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Student Vacation Research Assistant: Quantifying foraging from pollen sampling of British bumblebees - Open to current University of Worcester students only*

Research Assistantships provide undergraduates and recent graduates with ‘hands on’ experience of working on a research project over the summer vacation, enabling them to gain insight into a research career, as well as enhancing their CV.


Bumblebee populations have declined dramatically in the UK over the past century: two species have gone extinct and a further two species (the Shrill Carder and Great Yellow bumblebees) have declined so severely that they are threatened with extinction. Problems experienced by the easily visible bumblebees are symptomatic of the issues faced by the wider pollinator community in Britain and beyond: 1,500 flower-visiting species of insect, responsible for one in every three mouthfuls of food that we eat. The value of pollination ecosystem services provided by bumblebees and other pollinating insects is £691 million/year to the British economy, as well as providing the basis for the £108 billion/year British food and drink industry.

These declines have led to increasing concern about pollinators. The main drivers are land management changes which remove flowers from the landscape. Consequently, current conservation interventions focus on the establishment of flower-rich areas. Monitoring has traditionally focused on the rate of flower visitation, largely ignoring the fact that a flower visit can potentially be for several reasons, only one of which is to collect pollen in order to provision the nest. In order to enhance the suitability of land management strategies, we need to develop monitoring techniques better able to link observable behaviour (such as flower visitations) to how bumblebees are actually using an area.

For this, establishing the interaction between pollen resources and usage is critical; bumblebee larvae feed almost exclusively on pollen, but, flightless, they are entirely dependent on pollen brought home by adult bumblebees. This project aims to develop a methodology for quantifying usage of foraging resources by comparing flower visitation data to the composition of pollen collected by bumblebees in the same area. We will develop this methodology using common bumblebee species, with the long-term aim of using the methodology developed to quantify foraging resources for rare bumblebees.

The project would involve catching bumblebees around the Malvern Hills; pollen grains will be sampled from plants and bumblebees caught within the project site, and flower visitation data will be collected using the standardised BeeWalk methodology ( We will compare the composition of the bee-collected pollen to flower visitation rates to identify those plant species which are over- or under-represented in the bumblebees’ pollen usage versus expectations from flower visitations. This will allow recommendations on the feasibility of this monitoring methodology to be made.

* Please note that this post is open only to students completing the penultimate or final year of an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) at the University of Worcester or partner institutions;
Students completing, or who have completed, an undergraduate degree at another university (with 1st or 2:1 predicted/achieved) who are about to commence postgraduate studies at the University of Worcester.

Closing date: Wednesday 31 May 2017

Reference number: STUVRA1709 - 2008

Job details

Job details

£8.44 per hour, plus £1.18 per hour holiday pay
37 hours per week
4 weeks
Responsible to
Dr Kate Ashbrook
Responsible for
Interview date

Institute of Science and the Environment

Explore the Institute of Science and the Environment

“The Institute’s acclaimed research has a common thread: our belief that science should be centred around its impact on people”
Professor John Newbury, Head of Institute



The University of Worcester is funding 20 Vacation Research Assistantships for the summer of 2017. These Research Assistantships will provide undergraduates and recent graduates with ‘hands on’ experience of working on a research project over the summer vacation, enabling them to gain insight into a research career, as well as enhancing their CV. These are prestigious awards, marking out a student as a future researcher and potential academic. In addition, this scheme provides UW staff leading on a research project with invaluable support in taking the project forward and experience of supporting and developing a young researcher.

On completion of the project, the supervisor and student must complete a report providing the following information: 

  • Objectives set
  • Objectives met
  • Methods employed
  • Results
  • Conclusions
  • Outputs
  • Benefits to the student including training undertaken, skills developed, etc.
Main duties

Main duties

Under supervision, the student will be responsible for all phases of this project as follows:

  • fieldwork - collecting pollen samples from both plants and bumblebees
  • lab work - identifying the pollen as far as is possible.        

*Maintain personal and professional development to meet the changing demands of the job; participate in appropriate training activities and encourage and support staff in their development and training.

*Take steps to ensure and enhance personal health, safety and well being and that of other staff and students.

*Carry out these duties in a manner that promotes equality of opportunity and supports diversity and inclusion, and takes into account the University's commitment to environmentally sustainable ways of working.

Person specification

Person specification


1. Highly enthusiastic and dedicated 

2. Basic knowledge of identification of flowers and bumblebees.

3. Excellent organisational skills

4. Ability to prioritise workloads

5. Attention to detail and accuracy of information


1. Familiarity with pollen identification (e.g. completed the second-year biological sciences module ‘Agents of Infection & Allergens’)


Applications from Non EEA Workers:

Prospective applicants are advised to ensure that they are eligible to work in the UK without restriction.Prospective applicants in points-based system immigration routes should assess their circumstances against the published criteria, which are set out on the GOV.UK website at

Visit for more information on how you can use a qualification from outside the UK to meet the requirements of the immigration rules.

Unspent convictions, cautions and bind-overs

The University is strongly committed to the fair treatment of its staff and potential staff, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, responsibility for dependants, age, physical/mental disability or offending background.

In line with the University's policy on the Recruitment of People with a Criminal Record, shortlisted candidates are required to provide information of any unspent convictions, cautions and bind-overs. Applicants are advised to seek independent advice if there is any doubt about the status of a previous conviction, caution or bind-over. Disclosures will only be considered at the point when an offer of employment is made. The existence of a criminal record will not in itself prevent you from gaining employment.This is a description of the job as it is presently constituted.

This job description is intended to enable a flexible approach to be offered working across the University as required. It is subject to review and amendment in the light of changing needs of the University and to provide appropriate development opportunities. Members of staff are expected to participate fully in discussions about changing requirements and it is the University's aim to reach agreement to reasonable change. If agreement is not possible, it reserves the right to require changes to the job description after consultation with the individual concerned.

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