PhD Call for Applications at VinUni and University of Illinois on Wastewater Epidemiological Surveillance in Vietnam


PhD Call for Applications at VinUni and University of Illinois

Wastewater Epidemiological Surveillance in Vietnam

Open date: 01/06/2023Closing date: 0131/12/2023


Throughout history, infectious disease pandemics have periodically threatened humanity. Newly emerging and re-emerging pathogens and antimicrobial resistance continue to challenge global public health in the 21st century. Vietnam, with a population of 98 million, is especially vulnerable to antibiotic resistance by pathogenic bacteria because of unregulated usage of antibiotics in humans and agriculture.

Antibiotic resistance (AR) threatens the progress of modern medicine not only on treatment of bacterial infections but also on treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancers and chronic diseases, including diabetes. AR- is especially serious in Vietnam because of the aging population. Aging comes with a weaker immune system to fight infection and chronic conditions that are vulnerable to infection. As the aging population increases in size with the increase in the quality-of-life, the intersection of the AR crisis with the aging population will significantly increase the spending on healthcare for elderly residents. Routine treatment for the elderly, including heart valve replacement, hip or knee replacement, and cancer treatment and recovery, may become more costly or even deadly due to AR.

Traditionally, AR is monitored only in clinical settings and summarized into annual antibiograms that guide physicians to prescribe antibiotics. In this project, we will develop a novel antibiogram, by analyzing the spatial and temporal distribution of AR genes in humans’ sewage, animals, and clinical samples in Hanoi and Illinois. A wastewater monitoring network has been established in both locations since summer 2022.

The following aims are proposed. Aim 1: We will use whole genome sequencing and a combination of CRISPR-Cas9 cleavage and next-generation sequencing (NSG) to determine ARG compositions and establish a new antibiogram. Aim 2: we will develop an app for residents that reminds them to take their medicine, including antibiotics. We will receive aggregated data from the app on the usage of antibiotics in the same communities where the sewage was collected and analyzed. This information will link the usage of antibiotics with resistance. Aim 3: we will develop both agent-based and population-based models, constrained by the collected data from hospitals, the mobile app, and wastewater monitoring system, and augmented by Machine learning techniques, to understand patterns of uptake of antibiotics as well as to correlate these with social, dietary and demographical characteristics of the local population. We will also use the models to forecast the burden of disease on the general population and healthcare system, and to identify potential effective interventions to reduce that burden. More information is available here: VinUni-Illinois Smart Health Center .

Training program

As a PhD student, you will undertake training courses that will lead towards, and are a part requirement of, the award of a PhD degree. The suite of programs will allow you to gain various skills and expertise to strongly support your future career, whether in industry or academia. Students will be supported in publishing their research and encouraged to present it at international conferences. The students will be advised by professors at Illinois and VinUni from the following team: Illinois: Helen Nguyen, Ahmed Elbanna, and Minh Do. VinUni: Andrew Taylor-Robinson and Doan Mai Phuong.


This project is suitable for students (Vietnamese nationals only) with a Bachelor’s degree in one of: biology, engineering, public health or a related field. Academic excellence should be demonstrated, as indicated by a GPA of 3.2 or above. A Master’s degree and/or experience in one of the following fields: biology, numerical methods and simulations, or AI/ML methods, are desirable but not essential. Applicants should have a strong interest in biology, public health, computational and/or machine learning knowledge. Excellent skills in one of the following: field research, programming (Python), molecular biology, numerical methods, simulations, and design thinking is desirable. The key requirements are a keen interest in the topic and a strong work ethic. English language requirements: IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent).


Selected candidates will work towards their PhD degree granted by either VinUniversity (VinUni) or University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and be co-advised by faculty from both universities. During their PhD studies, VISHC PhD students will spend 2 years to study and research at the other university and can optionally seek a master’s degree from that university. This program will cover all tuition fees, living expenses, health insurance, round-trip airfare, and related expenses for VISHC PhD students. The financial support for VISHC PhD students while they are at UIUC is provided by the Vingroup Scholarship Program for Overseas Study for Master’s and Doctoral Degrees. VISHC PhD students will receive a stipend of 10,000 USD/year when they study at VinUni and 25,000 USD/year when they study at UIUC.

How to apply

To arrange an informal discussion, please email VinUni-Illinois Smart Health Center ( and copy Prof. Helen Nguyen ( You must include your CV, a research summary, and the names of two academic referees who can provide a letter of recommendation on your behalf.