New research positions at NHM London

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SALARY: £33,668 – £59,510 per annum plus benefits CLOSING DATE: 4 MAY 2014


This is an opportunity to take up a research-intensive role in a world-renowned institution with a unique scientific mission and public profile.

The successful applicants will join a large science group that comprises a group of approximately 300 scientists, that houses some of the largest and most significant scientific collections in the world, that is home to an internationally important natural history library, that includes a suite of advanced analytical and imaging facilities, and that has the opportunity to communicate science to a huge national and international audience.

Applications are open to researchers across the breadth of the NHM’s activities in Life Sciences. We are especially interested in applicants that combine disciplinary expertise with a demonstrated ability, or potential, to use that expertise to address interdisciplinary questions of broad significance, including key transitions in the origin and evolution of life; discovery of biodiversity; global environment change; food security and agro-ecosystems; and neglected and emerging diseases.

Areas of particular interest include (but are not restricted to):

•  Environmental/Biodiversity Genomics

•  Freshwater biodiversity

•  Parasites / Vectors

•  Flowering plants

•  Insect diversity

•  Diptera larvae 

Opportunities within these research fields have been identified as follows:

Environmental/Biodiversity Genomics 
Current and forthcoming sequencing technologies provide challenges and opportunities over an unprecedented scale for life scientists generally, and particularly for systematists and evolutionary biologists concerned with documenting and understanding patterns and processes underpinning biological diversity and diversification. In a museum setting these opportunities extend to existing collections and future collecting, as well as links to external partners with whom we work.

Opportunities from environmental sampling and discovering the nature of microbial diversity are considered growth areas, whilst phylogenomics and comparative genomics provide additional means by which we can integrate our science and delve deeper into existing research areas. Ample opportunities exist for novel research areas to be explored and collaborative links with established scientists involved with research and collections, by a bioinformatically-oriented researcher.

Freshwater Biodiversity

Freshwater habitats worldwide are impacted by multiple stressors, from climate change to pollution and from over-extraction to invasive species, yet fresh water is a limited but essential resource for all life. We are seeking to further develop NHM capability in freshwater research and are looking for a researcher engaged in freshwater biodiversity and systematics - particularly as applied to macroecology, environmental change, invasive species, restoration ecology or disease. Taxonomic expertise in non-entomological groups, such as molluscs and crustaceans is favoured, ideally in combination with technical skills that complement NHM capability, e.g. in macroecological modelling, or genomics/transcriptomics, GIS and imaging analyses). There are excellent opportunities to collaborate with existing NHM projects using freshwater taxa to address problems in global change biology, evolutionary ecology, emerging diseases and disease transmission. Our collections are a major resource and NHM researchers are generally expected to contribute to the enhancement of these collections (specimens, tissues, data).


Parasitism is a ubiquitous life history strategy, and by its very nature requires an understanding of the organisms involved (both parasites and hosts) and the environments in which they live. There is no part of the tree of life that is not involved in parasitism; parasite diversity and their role in ecology and evolution remain rich areas of research. Moreover, parasites have an enormous impact on the health and well being of their hosts, sometimes with huge medical and economic implications. Over its history the NHM has provided expertise in a wide diversity of taxonomic groups involved in parasitism, driven variously by its position as a recognised centre for taxonomic expertise, research, collecting effort, the acquisition and maintenance of key reference collections and the pursuit of modern taxonomic/systematic methodologies. There remains an underlying need to provide taxon-focussed expertise that builds upon our extensive collections, not least in applying modern molecular techniques to enhancing the collections and their utility. Vectors of human, animal and plant diseases in particular have led to world-class reference collections in some select areas (arthropod and snail vectors), and there has been a pressing need to develop and enhance the systematics of key groups with molecular tools for accurate diagnosis, control and eradication, and to better understand the intimate role between vectors and the parasites/pathogens they transmit. An emphasis on next generation sequencing and genomic approaches to parasite and vector systematics, and interactions and research that enhances and/or utilises existing collections is preferred.

Flowering Plants

The NHM collections of flowering plants comprise ca. 5 million specimens and are particularly strong in plants of the temperate zones, notably from Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate Asia. Opportunities have been identified to utilize and enhance these collections by using creative morphological and molecular approaches, and particularly novel innovative methods (e.g. digitization, genomic). Approaches that forge strong links to other areas of research such as sustainability, environmental change (including climate change and invasive species), agriculture and/or ecosystem services are of particular interest.

Insect Diversity

The identification and classification of biological diversity – systematics and taxonomy – are entering a new and challenging era. Recent developments in imaging and scanning technology, coupled with gene sequencing, and more recently Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), have revolutionised our approach to the description, monitoring and analysis of complex and often cryptic biodiversity. Integrated approaches allowing rapid and accurate field-based collecting through to biodiversity description and assessment are now tractable, without losing systematic rigour. This requires coordinated effort, a modern outlook on collections and collecting, and a good understanding of the end-user community. A focus on one or more of the megadiverse holometabolous orders (e.g. Coleoptera, Hymenoptera) would enable a fit to already extensive collections, the potential for biodiversity discovery, for to economic importance and to indicators of ecosystem health.

Diptera larvae

Diptera are one of the four megadiverse insect groups comprising some 10% of known species but, despite the fact that larvae dominate the life cycle, only <5% of species have had their larval stages described. Understanding dipteran diversity and the importance of Diptera in freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems is hampered by an inability to accurately identify larval stages. A research role in this area would be to lead on the provision of identification tools for Diptera larvae. Requirements would include a broad taxonomic expertise, and ability to link in to current areas of active research and collections development. There is considerable opportunity to significantly expand the Museum’s larval collection and to develop and integrate new molecular, morphological and digital tools, using these technologies to facilitate a more rapid description of the larval diversity of ecosystems than presently possible. Such descriptions will enable the researcher to address questions on ecological associations and ecosystem processes of high priority in science and to society, including work on species of biodiversity, agricultural, medical, veterinary and forensic importance.

Appointees will join the Department of Life Sciences. A permanent position will be offered to candidates who successfully complete a 3-year probation period.


The NHM Science Group is home to the museum’s team of approximately 300 scientists (researchers, curators and science facilities staff) and has three focal areas of activity: scientific discovery; scientific infrastructure and informatics; and scientific communication.

The group spans the Earth and Life Sciences with areas of expertise including planetary sciences; mineralogy; palaeontology; taxonomy, systematics and phylogenetics; and biodiversity genomics and informatics. It is housed in modern laboratories and has state-of- the-art core facilities to support its research and collections management.

The group houses arguably the world’s most important natural history collections and the care and development of these collection are core activities of the NHM, with the overall objective being to make the collections and associated information available to the broadest possible audience. In addition to traditional natural history collections, the museum is also home to a large collection of library materials, archives and art collections, has recently developed a molecular storage facility, and is now investing in creating digital resources.

The group is heavily involved in capacity building in its areas of expertise and has a high public profile in the communication of science. In partnership with a wide range of universities, at any one time the museum is involved in the supervision of approximately 200 PhD students and teaches a number of MSc/MRes courses. It is also a member of a series of international training courses and networks of excellence.

Finally, the group plays a direct role in the museum’s public engagement and citizen science activities. Examples include the development of the museum’s exhibitions and online offerings; participation in special events; the museum’s Nature Live and NaturePlus programmes; the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, which promotes the public understanding of the UK’s natural resources; and the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research, which promotes the use of natural history collections for historical, cultural and social research.

The NHM Science Group has recently adopted an organisational model that combines departmental management units with a series of cross-cutting science Initiatives. The departmental management units are designed to provide long-term disciplinary homes for staff and to manage resources, whereas science initiatives are designed to promote activity in high-priority areas and facilitate productive cross- departmental activities and collaborations. The departmental management units are Earth Sciences, Life Sciences, Science Facilities, Library and Archives, and Science Finance and Administration. The current Science Initiatives are in Collections, Informatics, Post-Graduate Education & Training, Origins & Evolution, Biodiversity, and Natural Resources and Hazards.

The Department of Life Sciences

The Department of Life Sciences comprises one of the largest concentrations of organismal biologists in Europe and is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of biological specimens. The Department has a long-standing international reputation for excellence, innovation and leadership in the broad fields of systematics and evolution and in collection-based biological research. The Department’s research strengths include taxonomy, systematics and phylogenetics; biodiversity genomics; evolutionary biology; ecology; and biodiversity informatics. The Department has very strong connections with a wide network of museums, universities, research institutes and government and non- government organisations. It also plays a leading role in a number of international projects.

Forthcoming priorities include the handling of large data sets and the digitization of collections (data capture, and specimens where appropriate).

The Department of Life Sciences currently includes the following Research Divisions:

•  Parasites & Vectors

•  Genomic and Microbial Diversity

•  Plants

•  Aquatic Invertebrates

•  Terrestrial Invertebrates

•  Vertebrates 

The Department’s activities and collections are largely housed in the Darwin Centre at the west end of the NHM’s South Kensington site. The Darwin Centre is the museum’s most recently completed major infrastructure project and contains state-of the-art research and collection facilities. The Department also has activities at the Natural History Museum at Tring, approximately 40 miles to the north west of London, and at the Museum’s off-site collection storage facility in South London. 

Science Facilities

The NHM maintains core science facilities that provide state-of-the-art equipment and expertise across a number of key areas of its activities. The Science Facilities are staffed by specialists experienced in the preparation, analysis and conservation of geological, biological and synthetic materials. As well as supporting the activities of the Science Group the core facilities also act as a hub of technical innovation and carry out a wide range of 
The Science Facilities group include:

•  Imaging and Analysis Centre: including analytical facilities SEM, VP-SEM, FE-SEM, 
TEM, laser confocal microscopy, ICP-AES, ICP-MS, LA-ICP-MS, MC-ICP-MS, micro and nano CT, Palaeontology Imaging Suite, and the Sackler Biodiversity Imaging laboratory.

•  Molecular Biology Laboratories: including aDNA laboratory, next-generation sequencing, high-throughput sequencing pipeline, PCR, DNA, RNA and protein extraction, cloning, probe construction and labeling and AFLP and RFLP .

•  Collection Conservation Centre: maintains and undertakes remedial treatment on all museum specimens and can offer training in best practice to users.

•  Digital and Informatics Facility: currently under development , but is anticipated to include software development, database management and high-throughput digitization. In addition to its own science facilities, the NHM also has agreements in place that allow it to make use of a network of facilities in other institutions and accesses synchrotron and similar facilities through peer-reviewed allocation procedures.

Science Library and Archives

The NHM’s Library and Archives hold the world's premier collections of literature and original drawings and manuscripts relating to natural history. The extensive collection is international in its coverage and one of the foremost resources providing world coverage of the life and earth sciences for researchers in molecular biology, biodiversity, systematics, taxonomy and the history of science.

The Library is comprised of over one million items with the oldest dating from 1469, 25,000 periodical titles (one third current) and half a million artworks. It also has extensive map, manuscript and photographic collections. The Museum Archives are made up of over one million items relating to the history and work of the Museum.

Science Finance and Administration

The NHM Science Group uses a centralised model for much of its financial operations and planning, with many activities performed by a central team that handles research and consultancy contracts, other contracts and purchasing. The Earth and Life Sciences departments also contain dedicated administrative support teams headed by departmental managers and including a number of departmental administrators.

Together, these central and departmental teams provides advice and support to researchers and curators with respect to funding opportunities and applications, post- award management of projects, project reporting, human resources and purchasing.

Science Initiatives

The Science Initiatives are designed to focus activity on high-priority areas and facilitate productive cross-departmental activities and collaborations. It is anticipated that each initiative will host one or more projects and will also bring together community-building activities involving both internal and external participants. Initiative Leaders sit on the Science Strategy Group along with Heads of the disciplinary departments and departmental heads of collections.

The current Science Initiatives areas comprise:

•  Collections

•  Informatics

•  Post-Graduate Education and Training

•  Origins and evolution

•  Biodiversity

•  Natural resources and hazards 

It is anticipated that the exact make-up of many of the Science Initiatives will change over time, with projects typically running for a limited number of years and periodic calls for new ideas. 


The NHM is internationally recognized for its dual role as a centre of excellence in taxonomy, systematics, biodiversity and mineralogy and as a leading exponent in the presentation of the natural world to the general public through exhibitions. Its objectives are firstly, to discover and make available to the scientific community the information contained within its collections of natural specimens and secondly, to entertain, interest and educate people of all ages in natural history.

The museum’s history can be dated back to the collections of Sir Hans Sloane, which were purchased by the British Government and formed the basis for the establishment of the British Museum in Bloomsbury in 1753.The natural history collections remained an integral part of the British Museum on the Bloomsbury site until 1881, when the Natural History Museum (originally referred to as the ‘British Museum for Natural History’) was established in the new Waterhouse Building in South Kensington. The Zoological Museum in Tring, approximately 40 miles north west of London, was added in 1937 when it was given to the nation by the second

Baron Rothschild, and in 1985 responsibility was assumed for the Geological Museum on the South Kensington site. Finally, the Museum also has an outstation in South London, where parts of the collections are housed. The modern NHM therefore occupies three sites and is made up from what were once three separate museums.

The museum is a Non-Departmental Public Body funded in part by a Grant-in-Aid from the British Government provided through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Approximately one third of its income is from non Grant-in-Aid sources including grant- awarding bodies. It is governed by a Board of Trustees that is responsible for overseeing the management of the Museum and the appointment of the Museum Director.

The NHM is organised around four groups: the Museum Directorate; the Science Group; the Public Engagement Group and the Corporate Services Group. The Museum Directorate is led by the Museum Director and includes the Departments of Communications and Development and three other Directorates. The Public Engagement Group is led by the Director of Public Engagement and includes the Departments of Content, Visitor Experience, and Business and Enterprise. The Corporate Services Group is led by the Director of Corporate Services and includes the Departments of Information and Computer Technology, Finance, Estates, and Human Resources.


Overall purpose of the job:

To carry out research in life sciences, in line with the museum’s Strategy for Science.

Main tasks and responsibilities

1. Conduct research in earth and/or life sciences (80%):

•  Develop and maintain a research group with an internationally recognised research profile.

•  Disseminate outcomes of research activities via a range of channels including leading international peer-reviewed journals.

•  Seek and obtain appropriate external funding to support the activities of a research group.

•  Take active role in appropriate science training activities.

2. In addition to research, the post holder will be expected to contribute across a range of Museum activities (20%).

•  Collections: The NHM actively enhances the collections to ensure their continued relevance to topical science. Researchers are expected to play either a direct or indirect role in developing the NHM’s collections and to liaise with curation teams to build and make accessible the collections and associated information, including traditional, molecular and digital collections.

•  Public engagement with science: The NHM public engagement and communication strategy is central to its mission. Members of the Science Group are expected to take part in activities whereby our science is presented to public audiences.

•  Support the museum’s corporate activities: Members of the Science Group are expected to support income-generating activities, such as consultancy, and to work with the NHM’s Communication and Development groups to enhance the NHM brand and resources. 

REQUIREMENTS (Person specification)

•  PhD in relevant area of life sciences

•  Postdoctoral experience of 3 or more years; exceptional candidates with 2 years 
experience may be considered

•  Expertise in a relevant field of life sciences

•  Record of scientific publication in international journals

•  Success in obtaining external funding to support research (can include fellowships)

•  Depending on candidate, demonstrable fit of proposed research programme to 
priority areas detailed above, and/or Science Strategy

•  Good interpersonal skills

•  Good written and oral communication skills

•  Good analytical skills

•  Effective use of information technology 

The starting salary of successful applicants at an appropriate level, and spine point, that reflects experience and achievements of the individual appointee. The current salary ranges for Science Level 3 and Band 3 are as follows:

Science Level 3: £33,668 - £44,397 plus benefits Band 3: £39,592 - £59,510 plus benefits


Selection decisions are based on merit with candidates assessed against clear, objective criteria at each stage of the recruitment and selection process. Applications must include a cover letter with statement of research (including proposed use and/or development of the collections), full academic CV and the names and contact information for three professional referees.

All offers of employment made are conditional and subject to satisfactory completion of all pre-employment checks.


•  Environmental/Biodiversity Genomics – Dr David Bass (

•  Freshwater biodiversity – Dr Steve Brooks (

•  Parasites / Vectors – Dr Martin Hall (

•  Flowering plants – Dr Sandy Knapp (

•  Insect diversity – Dr Paul Williams (

•  Diptera larvae – Dr Erica McAlister ( 

Dimple Shah, Human Resources T: 0207 942 5898 E:

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