Centre for Behaviour and Evolution


ChickenStress: a European Training Network (ETN)

The Programme

Public opinion across Europe demands that laying hens are kept in the highest possible welfare conditions. In Europe, this has led to a ban on battery cages, which came into effect from 2012. Although conceived with the best of intentions and a bold step to improve welfare, unexpected problems have arisen with alternative production systems: in large barn egg and free-range egg production systems, more birds suffer from keel bone fractures, there is a resurgence of pathogens associated with venturing outdoors, and there is an increase in feather pecking and cannibalism.

Hens without fractures lay more, bigger eggs, and consume less food and water. An outbreak of feather pecking can result in a 5% increase in mortality rates, which could result in 20 million hens dying prematurely due to feather pecking in the EU annually. It is clear, therefore, that improved welfare can lead to improved productivity.

Chronic stress is at the core of many of the challenges outlined. It is therefore crucial to understand how hens respond to stress, and to devise strategies to reduce chronic stress in laying hens. However, chronic stress is not easy to detect and quantify, because it is essentially an internal response. We should be able to measure such an internal response in the animals’ brains.

The ChickenStress consortium aims to understand how the stress response is regulated in the avian brain and to minimize chronic stress by investigating the three main contributors to variation in the stress response:

  • genetic variability
  • early-life environment
  • current environment

By understanding the impacts of these factors, we will be able to produce more stress resilient birds in higher welfare housing conditions, and thereby enhance animal welfare and productivity.

We are currently hiring 14 Early Stage Researchers (PhD students) across the entire consortium to help us achieve these aims. We will provide a distinctive multi-disciplinary training environment which will prepare the PhD students for careers in academia, policy making, or industry. More details about each of the PhD projects and how to apply for them can be found on the next two tabs.

For any questions about the ChickenStress programme, please contact chickenstress@ncl.ac.uk

ChickenStress stakeholder logos

PhD Projects

There are 14 PhD projects advertised within the consortium. Each project lasts for 3 years (two of them last 4 years) and leads to the submission of a PhD thesis. Each project also includes a total of 6 months of secondments (placements) with other members of the consortium. The estimated starting date for all projects is 1 October 2019 (variation in start date is possible depending on the project).

All PhD students will be expected to take an active role in the consortium, including annual consortium-wide training events and cohort-driven activities. More details about these events can be found in the next tab.

Details of the 14 projects can be found below, including the person specification, where the student will be based, and where they will go on secondments.


As a PhD student in this network, you will take part in a number of centrally organized events. The main ones are:

  1. Inaugural Training School (4 days in late 2019/early 2020; Lleida, ES): training in the state-of-the-art knowledge of stress regulation in birds and mammals, as well as current practice in the egg industry
  2. Genomics and Bioinformatics Workshop, combined with the first Annual Progress Meeting (4 days in the summer of 2020; St-Andrews, UK): training in modern genomics and related bioinformatics techniques, as related to the network, followed by a mini-conference in which all PhD students present their preliminary results.
  3. Science and Industry Workshop, combined with the second Annual Progress Meeting (4 days in the summer of 2021; Bern, CH): training in how research results can be translated into industrial practice and/or policy, followed by a mini-conference in which all PhD students present their first results.
  4. Final Network Conference (3 days in June 2022; Valencia, ES): presentations by all PhD students and invited speakers, combined with an outreach event aimed at the egg industry.

In addition, you will be trained in and take part in public engagement activities throughout your time in the Network.


The deadline for applications has now closed. References can still be submitted using the link below.

Estimated starting date for all projects: 1 October 2019 (variation in start date is possible depending on the project)


These PhD studentships are open to people of any nationality. However, the Marie S. Curie Actions have two strict eligibility criteria for applicants to these positions:

  1. EARLY STAGE: The applicant must be within the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of her/his research career (starting from the moment you obtain a degree that makes you eligible to study for a PhD) and not have a doctoral degree. Adjustments can be made for career breaks.
  2. MOBILITY: The applicant must not have resided or carried out her/his main activity (e.g. work, studies) in the country where she/he has been recruited for more than 12 months in the three years immediately before the recruitment date (this is the day on which you start your PhD).

Additional eligibility criteria are listed with each specific project in the PhD Projects tab.

Application process
You can apply for up to 5 of the positions. To make an application you will need:

  • Names and email addresses for 2 referees
  • Current CV
  • Transcripts of your Bachelor and Masters degree courses
  • A statement about why you are applying to the positions that you are applying to, including how you meet the Essential and Desired criteria for those positions. You are allowed to address each position separately in your statement.

NOTE: you will be asked to type the information from your CV and transcripts into a web form. It is therefore not necessary to have electronic versions of these documents available to upload. We will ask you for official evidence of your qualifications if you are shortlisted. 

Reference letters 
It is your responsibility to ensure two people are happy to provide a reference for you using the online form. Ideally these will be academic references, or otherwise people who can provide information on your suitability for PhD study. Referees should submit their responses using the online form, if you wish you can email them the link (https://forms.ncl.ac.uk/view.php?id=4492708

You may also wish to send them a link to this website to give them more information on the ChickenStress Network. It is your responsibility to ensure that they receive the link and that they submit their reference. The reference letters will form a part of the application evaluation. 

Recruitment event
In early June, shortlisted candidates will be invited to Utrecht University for a two-day recruitment event on 18-19 June 2019. Reasonable travel expenses will be covered. Candidates who cannot physically attend will be interviewed remotely. Candidates will learn more about the ChickenStress Network and the underlying science.

Salaries differ depending on the country where you will be based. For more information, please contact the relevant supervisors.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion statement 
Applications are encouraged from all candidates, irrespective of gender, cultural background, ethnicity, disability, age, gender identity or sexual orientation. Our recruitment practices are designed for maximum fairness, by minimising any effects of unconscious bias.

For any questions about the ChickenStress programme, please contact chickenstress@ncl.ac.uk