Who controls the timing of birth?

Degree type


Closing date

25 September 2023



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International

About the research project

Giving birth to live young represents a major biological innovation. It has facilitated the evolution of a wide range of traits that influence where organisms can live and how they behave. Despite this, our understanding how live birth itself evolved remains a major challenge. This PhD project will address this. It will take advantage of a radiation of Australian lizards, the Egernia group (hereafter Egernia), in which females not only give birth to live young but have evolved extremely fine-scale control over exactly when they give birth. Specifically, females give birth to their young one at a time, retaining fully developed offspring in their reproductive tract for several days following the birth of each offspring (termed birthing asynchrony). As birthing asynchrony must have evolved via fine-scale modifications of the endocrine mechanisms that govern live birth itself, this system provides an unparalleled opportunity to understand how live birth itself works.

This project will take a novel and innovative approach that will integrate state-of-the-art physiological, neuro-morphological and molecular techniques to understand the mechanisms underpinning fine scale control of birth. It will target one species of the Egernia group, Liopholis whitii, and focus on disentangling the role that embryos vs. their mothers play in mediating their timing of birth. It will then take this understanding and ask whether these same mechanisms explain variation in birthing asynchrony across Egernia species, from species that give birth to all offspring at the same time to other species that wait for up to 10 days between each offspring. The outcomes of this study will have fundamental implications for a wide range of disciplines from evolutionary biology to conservation physiology to human reproductive health.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Geoff While


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Other funding opportunities and fees

For further information regarding other scholarships on offer, and the various fees of undertaking a research degree, please visit our Scholarships and fees on research degrees page.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant field with evidence of strong skills in research

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • We are looking for candidates with a deep interest in projects that integrate field and laboratory techniques. The ideal candidate will have experience conducting field work, preferably with reptile systems, laboratory skills such as DNA extraction and/or genetic analysis
  • The candidate will have strong analytical skills using r or similar software and a keen interest in developing those skills
  • Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong research background in evolutionary biology, ecology or similar fields through a publication record or a high-quality thesis

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact A/Prof Geoff While to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 25 September 2023.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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