Postgraduate funded opportunities

Modelling skull growth and biting performance in hominids


Professor Paul O'Higgins -

Project description

This project aims to characterise and compare in detail how cranial form, masticatory system functioning and the skull mechanical response to biting forces develop. These will be compared among humans, chimpanzees and fossil hominins of varying ages to explore in each how forces, mainly from jaw loading, change in tandem with cranial form and, in turn, influence its development. The aim is to relate differences among adults to differences in ontogenetic interactions of cranial form and function.

This will require segmentation and 3D reconstruction of CT scans, detailed landmarking and geometric morphometric analyses of fossils and ontogenetic series of humans and chimpanzees, characterisation of muscle lever mechanics, construction of finite element models and carrying out and interpretation of finite element analyses. The project also offers opportunities to explore how warping and simulated adaptive remodelling of models might facilitate understanding of the functional consequences of aspects of variation and vice-versa.

The project is best suited to candidates with a background in comparative or human anatomy and evolution and with skills in aspects of biomechanics, biomedical engineering, virtual anthropology and geometric morphometrics. Applications are encouraged from such candidates or from candidates with a background in a related fields and the potential to develop expertise in the areas required to undertake this work. Training in the necessary background and techniques will be provided as necessary.

Supervisory team and environment

This project will be carried out at the University of York, based in the PalaeoHub. This is a new facility that brings together members of Hull York Medical School and the Archaeology department with interests in prehistory, anatomy and artefacts, and whose focus of research relates to how our interactions with each other and the environment have led to cultural and physical transformations over time. PalaeoHub provides state-of-the-art facilities for imaging, materials testing, dissection, and computer analysis, and underpins research and learning in areas related to the above topics. It also houses the osteological and zooarchaeological teaching collections and provides teaching space for practical classes and seminars, and a base for interactions among staff and students who are members the University of York’s Centre for Human Palaeoecology and Evolutionary Origins (PALAEO).

Teaching duties

This is a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) position and, in addition to research, the successful candidate will be expected to contribute up to 250 hours per annum of teaching support. This will include the supervision of laboratory classes (in gross anatomy, physiology, virtual anthropology and evolutionary anatomy), day-to-day support for MSc students in relation to research projects, and general support to MBBS and MSc teaching and assessment as required. Such a wide portfolio will provide the student with a great deal of teaching experience, which will contribute significantly to employability post-PhD. As part of this position, there will also be the opportunity to gain a teaching qualification (York Learning and Teaching Award) if desired.

We do not expect the successful candidate to be able to cover all areas of teaching and research in the first instance – training will be provided in areas in which they are unfamiliar. Additionally, training will be provided in relation to University teaching methods, management and delivery. The principal base for the successful candidate’s research and teaching will be on the University of York campus. However, teaching duties may occasionally involve physical presence at the Hull York Medical School University of Hull campus.

You are encouraged to contact the supervisor directly to discuss this position prior to submitting your application. 


A stipend at the Research Council UK rate (£14,777 for 2018-19, to be confirmed for 2019-20) and a fee waiver at the Home/EU rate will be provided.

This competition is open to UK and EU graduates or graduates from overseas. If a successful candidate is not eligible to pay Home/EU fees, they will need to fund the difference in tuition fees between the prevailing Home/EU and Overseas fees. The government has confirmed that EU students starting in 2019/20 will continue to pay UK fees for the duration of their studies, even if the course concludes after the UK’s exit from the EU.

Start date

1 October 2019

Qualifications and skills required

The successful candidate will be expected to hold a first class honours degree or an upper second in a relevant subject area and, ideally, a Master’s degree in a relevant topic with honours or distinction. As part of your application you will need to submit a CV, and a personal statement outlining your career to date, career intentions as well as detailing your experience, skills and knowledge relevant to this position (up to 1000 words). Some experience in the delivery of academic or practical content to small groups would be preferred. You should have excellent written and oral communication skills, be able to work well independently and be highly motivated to undertake PhD research.

How to apply

To apply for this Scholarship, please apply through the University of York online application system and choose a start date of '2019 October, full-time'.

The deadline for applications is 4 February 2019 at 23h59.

Please quote “Hull York Medical School - Modelling skull growth and biting performance in hominids” when applying. In order for the panel to get a sense of your academic background, commitment and interest, you are required to complete the application form in full and provide a research proposal/outline of academic interest. Research proposals and personal statements may be used in selecting applicants for interview. If you have any queries on how to apply please email

Please note that this is a student scholarship. If you will be employed by Hull York Medical School (e.g. on a fixed or short term contract) for the duration of your study, you will not be eligible to receive the student scholarship as a member of Hull York Medical School staff. You should contact Elaine Brookes in Postgraduate Admissions if you still wish to apply to discuss different options.

Interview date

Applicants who are shortlisted for interview will be sent details of the date, time and venue via email within a week of the deadline. If you are not invited for the interview, it means that your application has not been successful. Please note that we do not offer feedback to applicants who are not invited to the interview.

Interview outcome

As soon as reasonably practicable after the interviews have taken place, Hull York Medical School will write to the successful applicant offering him/her the post. Upon receipt of formal written acceptance of the post we will write to notify unsuccessful candidates. Whilst we try to do this in as effective and efficient manner as possible, sometimes the process can take rather longer than is ideal because of the need to recall candidates for a second interview and reconvene interview panels and/or due to routine disruptions caused by leave and other absences. We apologise for any delay and inconvenience caused in these circumstances.