Funded PhD studentships logos- University of Glasgow, CSO, MRCSocial relationships and health improvement

The Social Relationships and Health Improvement programme welcomes applications on any topic related to the influence of relationships (in families, intimate and sexual relationships, or broader friendships/social networks and communities) on health behaviours and inequalities, and the development of relationship-based interventions to improve population health, from candidates interested in qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods approaches. For further information contact

Father-child relationships and children’s well-being

Research on the role of fathers in children’s socialisation has mainly focused on the benefits of father’s direct engagement in parenting activities in early childhood, including routine care and play (Sarkadi et al. 2008; Flouri et al. 2016; Kroll et al. 2016).  Much less is known about the importance of paternal emotional support for the child (warmth and responsiveness), highlighted in a re-conceptualisation of father involvement (Pleck 2010).  Given increasing numbers of children with non-resident biological fathers and/or a resident social father, it is particularly important to investigate facilitators and benefits of supportive father-child relationships in non-traditional family types. 

This PhD project would use data from around 3,000 10-12 year old children and their parents in the Growing Up in Scotland study.  It would involve a statistical analysis of the factors promoting supportive father-child relationships and other aspects of father involvement, as well as the benefits of involvement for children’s socio-emotional adjustment, among different family types. It is expected that the study will also have a qualitative component, collecting data from a sub sample of fathers in order to supplement the results of the statistical analysis.  For example, it may focus on men who report low engagement with their children, exploring how they reflect on how themselves were parented as a context for their own parenting behaviour.


  • Flouri, E., E. Midouhas, et al. (2016). "The Relationship Between Father Involvement and Child Problem Behaviour in Intact Families: A 7-Year Cross-Lagged Study." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 44(5): 1011-1021.
  • Kroll, M. E., C. Carson, et al. (2016). "Early Father Involvement and Subsequent Child Behaviour at Ages 3, 5 and 7 Years: Prospective Analysis of the UK Millennium Cohort Study." Plos One 11(9).
  • Pleck, J. H. (2010). Paternal involvement: revised conceptualization and theoretical linkages with child outcomes. The Role of the Father in Child Development. Fifth Edition. M. E. Lamb. Hoboken, New Jersey., John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: 58-93.
  • Sarkadi, A., R. Kristiansson, et al. (2008). "Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies." Acta Paediatrica 97(2): 153-158.

Evaluating prison services delivered by Early Years Scotland (co-funded by Early Years Scotland, subject to final confirmation) – 3 year funding available

This doctoral project will focus on adult male prisoners who are fathers, looking at how the Fathers Programme, in place in five Scottish prisons, works for these men, their young children, and their partners. It is likely that it will involve observation of the programme and in-depth interviews with the men, their partners and prison staff. Realist evaluation methods could be used to uncover how and why the programme may be effective, or not, and with which particular men and their families. It is likely that the project will focus on processes, but basic outcome data might also be collected. The work will feed directly into the further development of the programme, in collaboration with Early Years Scotland.

Abortion in practice: reducing stigma in women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare

Abortion continues to be a healthcare practice associated with stigma, both for those who undergo and those who provide it. The proposed PhD research would use secondary analysis of existing UK data on women’s experiences, as well as primary data collection with providers, in order to examine the ways in which stigma shapes experiences of contemporary abortion provision in Scotland.

The PhD would comprise three main strands. The first would be an in-depth secondary analysis of existing accounts of abortion, produced in recent UK studies of the topic. Using an in-depth narrative analysis methodology, this would draw out the ways in which women are able to account for their experiences, in the context of broader public discourses of abortion.  The second would involve interviews with a range of health professionals involved in abortion provision. This primary data collection would take a ‘communities of practice’ approach to provider experiences, and examine ways in which stigma is constituted and resisted in everyday practices. The third strand would comprise groundwork for the development of a practical stigma reduction intervention, informed by outputs from the first and second.

The PhD would be suitable for candidates with a background in social science, and in interest in sexual and reproductive health, stigma, and qualitative research.

Peer based interventions for young people with serious mental illness to improve physical and mental health

Serious mental illness in young people leads to distress and impairment for the individual and their family. It may impact on wider aspects of the lives of these young people including their education and career prospects, income etc. Engaging young people in prevention and early intervention programmes is a major challenge for health and other services. This PhD will explore interventions that have been developed and evaluated for young people with a particular focus on peer or social network based approaches and will seek to understand the particular challenges for this group. The PhD is likely to be mainly qualitative or mixed methods and social network analytic approaches may be used.  Results of this work would inform the development of interventions to improve physical and mental health in young people.

The importance of social connections and social routines for recovery from drug and alcohol dependence

Drug and alcohol dependence carries a serious cost in terms of physical and mental health, social support, job security, stigmatisation and social exclusion. Treatment services for those recovering from drug and alcohol dependence often focus on prescribing medication or individual and group-based psychotherapy interventions.

There is a great deal of research saying that – apart from biological and psychological influences – health behaviours such as drug and alcohol use can be influenced by social, environmental and political factors. With better understanding of these broader influences on substance use, it may be possible to design new services and policies to improve health outcomes for people recovering from dependence. 

The student will explore how social connections, such as friends, family, other people in the neighbourhood, or the wider recovery community can help or harm someone’s longer term health outcomes. Also, understanding social routines - such as playing sports, spending time with friends, attending addiction support meetings, or going to bars, restaurants and clubs - is an important part of understanding how friendships and other social relationships have an influence on health.

If you’re interested in doing research into this topic, get in contact for more information. Applicants are encouraged to develop their own project ideas, but projects could involve; conducting interviews with people recovering from substance use issues and users of addiction treatment services; critically reviewing the existing research literature on substance use and addiction, analysing existing data surrounding recovery, developing computer simulations to understand social processes (Using the sort of methods used to make this) or a combination of these and other methods.

Influence of online and offline communities on mental health and wellbeing among young LGBT people

Communication via the Internet, social networking sites, and via smart-phone apps is an important feature of young people’s lives (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008), and an integral part of identity development (Barker, 2012).  Research has suggested that social networking sites can have positive and negative influences on young people’s mental health (Ceglarek and Ward, 2016).  Young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people are known to experience significant health inequalities in the UK and substantially higher rates of poor mental health, which grounded in broader social and economic inequalities, including the experience of stigma and discrimination.  However, further research is needed to understand how online and offline communities and networks overlap (or not) and influence young LGBT people’s lives (Subrahmanyam et al, 2008).  This overlap might be driven by accessibility, and/or influenced by external factors, such as levels of surveillance (e.g., from family, peers and ethnic groups etc.) and how physical and social setting interact. 

This PhD research project would draw on geographical and resilience theories and the personal communities approach to understanding social networks.  It will explore the different sources of support that young LGBT people draw on from online and offline environments to inform the development of interventions to improve mental health and wellbeing.  It is expected to involve primarily qualitative research, but could involve mixed methods and/or the addition of social network analysis.

The project would be suitable for candidates with a background in social science, sociology or geography, and an interest in health inequalities and qualitative or mixed methods research.


  • Barker V. A generational comparison of social networking site use: The influence of age and social identity. International Journal of Aging and Human Development 2012; 74(2): 163-187.
  • Ceglarek P & Ward LM. A tool for help or harm? How associations between social networking use, social support, and mental health differ for sexual minority and heterosexual youth. Computers in Human Behavior 2016; 65:201-209.
  • Subrahmanyam K & Greenfield PM. Communicating online: Adolescent relationships and the media. The Future of Children: Children and Media Technology 2008; 18:119−146.
  • Subrahmanyam, K et al. Online and offline social networks: Use of social networking sites by emerging adults. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 2008; 20:420-433.

Image of how to apply button