Scholarships at SCPS

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Scholarships Currently Available

The 2020 Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship round has opened and will close at midnight on the 13 October 2019. This provides a living allowance of AU$28092 per annum (2019 rate indexed annually). This includes the International Fee Offset and Stipend Scholarships which are available to international applicants only.  Please contact a member of Plant Science academic staff to discuss details of your proposed project area and application

PhD Scholarships available

1.     Understanding the biochemical basis for the delicious taste and smell of coffee


Coffee is one of the most commercialised and widely consumed food products in the world. The Australian coffee market is worth approximately 2 billion dollars and the average per capita consumption is about 2 kg coffee per year. However, 99% of the coffee consumed in Australia is grown overseas and imported as green beans ready for roasting. New information is required to define the value of Australian-origin coffee as a global-niche product.

Flavour is the most important coffee quality and mainly influenced by specific chemical components in the coffee bean (Sittipod et al. 2019). The Australian coffee-growing industry is currently lacking a robust platform and associated data to characterise and market the sensory components of their products, particularly in relation to terroir. This limits their ability to become competitive in the market and establish a brand identity that goes beyond “Grown in Australia”.

The aim of this project is to develop and optimise an efficient analysis method to detect key chemicals responsible for the variation of coffee flavour. This information will later assist coffee growers to identify the best-tasting coffee varieties to be grown in Australia. This project will utilise liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) platforms available at Southern Cross Plant Science to analyse flavour chemical components in coffee. Advanced metabolomics and machine-learning capabilities will be utilised as an innovative approach to define the organoleptic properties of cupping ‘terroir’.

Southern Cross Plant Science (SCPS) at Southern Cross University (SCU) has been working alongside Australian Subtropical Coffee Association (ASTCA) and World Coffee Research (WCR) for cultivar identification and chemical analysis and it has an Analytical Research Laboratory, which is accredited by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.


  • Sittipod S., Schwartz E., Paravisini L., Peterson D.G., (2019) Identification of flavour modulating compounds that positively impact coffee quality, Food Chemistry, 301,125250.

Experimental approaches

This project will quantify the key chemical components that may resolve variation associated with cultivar and cultivar x production environment. In addition to quantifying key candidate chemical components, a broader metabolomics profiling approach will be assessed, to understand associations between green beans, and roasted and cupped samples. This project will develop an appropriate and innovative experimental platform to characterise commercial cultivars in NSW and QLD, including a survey of commonly used varieties in the Australian marketplace.

The work will include:

  • A critical review of existing relevant peer-reviewed scientific literature.
  • Develop methods for chemical analysis and advanced metabolomics profiling.
  • Set up protocols for bean processing and cupping will reflect international and Australian best practice for coffee evaluation.
  • Developing sampling strategies.
  • Conduct organoleptic analysis.
  • Associate organoleptic properties and advanced metabolomics using machine learning.


This scholarship would be suitable for a graduate in food or chemical sciences and will provide training in:

  • Sampling strategy and experimental design
  • Working with commercial partners in coffee industry
  • Working with coffee tasting/sensory panels.
  • Processing, extraction, GCMS and LCMS based analytical protocols of plant phytochemicals and food chemistry
  • Working with machine learning and multi-spectral predictive technology
  • Statistical analysis
  • Academic and report writing

In addition, this PhD candidature will be managed within the Southern Cross University postgraduate training programme in Southern Cross Plant Science and Southern Cross University Graduate School which provides opportunities to benefit from a broader range of professional training alongside the focused research project.

Links to ongoing work and potential collaboration

Southern Cross Plant Science (SCPS) is a Special Research Centre within Southern Cross University (SCU) and carries out research underpinning the selection, cultivation and utilization of plants. SCPS infrastructure includes facilities for plant growth, analytical chemistry, high-throughput DNA sequencing, genotyping, proteomics and bioinformatics. The candidate will also benefit from the expertise and experimental resources available within the wider SCU research environment. SCU has achieved the highest rating of exceptional performance, well above world standard in the past two national assessments of research excellence (2012 and 2015) for crop and pasture production and agricultural science.

SCU has developed a close working interaction with Australian Subtropical Coffee Association (ASTCA) and World Coffee Research (WCR).

Scholarship: SCU scholarship for 36 months at $28,092 per annum.  This project will be based at SCU’s campus in Lismore, NSW, Australia, and will involve the student working in the context of an industry-funded collaboration. 
Supervisor: Dr Lei (Ben) Liu, please send your application, CV and academic transcript to
Deadline for applications: 31 January 2020


2.     Remote sensing of biomass for breeding tea tree

Southern Cross Plant Science is seeking a suitably qualified candidate to undertake a PhD to find a remote sensing solution for the estimation of biomass in tea tree.

Tea tree oil is an iconic Australian product highly sought after around the world for its medicinal and therapeutic properties. The growing of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) in plantations is an important rural industry in northern NSW and north Queensland. Essential oil is distilled from leaf obtained from an annual cropping of the above ground portion of the plant biomass. The oil yield is highly dependent upon the amount of harvested biomass, the ratio of the leaf to stem, and the oil concentration in the leaf. Breeding to increase oil yield and the quality have been the key targets for the tea tree breeding program for over 25 years. This process requires the assessment of many thousands of trees each year and is a high resource demanding activity relying on indirect measures of growth surrogates. Remote sensing solutions are increasingly being found to increase the scale and accuracy of a range of yield and health parameters in agriculture and horticulture. In this project the student will research and pilot a range of remote sensing approaches for the estimation of biomass in tea tree.

The student will be based at Southern Cross University Lismore campus and work with staff in the breeding program, as well as engineers and experts in remote sensing from the University of Southern Queensland. The project would suit someone with an interest in computational sciences and imaging solutions, but with training and interest in plant sciences and genetics. 

Scholarship: SCU scholarship for 36 months at $28,092 per annum 
Supervisor: Please send you expressions of interest to Dr Mervyn Shepherd or call 02 6620 3412
Deadline for applications: 15 January 2020


MSC Scholarship Available

MSc Scholarship in reducing the generation time of Passionfruit 2019-2021 - Establishing protocols for rapid generation advancement in passionfruit.

Passionfruit (Passiflora edulis) is a fast-growing vine that has been domesticated and cultivated only relatively recently as a source of fruit for fresh consumption and extracted pulp which can be preserved.

The Australian industry has existed for at least 60 years with a focus on supplying fresh fruit to the local market. Two genetically different forms of Passiflora edulis have been scientifically described – Passiflora edulis f. edulis, which is usually described as ‘purple’ passionfruit and P. edulis f. flavicarpa, ‘yellow’ passionfruit. Australian growers obtain better prices for the more familiar purple coloured fruits, which are now sourced from vines which are a combination of the two forms after hybridisation in Australia in the 1970’s. Lines with flavicarpa genetic background are known as “Panama types” in the industry and these can have dark coloured fruits. Differences between typical ‘purple’ vines and Panama types include: fruit size (purple smaller), fruit colour (Panama variable - yellow, red or brown), method of propagation (Panama by seed) and reliance on rootstock (purples are grafted onto Panama seedlings as a fungus resistant rootstock by necessity). 

 This project aims to:

  • Develop procedures to grow passionfruit in soil-free media in a polytunnel with fertigation in small spaces
  • Develop procedures to reduce time to flowering and/or viable seed production from fruit from polytunnel grown vines.

Supervisor: Dr Peter Bundock, please send your application, CV and academic transcript to
Scholarship: SCU scholarship for 18 months at $28,092 per annum


Further information about scholarships:

Enrol online at SCU

Course codes:

  • MSc: 1257251 (CRICOS Course 077723F)
  • PhD: 1407253 (CRICOS Course 077724E)

For more information please contact:

Dr Ben Liu
t: (02) 6622 3211