PhD position available: Sustainable biotechnology to circularise forestry waste sludge

Note: the application process for this position closed in October 2022.

In brief: We have a PhD position available in our group, ideally to start in the spring of 2023. Email Lauren with questions. Full details below. You must apply at this link: apply here.

Scientific goals: Thousands of tonnes of sludge waste are produced each year at pulp and paper mills, and we aim to find new ways to recover components from this waste. The sludge contains valuable organic materials like starch, cellulose, and lignin, but it is heavily contaminated by metals and minerals that inhibit recycling. Most sludge is therefore sent to landfill. In this 4-year PhD project, we will use isolation techniques and DNA sequencing to identify the microbial species that thrive in this harsh industrial ecosystem, and use advanced “omics” methods to reveal the enzymes used in sludge breakdown. We will characterise these enzymes to create new precision tools for the forestry biorefinery, and to clean up the sludge by removing organic matter (leaving large amounts of recoverable metals, particularly aluminium). This project will advance fundamental knowledge and reduce industrial waste, helping to move the industry towards a more sustainable and circular model. You will be based at the KTH Division of Glycoscience, and your main supervisor will be Lauren McKee. You will collaborate closely with researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in the department of Industrial Biotechnology, as you will be co-supervised by Johan Larsbrink.

Where we work: KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is one of Europe’s leading technical and engineering universities, as well as a key centre of intellectual talent and innovation. We are Sweden’s largest technical research and learning institution and home to students, researchers, and faculty from around the world. Our research and education covers a wide area including natural sciences and all branches of engineering, as well as architecture, industrial management, urban planning, history and philosophy. The Division of Glycoscience is a multi-disciplinary department focussed on solving environmental and industrial challenges relating to sustainable production and usage of renewable natural resources, as well as advancing fundamental knowledge of complex carbohydrates.

The broader context: This project is funded by the Wallenberg Wood Science Centre. The WWSC is a research centre striving for scientific excellence, with a focus on new materials from trees. The centre creates knowledge and builds competence for an innovative and sustainable future value creation from forest raw materials. WWSC is a multidisciplinary collaboration between KTH, Chalmers, and Linköping University. The funding base is a donation from Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and the Swedish forest industry is supporting the WWSC via the national platform Treesearch. As members of the WWSC, you and your supervisors will be expected to attend the workshops that take place in the Stockholm and Gothenburg areas twice per year, where you will present updates on your research and network with colleagues. You will be invited to regular Treesearch events, giving you further chances to present about your work and get access to the national Treesearch infrastructure platform.

Education and skills development: You will perform your PhD within the scope of the WWSC Academy. As a WWSC PhD student, you will attend two week-long graduate schools per year. This programme gives you a broad and deep insight into diverse forest-related topics, and helps you build a community of students aiming towards similar goals on the same timeline as you. You will also get to visit industrial sites and areas of natural beauty around Sweden, helping you get to know the country and its landscape as well. To complement your academy training, you will take doctoral courses at KTH, including online learning, lectures, and short lab projects. In addition, you will receive formal training in scientific writing and data visualisation. As part of your research, we will help you to write funding proposals to access additional financial support for travel and experimentation, giving you an even broader range of experience in science communication. I will also encourage you to write semi-regular pieces for this blog and to use other online channels to communicate with the public about your research.

Responsibilities as a PhD student: Your primary responsibility will of course be to advance the research project and to complete sufficient doctoral-level courses to earn the 60 credits you need to graduate. Your supervisors will help you to make sure you achieve these goals on time. In addition, you will spend up to 10 % of your time on Division/Departmental duties such as being responsible for a piece of equipment in the lab. Finally, you will take part in teaching younger students. The details of teaching are decided once the PhD has begun and the amount of teaching you do will be balanced against your other roles, but typically you will do some combination of lab teaching in a course for 1 or 2 years, supervising 1 or 2 MSc thesis students, and supervising 1 or 2 groups of BSc thesis students.

Eligibility for the position: To be eligible for this position, you should have a Master of Science or Engineering degree or equivalent qualification in a relevant subject area such as biotechnology. You should have completed a practical research-based (wet lab) thesis project. Documented proof of experience in areas such as molecular biology, biochemistry, and enzyme characterisation is appreciated but not necessarily required. Please email Lauren (find my email address at my KTH profile page) if you have queries about your eligibility for the role.

How to apply: You can find further specific details about this positon on the official advert, available at this link: apply here. Please note: applications can only be considered if they are made through the KTH application portal, linked at the bottom of the advert. Informal applications made by email cannot be considered. However, you are welcome to email Lauren if you have questions or are curious about this position.

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