Support from down under: Fostering sustainable forestry through soil microbiome management, I are looking for a PhD student who is interested in sustainable forestry and studying mycorrhizal community shifts in pine plantations across Eastern Australia: Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Lead Researchers: Associate Professor Jonathan Plett.

About the project: The Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) is offering a research scholarship to a highly motivated PhD candidate to work on a project focussed towards improving forestry health and sustainability by developing management strategies for the encouragement of healthy soil microbiomes. The project is co-funded by Forest & Wood Products Australia, the Growers Research Advisory Committee, and Western Sydney University.

Australia’s forests, encompassing both native, planted, and urban zones account for one of the largest forest estates in the world. Forestry production, however, is limited by the quality of the plantation site, with many stands established in marginal soils with relatively poor productivity. This project aims to work with Australian forestry growers to improve our understanding of practices that enhance tree growth and resilience within these marginal sites through soil microbiome management.

This will include establishment and evaluation of a national set of field experiments to judge the impact of different management strategies on microbiome composition and soil health. Outcomes of this project have the potential to substantially improve forest productivity while also increasing microbial biodiversity and stability.

The Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) is a research institute within Western Sydney University. The HIE has rapidly become a research leader in forestry and plant-microbe research, with a strong reputation for delivering research outcomes of the highest quality. The project will be based at HIE with the opportunity to work with industry professionals.

What does the scholarship provide?

  • Domestic candidates will receive a tax-free stipend of $31,500(AUD) per annum for up to 3 years to support living costs, supported by the Research Training Program (RTP) Fee Offset.
  • International candidates will receive a tax-free stipend of $31,500(AUD) per annum for up to 3 years to support living costs. Those with a strong track record will be eligible for a tuition fee waiver.
  • Support for conference attendance, fieldwork and additional costs as approved by School/Institute.
  • International candidates are required to hold an Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) insurance policy for the duration of their study in Australia. This cost is covered by the scholarship.

Eligibility criteria

We welcome applicants from a range of backgrounds, who are keen to apply their skills to key issues in developing sustainable and cost-effective means of promoting healthy root and soil microbiomes in pine forestry. In particular, the project is suitable for candidates with strong interests in working with industry partners to run field experiments focused on understanding microbial community dynamics over time and promoting beneficial plant-microbe interactions with the ultimate goal of advancing sustainable forestry practices.

The successful applicant should:

  • Hold qualifications and experience equal to one of the following (i) an Australian First Class Bachelor (Honours) degree, (ii) coursework Masters with at least 25% research component, (iii) Research Master’s degree, or (iv) equivalent overseas qualifications.
  • Demonstrate strong academic performance in subjects relevant to microbial ecology, molecular biology, and/or forestry.
  • Have an understanding of the importance of beneficial plant-microbe interactions and their role in promoting plant health.
  • Be willing to learn analytical techniques applicable to plant-microbe interactions, microbial community analysis and development of novel methods of microbiome enhancement.
  • Be enthusiastic and highly motivated to undertake further study at an advanced level.
  • International applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency.

How to apply

Incomplete applications or applications that do not conform to the above requirements will not be considered.

For questions and advice about the research project, please contact the Lead Researcher;
Jonathan Plett (

For questions and advice about the application process, please contact the Graduate Research School:

Follow the step-by-step instructions on the how to apply for a project scholarship page.

* Note: You do not need to complete ‘Step 5: Submit an online application for admission’ when applying for this scholarship. You must complete ‘Step 6: Submit an online application for a project scholarship’.

Use the email subject line: Application PS2023_036_HIE.

Applications close 30 April 2023

*Applications close at 11.59pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST).

Scholarship reference code: PS2023_036_HIE

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