Oppenheimer Scholarship – MSc

The University of Botswana is inviting applications for a fully funded "Oppenheimer Scholarship" to support a talented individual to undertake a two-year MSc in Environmental Science, with a research project focused on belowground plant traits. This studentship is part of the Oppenheimer Programme in African Landscape Systems (OPALS; https://opals-exeter.org/), jointly funded by the University of Exeter and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation. The studentship will commence from the 1st of August 2022 and will be based in the Department of Environmental Science, University of Botswana, Gaborone. The studentship has a total value of £18,420, including (domestic) tuition fees (£4,590), accommodation (£1,600), a stipend (£7,920), and a research training support grant (£4,300).

Dissertation focus

This scholarship aims to advance the scientific understanding of belowground plant traits, particularly biomass, in African Ecosystems. The primary focus of the module options and dissertation project will be on collecting and collating new, high quality observations of plant traits, particularly belowground biomass and other plant traits agreed by the supervisory team. This project will include substantive elements of fieldwork by the students (supported by their supervisors) to undertake physical sampling of plant roots through excavation, laboratory analysis of physical and chemical proprieties (including weighing), careful recording of observations (using GitHub version control and repositories established by Dr Cunliffe), and programmatic preparation and statistical analysis and data visualisation (using the R statistical environment with the RStudio integrated development environment).

All of the data collected and collated by all this project will be contributed to the TRY open access database (https://www.try-db.org), to ensure its long-term availability to the global scientific community. By filling data gaps in important open access databases used by scientists worldwide, this work will help improve the accuracy, relevance, and value of global model predictions in African ecosystems. Better knowledge of belowground plant traits should also help support the sustainable utilisation of rangeland ecosystems and potentially inform payments for ecosystem services associated with belowground carbon storage.


The successful candidate will be required to sign a tripartite contract with the University of Botswana and the University of Exeter, agreeing to the following:

  • Be an active member of the wider Oppenheimer Programme in African Landscape Systems (OPALS) community, and to fully engage with weekly online activities as part of the Programme, and to join one-to-one sessions with the Exeter Supervisor as required.
  • Ensure that their dissertation topic has been approved by all three named Supervisors.
  • Ensure that they are enrolled on the following modules (or similar with the agreement of all supervisors) on the MSc Environmental Science: ENS622 Climate and Resources in Semi-Arid Environments; ENS 624 Soil Science and Land Evaluation Surveys; ENS631 Geographical Information Systems; ENS630 Agriculture and the Environment.
  • To return any and all equipment to their home institution at the completion of the programme unless explicitly authorised.
  • To ensure that all data and research outputs are made publicly available, as set out by the Exeter Supervisor, subject to a maximum embargo of one year to allow for publications to be made.
  • Agree that their photograph, name, and brief overview of their research topic, can be made available online, on the overarching research programme websites.
  • To undertake any required training, including in research ethics and integrity and academic honesty, as directed by their supervisors.
  • To undertake comprehensive risk assessments and to make best efforts to ensure that they comply with all necessary health and safety precautions throughout their programme of study.
  • Undertake fieldwork excursions in Botswana as necessary to collect field observations and samples in support of their dissertation projects as well as projects undertaken by other OPALS scholars, which may include travel to and overnight stays in remote areas. 
  • To remain engaged with their studies and make satisfactory progress on the programme.

The successful applicant will be a member of a large team of 20 scholars through the Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems, a £2.3M six-year programme of foundational and applied research activity led by the University of Exeter working with Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation and other partners across the African continent. Candidates may be supported and required to present their findings at international research conferences, to contribute to reports for the project funder, and to ensure that all outputs (data, code, models, publications etc.) are ultimately made available open access for wider benefit.

Entry requirements

The candidate should have a passion to learn about belowground plant traits to inform understanding of environmental change in Africa, with a good understanding of ecological processes in African landscapes and a foundation in ecology, agronomy, geography, mathematics or similar. Candidates should be prepared to develop skills in quantitative analysis, and contribute to a positive work environment, supporting best practice in equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

Applicants intending to study for the Master of Science Degree in Environmental Science should have a degree from the University of Botswana or any other equivalent institution, attaining at least a good Second Class (Lower Division) or its equivalent in Environmental Science or any other cognate subject (e.g. Geography, Wildlife Management, Natural Resources Management, Forestry) approved by the Board of the Department of Environmental Science as a major subject.

Candidates must hold citizenship of an African Nation to be eligible for this funding. Note that non-Botswana nationals will be required to contribute the difference between domestic and international tuition feeds.

How to apply

To apply for this scholarship, please send the following documents in a single email to Dr Kebonyethata Dintwe (dintwek@ub.ac.bw) and cc Dr Andrew Cunliffe (a.cunliffe@exeter.ac.uk).

  • Letter of application (2-page max. outlining your motivation to undertake this project, academic interests, and prior research experience).
  • CV (2-pages max)
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
  • Written references (no more than one page each) from two professional/academic referees familiar with your work.


The closing date for applications is midnight on the 24th June 2022.  Interviews will be held virtually and are expected to happen on the 4th of July.

The successful candidate will be required to apply to the University of Botswana for admission onto the MSc in Environmental Science programme. Before applying, familiarize yourself with the UB requirements. The information is available at this website: https://www.ub.bw/study/graduate-applications

If you have any general enquiries about the application process, please email dintwek@ub.ac.bw or phone +267-3554939 or +267-77402034. Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Dr Jem Perkins (perkinsjs@ub.ac.bw).

Academic Supervisors

In pursuit of academic excellence