St Leonard's College European Inter-University Doctoral Scholarship between the University of St Andrews (UK) and KU Leuven (Belgium)

PhD position in Exoplanet Atmosphere Modelling

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD position that will be held at KU Leuven's Institute of Astronomy and the University of St Andrews' Centre for Exoplanet Science. The project will be jointly conducted and supervised at these two universities.

One of the most complex aspects in exoplanet atmosphere modelling is the formation of clouds. This cloud formation is determined by the local atmosphere temperature and chemistry, and the clouds block the view of the (potentially habitable) planet's atmosphere. Clouds on exoplanets are made of a large variety of materials, including minerals. Understanding the chemical diversity of extrasolar planets entails understanding cloud formation in such non-terrestrial environments.

Dr Christiane Helling (University of St Andrews) and Prof Leen Decin (KU Leuven, University of Leeds) advertise a fully funded, joint PhD position. The project will focus on applying computational chemistry methods in order to study cloud formation processes. This will be achieved by using state-of-the art detailed kinetic cloud formation models.

Both institutes, the Institute of Astronomy (IoA) of KU Leuven in Belgium and the Astronomy Group at the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of St Andrews are vibrant research groups of some 50 scientists, engineers, and administrative staff. The institutes are active in several international consortia and collaborations, involving telescopes at observatories worldwide and in space. Members of both institutes have access to parallel computing facilities at Leuven and at St Andrews.

This position requires a university degree in Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, or Chemistry at an advanced level (e.g. a MPhys or MSc degree or equivalent) completed by the time of employment. The applicant must be eligible for studies at the graduate level of both universities. Employment as a PhD student is for 4 years ideally starting September/October 2018.

The KU Leuven and the University of St Andrews salaries will be commensurate to the standard scale for PhD students in Belgium and UK, respectively. In Belgium, it includes social and medical insurance as well as pension rights. In the UK, the student will be covered under the regulations of the National Health Service (see here). The successful PhD applicants will have to register at, and comply with, the regulations of the Arenberg Doctoral School of the KU Leuven and the St Leonard's College Graduate School in St Andrews. As part of the doctoral requirements, the students will have to take up a teaching task of at maximum 4 hours per week in one of the Bachelor (in Dutch) or Master (in English) programme courses at the KU Leuven. PhD students at IoA are also required to perform at least one the Mercator telescope observing run of 10 nights per year for the pooled IoA long-term monitoring programmes. Teaching in St Andrews is expected, but is not compulsory.

The first two years will be spent at KU Leuven under the supervision of Prof Decin and in close collaboration with Dr David Gobrecht. The second two years will be spent at the Centre for Exoplanet Science in St Andrews under the supervision of Dr Christiane Helling. The student will have access to courses and transferable skill training through the University's graduate schools. This position is open for EU and UK nationals.

Applications are particularly welcome from those with a willingness to commit to the spirit of the Schools and University's aspirations towards equality, diversity and inclusivity. For more information, including case studies, please see here.

The application package should contain two letters of reference, plus the following documents  as one single PDF:
•  a curriculum vitae, with a publication list if relevant;
•  a statement of interest including a brief description of research interests and relevant experience;
•  copies of university grades, certificates and/or diplomas.

The application package should be sent by e-mail to Dr Helling ( and Prof Decin ( and cc to Dr Gielen ( and with subject "PHD- interuniversity-{applicant_surname}" at the latest by 15 July 2018.
Please indicate your availability for interviewing during the end of July / beginning of August.

Deadline:   15 July 2018
Contacts:   Dr Christiane Helling (St Andrews) and Prof Leen Decin (Leuven)