The early Palaeozoic evolution of Vietnam

An image of the Ma Pi Leng Pass between Dong Van and Meo Vac, showing the dramatic rock formations of the area

The Ma Pi Leng Pass between Dong Van and Meo Vac by Jaybeelarsay CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image cropped.

This project will investigate the lower Palaeozoic history of Northeast Vietnam.

The studentship is part of the CENTA doctoral training partnership, funded by NERC and starts September 2020.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then apply through the University of Leicester's online application service.

Please submit your CENTA studentship application form as part of the institution's online application procedure.

Application deadline: 10 January 2020

Project Highlights

  • Extensive fieldwork in a unique and geologically unexplored part of Vietnam
  • Collaboration with an international team of geologists including laboratory work in Japan
  • Analysis of a range of different micro and macrofossil groups utilising multiple techniques


This project follows in the footsteps of the French Indochinese Geological Survey, who in the first decades of the 20th century discovered many new Palaeozoic fossils in northern Vietnam and southern China. Later, Vietnamese mapping geologists worked systematically through this region in the 1970s.

These surveys and subsequent work identified a rich early Palaeozoic history for northern Vietnam that is geologically linked to southern China, both regions once forming part of the ancient South China palaeocontinent. Across the border in China, the discovery of exceptionally preserved fossils in the 1980s led to a renaissance in the study of the Palaeozoic rocks of Yunnan Province. In contrast, large regions of Vietnam have yet to be explored in detail.

This project focuses on the lower Palaeozoic rocks of NE Vietnam, which yield rich and newly identified assemblages of shelly and graptolitic faunas. You will use these assemblages in tandem with an understanding of the sedimentary and geotectonic setting to establish the first integrated stratigraphy of this region, working with Vietnamese geologists to map the regional distribution and lithofacies changes through the lower Palaeozoic.

You will establish the position of major stratigraphical boundaries, including the Ordovician-Silurian boundary and its associated palaeoenvironmental events. Your work will develop a model for analysing the extensive and widespread Palaeozoic strata of northern and central Vietnam.

The project forms part of an ongoing collaboration between Vietnamese, Japanese and UK geologists, and would involve two seasons of fieldwork in northern Vietnam, collaboration with Vietnamese institutions in Hanoi, and a period of laboratory work at Kumamoto University in Japan.

You will be become an expert on the lower Palaeozoic geology of SE Asia and have widely transferable skills in organising fieldwork in remote areas, relaying your science to the public, biostratigraphy, palaeontological analysis, geological mapping and problem solving.


This project focuses on developing a deeper understanding of the geology of Vietnam, but also aims to enhance the geological heritage of that country.

It will use existing fossil data from museum collections in Hanoi, in conjunction with detailed field collecting to reconstruct the first systematic biostratigraphy for the lower Palaeozoic succession of NE Vietnam, utilising a range of fossil and other stratigraphical data to do this.

These data will be used to construct the geological evolution of this region, setting NE Vietnam within its broader East Asian palaeogeographical context, and identifying the fundamental palaeoenvironmental change at the Ordovician-Silurian boundary.

In conjunction with the Vietnamese partner institutions, the project will develop a dedicated fossil collection that underpins this research, providing a permanent archive of the project, and a model for the interrogation of Palaeozoic successions throughout Vietnam.

The project will dovetail with the NHM’s science outreach programme to the public.

Training and skills

You will receive detailed training in field geological skills, especially logging sedimentary successions and collecting and identifying fossils (including graptolites, nautiloids, brachiopods, ostracods and other groups).

Laboratory training will include various photographic methods for capturing images of fossils, casting with silicone rubber, and SEM. You will receive detailed training in the identification of key biostratigraphically important fossils, notably graptolites, and of the analysis of fossils for reconstructing palaeoenvironment and biogeography (e.g. ostracods).

Preparation and analysis of fossils will be in Leicester and Kumamoto universities, and the natural history museums of the UK and Vietnam.


Year 1: Examination of in-house collections at Leicester University and travel to Vietnam to conduct first season of fieldwork. Visit to the Vietnamese institutions to examine in-house collections. Laboratory analysis of newly collected fossils in Kumamoto and Leicester universities. Development of biostratigraphy, and identification of targeted collections sites for the second field season.

Year 2: Second field season in Vietnam and visit to Vietnamese institutions. Analysis of fossil materials, development of biostratigraphy and understanding of the regional context of the lower Palaeozoic succession. Analysis of key biostratigraphical boundaries. Second visit to Japan, to present results at the Annual Meeting of the Japanese Palaeontological Society. Presentation of results at the Palaeontological Association meeting in Europe. Writing chapters on key faunas, most notably the graptolites and ostracods and development of these as stand-alone publications.

Year 3: Development of an integrated regional stratigraphy for the lower Palaeozoic rocks of NE Vietnam. Analysis of major geological boundaries (especially that of the Ordovician-Silurian) and identification of event stratigraphy. Both of these analyses to form key components of the thesis (chapters) and publications. Development of an integrated lower Palaeozoic fossil collection to be deposited and curated with the Vietnamese partner institutions. Completion of thesis.

Partners and collaboration

This project forges strong links with museum, university and research institutions in the UK, Vietnam and Japan.

The Vietnam Museum of Natural History is undertaking a 10-year programme to develop an internationally important collection of Vietnamese fossils, of which this project forms a major component. The project develops strong links with Prof Toshifumi Komatsu of Kumamoto University, Japan, who has been undertaking fieldwork in Vietnam for over a decade through the auspices of the JSPS. And we will work with the Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources which is responsible for conducting geological surveys in this region.


CENTA studentships are available to UK and EU applicants only.

Residency rules apply. UK and EU students with qualifying residence in the UK are eligible for full-cost awards. Non-UK students from the EU who do not have qualifying residence are eligible for fees-only awards, which covers the tuition fees and Research Training Support Grant (RTSG), but not stipend. 

  • Applicants must have or expect to obtain a first class or upper second class BSc and/or M-level degree (or an equivalent overseas qualification) in a relevant subject.
  • Applicants who hold a lower second class honours degree (or an equivalent overseas qualification) in a relevant subject may be considered for admission provided that they also hold a Masters degree in a relevant subject.
  • University of Leicester English language requirements apply as necessary.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed through the University of Leicester's online application service. 

  • Upload your completed CENTA Studentship Application Form to the ‘Research Proposal’ section
  • Upload your supporting documents (CV, degree transcripts and certificates, reference letters if already obtained).
  • Enter the names and contact details of referees in the space provided only if you have not uploaded reference letters, and we will contact your referees for you. Please be sure to let your referees know to expect a reference request from us. 
  • Include your CENTA project code in the project title tab in research proposal section. The project code can be found on the project listing on the tab below.
  • Personal statement - Prepare a personal statement, no longer than 500 words, outlining your interest in and suitability for the research project. Explain why you would like to work in this area, describe any relevant research experience (including any research projects that you have undertaken -as part of your degree, for example), and list any academic work you have published or which is currently in press awaiting publication.
  • Under the 'Funding Section' of the online application form select 'STUDENTSHIP' and in the drop down menu select 'NERC CENTA'.

The deadline for applications is 10 January 2020.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr Tom Harvey


University of Leicester

Main supervisor: Dr Tom Harvey

Co-supervisor: Prof Mark Williams

The Natural History Museum

Co-supervisor: Dr Giles Miller

CENTA Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships involving the Universities of Birmingham, Leicester,  Warwick, Loughborough, Cranfield and The Open University and four NERC research organisations.

Funded by 


Specific to the Palaeozoic fossils of NE Vietnam

Saparin, A., Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J. et al. (in press 2019). Graptolites from Silurian (Llandovery Series) sedimentary deposits attributed to a forearc setting, Co To Formation, Co To archipelago, northeast Vietnam. Paleontological Research.

Komatsu, T., et al. 2018. The Kellwasser events in the Upper Devonian Frasnian to Famennian transition in the Toc Tat Formation, northern Vietnam. Island Arc. 2019; 28:e12281

Rushton, A., Williams, M., Phong, N. et al. 2017. Early Ordovician (Tremadocian and Floian) graptolites from the Than Sa Formation, northeast Vietnam. Geological Magazine, 155(7), 1442-1448

An example from Japan, of the kind of approach we are developing in Vietnam

Wallis, S., Oji, T., Williams, M., Cho, M. 2019. The Palaeozoic evolution of the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Thematic set of papers for Island Arc.