UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Funded PhD studentship: Sustainability and Health Transformation of the Urban Built Environment

28 May 2020

We are accepting applications for a funded PhD studentship aiming to support collaborative and system-wide decision-making, with a focus on organisation studies, sustainability and health in the built environment.

view of a green city

The UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (UCL IEDE) at the Bartlett School of Energy, Environment and Resources (BSEER) invites applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship aiming to support collaborative and system-wide decision-making, with a focus on organisation studies, sustainability and health in the built environment.  


Global uncertainties such as climate change pose complex challenges for urban built environment systems, environmental sustainability and people’s health. Ill-designed strategies frequently cause unintended consequences. For example, ineffective building policies such as the UK’s Green Deal or energy-efficient buildings can pose health hazards. A multiplicity of interdependencies makes decision-making on the urban built environment highly complex. Existing models and tools are inadequate to deal with such complexity. 


This project will help transform decision-making in the urban built environment towards a more collaborative and system-wide approach. The student will innovatively combine organisation studies, system dynamics and operational research and methods. The aim is to develop novel systems thinking frameworks, tools and models to accelerate equitable implementation of sustainable solutions. This will assist transdisciplinary decision-making and the design of sustainable strategies for the built environment, energy-efficiency, sustainability and health.   

The study aims to: 

  • Assess the usefulness of frameworks from organisation studies (especially organisational identity and attention) to help transform decision-making
  • Develop new organisational co-creation skills for alternative scenario design and evaluation
  • Implement a greater systems perspective in organisational decision-making through systems thinking and system dynamics modelling approaches

The student will advance their skills in System Dynamics and Transdisciplinary Research. They will also develop new organisational Co-Creation skills for alternative Scenario Design and Evaluation. Importantly, they will methodologically innovate by a novel integration of System Dynamics modelling and Decision Aiding methods, to assist the development of strategies for mitigating urban sustainability challenges. This will be based on a truly innovative focus on the complex interdependencies that shape the built environment. The student will be supported by relevant training courses and the expertise of the supervisory team. They will benefit from networking with an expert community of PhD students and academics across UCL IEDE and BSEER. 


  • Primary supervisor: Dr Nici Zimmermann, Associate Professor in System Dynamics
  • Secondary supervisor: Prof Mike Davies, Professor of Building Physics and the Environment
  • Secondary supervisor: Dr Irene Pluchinotta, Research Fellow in System Dynamics
  • Scholarship covers: 4 years tuition fees (UK/EU rate); 4 years stipend (£17,285 for 2020/21, rising slightly with inflation each year), and research training support of £4,800 in total 
  •  Start Date: Autumn 2020
  • Funded by: EPSRC (DTP)
  • Funding Duration: 4 years 
  • Eligibility: In addition to UCL's academic requirements for admittance to Doctoral study, this studentship is subject to the following eligibility criteria

Person Specification 

The candidate will need strong analytical skills with an aptitude for academic enquiry, systems thinking and organisational decision-making. Candidates should have:

  • A Bachelor’s degree awarded with a minimum of upper second-class (2:1) honours, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard from a recognised higher education institute.
  • A Master’s degree in system dynamics, organisation studies, management, environmental sciences, engineering or other relevant disciplines. Candidates without a Master’s degree may be admitted where suitable research or professional experience is demonstrated.
  • A strong appreciation of systems thinking, system dynamics and organisation studies as well as the sustainability of the built environment.
  • The ability to design and carry out system dynamics modelling as well as analyse data using qualitative means. 
  • Experience of stakeholder engagement is desirable but is not essential. 
  • Excellent analytical skills.
  • The ability to use own initiative, prioritise workload and work as part of a team.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills (oral and written).

Application Procedure

Email a pre-application to bseer-phd-admin@ucl.ac.uk with “ESPRC DTP Decision-Making” as the subject. Do not use the UCL online admissions system. 

The deadline for applications is: 09.00 am (BST), Thursday 18th June 2020

Please include:

  • A covering letter, clearly stating your motivation and your eligibility (see earlier and please also comment on skills that you might not have)
  • Your CV, including examples of any published paper where applicable.
  • The names and addresses of two academic referees.
  • A copy of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s).
  • A short research proposal (max. 1000 words), which includes a brief summary of the key literature in the field (and key knowledge gaps), and outlines possible approaches to the research questions/methods, taking into consideration the project’s aims (see earlier).

Informal enquiries on the content of the research topic or your eligibility should be emailed to Dr Nici Zimmermann. 

Interviews will be held online during the week of 22 June 2020. The successful candidate will need to submit a more extensive formal application to UCL shortly thereafter.

Photo credit

Chuttersnap, Unsplash