in supervising doctoral research projects in the following research areas:

  • Sustainable crop production including integrated pest management approaches
  • Evaluation of agri-environmental policies and development of farmer advisory support
  • Chemical ecology of insects and the use of semiochemicals in pest control
  • Innovative pedagogies especially in fieldwork teaching
  • Integration of citizen science approaches in research and teaching

Further details can be found on my School webpages:

Dr Gillian Rose, Lecturer, Agri-Environment
I would be happy to supervise topics in any area of crop physiology including crop management methods such as irrigation, fertilisation etc. I am also experienced in the use and development of crop simulation models.

PhD in International and Rural Development

Dr Alex Arnall, Lecturer in Agriculture & Development, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
I am interested in supervising research students working on the following themes:

  • Global environmental change (including climate change) and its intersections with human migration/mobility
  • Environmental shocks and stresses (e.g. flood and drought) and human displacement
  • Planned resettlement and its impacts of people's lives and life courses/chances
  • Rural mobility and its contribution to livelihoods and resilience

My own disciplinary area is human geography, and my research methods are primarily qualitative-based. However, I would welcome enquiries from prospective students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. I can supervise research in high, middle or low income countries.

Dr Jo Davies, Teaching Fellow in International Development, Agri-Food Economics & Social Science
I would be happy to supervise topics at the intersection of international politics and development studies, including those looking at the International Financial Institutions, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and international trade.

I am particularly interested in applications exploring the competing development models of China and the United States and their impact, particularly in an African context. This also includes investigating the role of conditionality in aid, and the role of power in constructing the development agenda.

I am also interested in the role of corruption at all levels, but particularly at the level of 'grand' corruption.

Dr Andrew Ainslie, Associate Professor of International and Rural Development
My research interests are centred on understanding both system-wide and locally specific drivers of agrarian and global environmental change. Much of my research involves working at the interface between different knowledge systems.

Also, I have a focus on governance, including the resurgence of 'traditional' institutions in post-colonial African states, as well as interests in technology-enhanced learning and has recently co-led on developing an open online course on global food security.

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