Institute for Mathematical Innovation

PhD studentship: Mathematical modelling of sleep behaviour as an indicator of avian welfare


This exciting PhD studentship forms part of an innovative and multi-disciplinary collaboration project at the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) at the University of Bristol.

The studentship is based at the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol and will involve close collaboration with the Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) in Bath. The supervisory team will be led by Professor Christine Nicol (University of Bristol), with by Dr Lorna Wilson (IMI), and Professor Toby Knowles (University of Bristol) acting as co-supervisors. The studentship will start in September 2017.


Research project

The importance of a good night’s sleep is universally acknowledged to underpin good health and to promote effective mental functioning in human beings. Sleep follows a strong circadian rhythm and is controlled by internal clock-like systems and external cues. However, defining what is meant by ‘good’ sleep is not straightforward. Some properties of sleep have been captured in mathematical models applied to humans and other mammals, but there has been no work to describe sleep quality in birds. Like mammals, birds can sleep with both brain hemispheres simultaneously, but unlike mammals, birds can also sleep with just half of their brain at a time, allowing the other half of the brain to remain active and alert.

The first aim of this project is to describe sleep patterns in birds using mathematical models. This will require using statistic, probability theory and differential equations. The second aim of the project is to assess the extent to which common management procedures, such as lighting patterns or different methods of brooding, affect sleep quality in chickens, using the definitions of sleep quality derived from the initial research. The third aim is to examine how sleep quality relates to a wide range of non-invasive indicators of chicken welfare.

The project will study chickens because of the commercial relevance. Over 65 billion chickens are reared worldwide each year and the welfare of these birds concerns many people. It is hoped that the results of this project will be used to improve animal welfare and the sustainability of the poultry industry.

Read the full project description or find out more about the SWBio DTP

See the FindAPhD webpage for this studentship.  


Available funding

Funding includes full tuition fees, research and training development costs, funds to support fieldwork and conferences, and a tax-free stipend of £14,296 per annum (2016/17 rate). Only UK and EU students are eligible for this funding.


Academic requirements

Applicants must meet the  SWBio DTP eligibility requirements (a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications/experience). Due to the mathematical content of this project, it is desirable that the applicant should have a degree with a strong mathematical component (e.g. Mathematics, Statistics, Bioinformatics, Physics, or Engineering).


Apply for this studentship

Deadline for applications is midnight on Monday 5 December 2016

You can apply for this PhD studentship via the SWBio DTP website


Informal enquiries

If you have any questions about the PhD studentship, the mathematics involved, or whether you are eligible to apply, please contact Dr Lorna Wilson at