Research Studentship in Soil-Structure Interaction Design for Underground Construction Operations

3.5 year DPhil studentship, available at Oxford University from October 2020 (subject to eligibility)

The successful applicant will work on the FOCUS (Intelligent Fibre Optic Monitoring to Inform the Construction of Underground Services) research project funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering, alongside industry partners and the geotechnical research group at Oxford University.

Research Area

One of the biggest obstacles to improving the efficiency of underground construction is uncertainty surrounding how structures interact with soils during construction operations i.e. 'soil-structure interaction' (SSI). Soil-structure interaction plays a critical role in underground construction operations yet the tools that are used to predict them remain remarkably poor. The FOCUS project will develop the underpinning engineering science for SSI design applied to underground construction processes. Within this overall scope, there will be opportunities to develop the project in one or more of the following areas: (a) small-scale laboratory modelling, (b) advanced large-deformation numerical model development, (c) real-time fibre optic monitoring of live construction sites including bespoke sensor development, (d) development of Bayesian machine learning models to provide ‘early warning’ of adverse events. Accurate estimation and monitoring of SSI is particularly critical for tunnelling and construction of large-diameter open caissons. This is the focus of the research – the methods developed could, however, be easily applied to other problems. The project will be supervised by Dr Brian Sheil.


This studentship is available to Home qualified students only.

Award Value

The studentships cover University / College fees at the level set for UK students plus a stipend (tax-free maintenance grant) of £15,285 p.a.

Candidate Requirements

Applicants will be judged according to how well they meet the following criteria:

  • A good first honours degree (first or upper second) in engineering, physics or computer science;
  • Good written and spoken communication skills in English;
  • Evidence of high self-motivation and good organisational skills;
  • Excellent record of academic and/or professional achievement.

The following are desirable but not essential:

  • Ability to undertake scientific programming (e.g. in Matlab, Python);
  • Previous experience of laboratory-based work;
  • Previous experience with finite element software.

Application Procedure

To apply for this studentship, candidates should send the following documents to

  • Covering Letter: This should describe why you are suitable for this project, what you hope to achieve from the DPhil as well as your longer term ambitions.
  • CV including transcripts/records of marks from university level courses.
  • Contact details for two referees, at least one of which must be academic.

NOTE: Candidates are expected to meet the graduate admissions criteria available at and a full graduate application must be made at the same time as applying for this studentship. Your studentship application will not be considered until you have submitted a graduate application (use course-code RD_EN1). Further details about making a graduate application are available at

Please quote FOCUS20 in all correspondence and in your graduate application.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Brian Sheil, email: Note that applications sent directly to this email address will not be accepted.

Application deadline

Applications will be considered as and when they are received and this position will be filled as soon as possible. The studentship will close on a Friday at a week’s notice. Please check the Courses open for studentships page for up-to-date information on the closing date.