PhD Recruitment

The Sun, Stars & Exoplanets is happy to welcome new applications for PhD research, with the themes below being currently sought after. We offer fully-funded and unfunded positions.

Fully-funded position means a student would typically receive a stipend of approximately £15,000 per year in addition to the cost of the tuition fees (approximately £4,000 per year).

Fully-funded positions are for all students, UK and overseas. Overseas students normally need to cover tuition fees of approximately £24,000 per year (meaning an extra £20,000 per year needs to be covered compared to a UK student). However, we are allowed to waive the overseas fees for a small number of excellent students. In addition, you can also cover parts of the overseas tuition fees with external funds. E.g., Bell–Burnell studentship, Fulbright fellowship.

Applications for fully-funded positions are due on 15 January.

You can apply by visiting the list of PhD opportunities in Physics & Astronomy and selecting the right project for you.

Alternatively you can apply by selecting PhD in Department of Physics and Astronomy in the University Application Portal. Then, in your application’s cover letter, mention clearly you are applying to the Sun, Stars & Exoplanets group.

Please contact us for further details.

Projects under offer

Observations and methods to discover circumbinary planets — Prof. A Triaud

Circumbinary planets orbit around both stars at once, like Tatooine in Star Wars. Such planets are rare, but important to understand better the processes behind planet formation and orbital evolution. The project is about collecting data and analysing it in search for circumbinary planets. At Birmingham we search for such signals using radial-velocities, and the transit method, which means we also regularly visit observatories outside the United Kingdom and as remote as the Atacama Desert and the Antarctica Plateau

Observations and methods to discover Earth-like planets — Prof. A Triaud

Finding out whether biology has arisen elsewhere in the Universe has likely been a question as old as humanity itself. At Birmingham we are leading on answering that question thanks to our participation in the only set of telescopes currently able to identify new habitable rocky worlds where they atmosphere can then be probed for evidence of biological processes. We use the SPECULOOS network of telescopes across the world to do this work as well as a telescope located in Antarctica. We also analyse data obtained by NASA’s TESS satellite to complement our analyses.

Generative Models and Machine Learning in Astrophysics — Dr Guy Davies

Science and our quest to understand and explain the Universe around us requires interpretability in our models.  Many models and especially machine learning models can appear to be a 'black box' that produces answers without understanding.  But there are classes of machine learning models and applications of machine learning where interpretability can be featured in the model.  Especially useful for understanding and interpretability are many types of generative models.  In this PhD project, the researcher will learn different approaches to machine learning that include generative models and apply these models to problems in exoplanetary science, stellar astrophysics, and galactic evolution. 

Observations and methods to characterise small planets around Sun-like stars — Dr A. Mortier

Finding and characterising planets like Earth are hindered by variable signals from the star itself. Especially in radial velocity data, essential to measure a planet's mass, these signals are often larger than the planet signals. This project will use data from high-stability high-resolution spectrographs, such as HARPS-N and EXPRES. Understanding the stellar variability can be done both in the data extraction process as well as in the data modelling process. Data will often be complemented by space photometry from Kepler, TESS, or CHEOPS.

Observing the Sun as a star — Dr A. Mortier

The Sun is the only star we know for sure has no orbiting planets in the data - since we can remove them perfectly. That makes it the perfect star to study and eventually aid the search for small planets orbiting other stars. This project will help with the deployment and then usage of a new polarising Solar Telescope to be connected to the brand-new HARPS3 spectrograph on La Palma. This will be a unique telescope-instrument combination. Data from the already running HARPS-N Solar Telescope will be used in complement and to test the new telescope.

Asteroseismic probes of stellar activity cycles — Prof. Bill Chaplin

Using data from the NASA Kepler and TESS missions, this project will use subtle changes to the properties of stellar oscillations to explore the stellar cycle properties of Sun-like stars and more evolved sub-giants. Helioseismic (solar oscillations) data collected by the Birmingham Solar-Oscillations Data (BiSON) will be used as a reference, the goal being to explore the extent to which the Sun is typical in terms of its activity when compared to other cool stars (and hence the influence it has on its local environment through that activity).

Application Process

Applications should be submitted in electronic form to the University Application Portal and must include:

  • Deadline for receipt of application is January 15 for full consideration. (Late applications might be considered.)
  • A cover letter briefly stating the research area(s) of interest. A concise description of the research areas is provided above.
  • A Curriculum Vitae.
  • University transcripts (scanned versions are acceptable).
  • Applicants should also arrange for two reference letters to be submitted before the deadline.

Please contact us for further details.