Summer Scholarships with the School of Geosciences

The Division of Natural Sciences at the University of Sydney offers a variety of Summer Scholarship opportunities for students in the 2nd or 3rd year of their undergraduate degree.

Summer Scholarships are a great way to gain research experience and an insight into research process while working alongside our leading scientific researchers. Research projects are available in most disciplines for a duration of between 4-6 weeks over the Summer holiday period (November-February).

The program is open to both current University of Sydney students as well as students from other Australian Universities. Each scholarship is valued at $506 (in accordance with APA rate) per week for the duration of the project.

Students living outside of metropolitan Sydney may also be eligible for an additional scholarship - valued at $250 per week for the duration of the Summer Scholarship project - to assist with travel and relocation costs.
If you would like to apply for this, please make sure you email

Summer Scholarship Profile: Lauren Harrington

Project: Tectonic and Mantle Convection Modelling of the Papua New Guinea Margin with Dr Sabin Zahirovic, Dr Nicolas Flament, Prof Dietmar Müller, A/Prof Patrice Rey and Luke Mondy

lauren harrington

Over a 6-week period I conducted a summer scholarship project for the University of Sydney, School of Geosciences, supervised by academics from the EarthByte group and in collaboration with industry contacts from Oil Search. The project aimed to model the effect of dynamic topography on the geological evolution of Papua New Guinea from the Late Jurassic to the present.

The study involved coupling plate reconstructions with numerical mantle flow models to extract dependent dynamic topography signals over PNG. The dynamic topography predictions were also compared with paleogeographic maps for the region, allowing for an examination of the relationship between predicted dynamic topography and ancient inundation patterns. The results showed strong correlations between periods of dynamic subsidence and regional inundation, suggesting that dynamic topography likely played a significant role in the geological evolution of the region. To supplement this, this project also compared equivalent vertical profiles from the geodynamic models to seismic tomography cross-sections at present day, to assess how well the models reproduced the mantle structure. Unfortunately, the results revealed notable offsets between the two cross-sections particularly in west PNG, with the models incorrectly estimating the location as well as volume of subducted slabs.

The results revealed several shortcomings, but also critical insights, which will provide future scope for the subject area. This summer scholarships project was an invaluable experience for both my education and career, and was only the beginning for this particular area of research. In the long term this research will hopefully enable us to come closer to constraining the influence of dynamic topography on the geological evolution of PNG, which has significant implications in the areas of paleobiology, paleoclimate and in the development of economic resources.

Summer Scholarship Profile: Lawrence Wallis


Project: ISO37120 and Sustainable City Indicators with Prof Phil McManus

Over the 2015/16 summer break I had the opportunity to undertake a summer research scholarship at the University of Sydney. I was part of a research team that investigated the implications of a global urban sustainability indicator framework for Australian cities. I was lucky to work alongside two other undergraduate researchers Silvia and Derui and we were supervised by Prof Phil McManus and Elizabeth Duncan from the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences. This was a great opportunity which gave our team of undergraduate researchers autonomy and responsibility for conducting real-world research. Collectively we were involved in the entire research process. This included a background literature review, organising and conducting interviews with local government, state government agencies, NGO’s and international academic institutions, transcribing interviews, analysing data and writing an academic paper for publication. This research process was extremely rewarding, we got to travel all over Sydney and meet a range of urban sustainability professionals. Derui even got to visit Melbourne for one of our important interviews.

Throughout our project we were given useful guidance from our supervisors but also allowed to make our own decisions and meaningfully contribute to the project. Working alongside other summer researchers in the Madsen building was also great as we were able to discuss our work with interested peers and learn about projects other students were working on. This experience gave me the opportunity to hone my research skills, make professional connections and better understand research opportunities within the school of Geosciences. I would strongly recommend the summer research scholarship program to any prospective student researchers!

Summer Scholarship Profile: Elen Welch


Project: The Political Economy of Environment and Development in India with Prof. Bill Pritchard

"It was fantastic to be able to participate in this summer scholarship as it laid the foundations for my Honours project. My summer scholarship consisted of two key components: the first was a role as a research assistant for a project that Prof. Pritchard is involved in about the challenges of feminised agriculture in India; and second, the opportunity to refine my Honour’s project proposal. The scholarship gave me the opportunity to travel to India with my supervisor Bill in February 2016 for a week. The key purpose of this trip was to fine-tune my Honours research proposal and to scope out possibilities for my fieldwork which I am conducting over two months in June-July this year.

Whilst in India, I was also involved in some research work with this parallel project. I was able to engage with this larger project in India and establish my own research project within this sphere. My Honour’s project will use a livelihoods framework to explore migration patterns and the implications for gendered structures of power in a de-agrarianising context. This trip was extremely important for scoping my research project, refining my thesis proposal and meeting with gatekeepers to establish networks that would help me organise my fieldwork.This trip left me confident about conducting my field research in India and navigating language, cultural and social barriers which I will likely face when I head over next month.

Following the summer scholarship, I enthusiastically commenced Honours in Geography with a much clearer direction about my project and so in this way, it was an invaluable experience both personally and academically."

Summer Scholarship Profile: David Lau

Project: The 'collapse' of Angkor: vulnerability of civil infrastructure to cascading failure with Dr Dan Penny


"The Summer Scholarship with the School of Geosciences was both a challenging and enjoyable experience, and was very rewarding in helping me pursue my career goals. The project I participated in involved the analysis of spatial data using ArcGIS to study the infrastructural water network in Angkor, Cambodia. I was able to strengthen my ability to work in a team by collaborating with my research supervisor, as well as scholars from different faculties. In addition, the project allowed me to build on the skills I acquired during university and get a taste of what it’s like working as a researcher. The Summer Scholarship was a very fulfilling experience and is an excellent opportunity to apply your skills and contribute towards meaningful real-world projects."

Summer Scholarship Profile: Serena Yeung


Project: Submarine landslides on the east Australian margin with
Associate Professor Tom Hubble and Dr Samantha Clarke

"During the summer of 2015-2016, I had the opportunity to undertake a summer research scholarship offered by the School of Geosciences at The University of Sydney. Supervised by Associate Professor Tom Hubble and Dr Samantha Clarke of the Geocoastal Research Group, my project was entitled ‘Submarine landslides on the east Australian margin’. Submarine landslides are underwater landslides that mobilise huge volumes of sediment and rock. By studying the characteristics of submarine landslides that have already failed, it is possible to determine their timing, possible causes, recurrence rate and the tsunamigenic potential of similar slides.

Under the guidance of my supervisors, my role was to collect sedimentological data from four gravity cores collected by the research vessel Southern Surveyor from offshore Yamba, northern NSW. I spent almost every day in the geoscience laboratories of the Madsen Building either logging cores, imaging cores, or hand-picking foraminifera for radiocarbon dating. It was my first taste of working independently in the geoscience laboratories and I loved every minute of it. I also spent some time documenting laboratory workflows and learning how to use new programs such as the borehole-plotting program Strater. The opportunity to familiarise myself with the research processes involved in marine geoscience was immensely rewarding. I felt that my involvement in the program prepared me for Honours and made me feel comfortable with conducting my own research. It was also a great opportunity to network and get to know some of the school’s academic and technical support staff, as well as the other summer research students. I would highly recommend the summer scholarship program to any students interested in complimenting their undergraduate studies with some experience in conducting research."

Summer Scholarship Profile: Nicola Perry


Project: Human Rights and Environmental Protection with Dr Jo Gillespie

"Completing a Summer Scholarship exploring gendered experiences of environmental regulation in Cambodia with Jo Gillespie was an incredibly valuable experience. Being given the freedom to explore a specific topic that interested me under the broader umbrella of my supervisors continuing research gave me an insight into the research process, and confirmed my desire to complete honours in the same field. I also appreciated the regular access to one on one discussions with Jo on the progress I was making with my article, and picking her brain on a truly fascinating subject! On top of this, working in the scholarship room with the other students was heaps of fun, as was hearing about all the other scholarship projects that were underway. I would recommend that any student interested in studying honours within the geosciences faculty, even if they’re unsure, consider completing a summer scholarship as a valuable pathway into undergrad research."

Who can apply?

  • Applicants will be required to submit an application.
  • Applicants must be enrolled on a full time basis and be in least their second or third year of their degree program.
  • Applicants must be performing at distinction level (AAM 75) or above to be considered for these scholarships.
  • The scholarships shall be awarded on the basis of academic merit.
  • Applicants can only receive one Summer Scholarship per year.
  • The scholarships shall be awarded by the Dean of the relevant Faculty within the Division of Natural Sciences, on the recommendation of the appropriate Head of School.
  • If a recipient lives outside the Sydney Metropolitan Area, they may also be offered additional funds of up to $250 per week to cover accommodation costs.

How do I apply?

Please email your application form to the supervisor offering the scholarship and also to .

Deadline: August 26 2016

2016-2017 Summer Scholarships

Urban alliance building and the right to the city

Supervisor: Assoc Prof Kurt Iveson

In a growing number of cities around the world, citizens are organising themselves into urban-scale alliances that seek to actively shape urban outcomes. These urban alliances draw together diverse interests from across civil society on the simple but challenging premise that citizens are stronger when they can act in coalition. In some cities, these urban alliances have relatively long histories of organisation, and can point to significant political impact in shaping urban outcomes. In other cities, urban alliances have formed but still struggle to gain traction. This Summer Scholarship holder will work closely with Associate Professor Kurt Iveson and Dr Amanda Tattersall, who are conducting research on these urban alliance-building efforts. Depending on their skills and interests, the Summer Scholar will either (a) contribute to research about the breadth of alliances around the world, by assisting with the creation of a global ‘story map’ documenting the existence and impact of urban alliances in different global regions, or (b) contribute to research which seeks to develop a greater depth of understanding about urban alliances, through case study research into one alliance.

Send your application to:


Continental Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) and the deep-time Carbon Cycle

Supervisors: Dr Sabin Zahirovic and Prof Dietmar Müller

The eruption of mantle plumes on Earth’s surface has fundamental consequences for the planet’s tectonics, topography, climate, biological diversity, and even sea level. The arrival of a plume head beneath the lithosphere can result in voluminous volcanic eruptions that build enormous volcanic plateaus, called Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). One such example is the rapid eruption of the Siberian Traps ~250 million years ago, which injected enormous volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere (partly also from decarbonation of limestone bedrock and coal seams). The Siberian Traps eruption resulted in abrupt global climate change, and is thought to be responsible for the single biggest mass extinction in Earth’s geological past, occurring at the end of the Permian period.

Recent studies have begun looking into the role of weathering of such continental volcanic plateaus as a modulating effect on atmospheric CO2. Since these mantle plume products are composed of largely basaltic rock, the interaction with water in the atmosphere leads to rapid breakdown of the silica minerals, which triggers a chemical reaction that sequesters CO2 out of the atmosphere. This effect is amplified when the continental Large Igneous Provinces enter the tropics, where intense atmospheric weathering leads to accelerated carbon sequestration.

This summer project will combine mapped and dated Large Igneous Provinces with cutting-edge plate reconstructions in GPlates (; open-source tool developed at The University of Sydney) to study the interplay between plume eruptions, tectonics, the deep-time carbon cycle, and long-term climate since the Late Paleozoic (~400 million years ago to present). By calculating the total area of volcanic plateaus through time, and evaluating what portion of that area resides in the tropics, the project may shed clues on the link between volcanic plateau weathering and excursions observed in long-term climate proxy records. The project will be part of a broader collaboration with the international Deep Carbon Observatory, embedded in a long-term aim of modelling deep-time climate and the deep-Earth carbon cycle.

Send your application to:



Photo: Cai Tjeenk Willink / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Subduction Volume Flux and deep-time climate and sea level

Supervisors: Prof Dietmar Müller and Dr Sabin Zahirovic

Plate tectonics dominates long-term climate and sea level changes by rearranging continents, modifying the planet’s topography and bathymetry, and changing the flux of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As tectonic plates evolve, the nature and length of plate boundaries changes through time. A notable example is the mid-Cretaceous sea level highstand, which is linked to fast seafloor spreading rates and higher rates of subduction. This pulse in seafloor generation led to larger areas of younger and more buoyant oceanic crust, which displaced more water onto the continents, resulting in record-high sea levels. As more oceanic crust is generated, older crust has to be destroyed elsewhere through the process of subduction, which itself releases enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and can result in greenhouse climate conditions on the planet.

Previous studies have estimated the volume of subducted plates using simplistic and schematic models of past plate boundaries, but have made important contributions linking slab flux to atmospheric CO2 trends. By using the latest plate reconstructions in GPlates (; open-source tool developed at The University of Sydney), we can model the evolution of plate boundaries through time, and compute their lengths, as well as extract the convergence rate at subduction zones. This summer project will use the plate reconstructions in GPlates, along with Python scripting workflows, to compute slab flux since the Late Paleozoic (~400 million years ago to present), and analyse the trends in the context of atmospheric CO2 proxies and published sea level curves. This project will form part of an ongoing collaboration with the international Deep Carbon Observatory, which is composed of a dynamic community of inter-disciplinary researchers that study the planet’s deep-time and deep-Earth carbon cycle, and the consequences for climate, sea level and the evolution of life.

Send your application to:



Changing demographics in Australia's wheatbelt regions

Supervisor: Prof Phil McManus

Almost 6% of Australia’s total land area of 7.7 million square kilometres is devoted to growing wheat. This area spans five states, and comprises about 46 million hectares, or more than three times the total land area of England. Many of the wheatbelt towns, in what may be termed the "deep rural" area of Australia, were founded in the nineteenth century, or in the early twentieth century with the expansion of the railways. What is the future of these towns in the twenty-first century?
This project uses ABS data and other available sources to identify demographic trends and projections for the future of these towns. The project involves working with data and identifying similarities and differences between various towns in these wheatbelt regions. While recognising that variability is probable, the project explores the challenge of a shrinking population base in the towns, with the possibility that these wheatbelt towns may be a forerunner for future population decline in other parts of Australia. It is anticipated that this research will contribute towards a co-authored journal article.

Send your application to:



Image Source:

Sydney's changing climate - measurements and perceptions

Supervisor: Prof Phil McManus

This project is part of a bigger study that investigates relationships between anthropogenic climate change, the Southern Oscillation Index and the urban heat island effect on Sydney's climate. The project explores recent and projected demographic change in Sydney, and how this translates into built form. It then investigates relationships between urban form and temperature. In 2015 Sydney experienced its equal third-warmest year for average mean temperatures, its fifth-warmest year for average maximum temperatures and its equal sixth-warmest year for average minimum temperatures. Is this seen as a cyclical phenomenon, the result of climate change, or the relationship between various contributing factors? On what understanding of climate is the future planning of Sydney being undertaken? How does this understanding vary between professionals and residents? It is intended that a Summer Scholarship student work on integrating scientific, demographic and qualitative research methods to develop this project, and write a co-authored paper suitable for submission to a refereed journal.

Send your application to:



Image Source:

A Global Timeline for Archean Magmatism

Supervisor: Assoc Prof Derek Wyman

Earth’s evolution is marked by a punctuated history of crustal growth combined with continent formation and breakup as observed in supercontinents. This process is thought to have begun in the Archean around 3 billion years ago. Several theories have attempted to explain the episodic nature of global tectonics that started at that time. Each theory implies different sequences of events, such as the order in which various types of volcanism occur. Until now, however, geologists have mainly looked in detail only in specific areas or created summaries of global geochronological data that lack sufficient to assess global tectonic models. This Summer Scholarship will work to summarize available geochronological data from all Archean cratons in order to establish the detailed sequence of global events between 3.5 and 2.5 billion years ago. The “fine structure” of the resulting geochronological patterns will then be assessed in terms of possible inter-relationships between mantle plume and subduction tectonics and the stabilization of early continents or cratons.

Send your application to:



Image Source: J. Lowry. 3.3 Billion year old komatiite volcanic rock from the Pilbara craton, Western Australia. At the time of eruption the mantle plume magma was white hot and 1600 degrees C.

Land Fragmentation and Agrarian Structure in Rural Java

Supervisor: Dr Jeff Neilson

A team of researchers from the School of Geosciences and the School of Economics at the University of Sydney are working on a project examining changes in rural land ownership on the densely populated island of Java. The conventional wisdom has been that farms have become increasingly fragmented over time in Java, such that many farmers are left with less than 0.25ha of farmland, which is considered insufficient to support a livelihood. However, recent Agricultural Census data has, for the first time, suggested a trend towards farm consolidation. The project involves an analysis of the 2003 and 2013 Agricultural Census data, which will be complemented by qualitative field research in a rice-growing area of Java to understand the changes indicated in the Agricultural Census. This scholarship will involve a period of qualitative fieldwork in rural Java, and applicants should possess demonstrated fieldwork capabilities.

Speakers of the Indonesian language are strongly encouraged to apply.

Send your application to:


Sea-level fluctuations in the Cretaceous Period

Supervisors: Dr Maria Seton and Prof Dietmar Müller

The Cretaceous Period (145-66 million years ago) was a ‘greenhouse world’ with atmospheric CO2 exceeding 1000 ppm and extremely high global sea levels, around 100-200 m higher than at present. Even though there were no waxing and waning inland ice sheets in the Cretaceous, the period records substantial sea level fluctuations, whose origin is not well understood. Variations in the age and volume of ocean basins due to plate tectonics is the main driver of global long-term sea level. Reconstructions of the age and volume of the main ocean basins suggest that global long-term sea level was highest around 120 Ma, whereas reconstructions of paleocoastlines based on geological data suggest that the global sea level high was later, either at around 100 or 80 Ma.

One major unknown in reconstructions of the age, area, and depth of the ocean basins is the existence of small, ephemeral ocean basins called back-arc basins. Back-arc basins make a significant contribution to the “oceanic space” available for storing Earth’s surface water. Because the geological life-time of back-arc basins is short (a few tens of millions of years), they have relatively young and shallow crust. The formation of back-arc basins occurs at the expense of deep, abyssal ocean floor, resulting in a shallowing of the ocean basins the more back-arc basins are formed, while back-arc basin destruction deepens the ocean basins. Today, Cretaceous back-arc basins are preserved only as accreted pieces of ocean crust and associated volcanic arcs, therefore we need to recreate them in global tectonic reconstructions based on the preserved geological evidence.

This project will investigate the role Cretaceous back-arc basins played in driving sea-level cycles in a hot-house world, leading to transgressions and regressions on the continents. As part of the project, key Cretaceous back-arc basins will be added to the global EarthByte tectonic model, using the GPlates software. The result of the project will be a refined Cretaceous sea level curve, which will be compared to reconstructions of paleo-coastlines. Reconstructing Cretaceous sea level and coastlines is important for understanding Cretaceous coastal erosion and sedimentation as well as the carbon cycle in the Cretaceous hothouse world.

Send your application to:


Food security in rural Myanmar

Supervisor: Prof Bill Pritchard

In this Scholarship, you will work with a team of researchers funded by the Australian Research Council to undertake a household-based survey of food security in rural Myanmar. In the first half of 2016, the research team undertook a survey of 3,600 households. You will analyse these data for the purpose of developing a follow-up series of research activities, based around qualitative interviews with surveyed households. The successful applicant may be offered airfares to Myanmar in February 2017 for initial scoping of these activities, and is expected use these activities as a grounding for their own Myanmar-based fieldwork in 2017 as part of an Honours project that will be supported by the research team and will complement the ARC project.

Send your application to:


A geographic analysis of the global antibiotic resistance crisis

Supervisor: Dale Dominey-Howes

This summer scholarship project will focus on assisting an interdisciplinary team spanning Geosciences, Human Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science working on the global crisis of antibiotic resistance. Traditionally, antibiotic resistance has been thought of as just a microbiological and human health problem but recent research has demonstrated the crisis is in fact related to human perception and behavior, shaped by socio-cultural and political processes. As shown in the map below, antibiotic resistance and antibiotic demand is highly geographical. This project will assist the team, led by Dale Dominey-Howes, explore this globally significant crisis in more detail.

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Number of prescriptions dispensed for antibiotics per 100,000 people, age standardised, by local area in 2013 - 2014 (Source: ACSQHC, 2015)