PhD studentships

The University of Glasgow

"At the unit, you are always exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking about research." Ian MacNeill


At the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, we are looking to develop the next generation of highly skilled researchers. We are offering two studentships across our six research programmes, starting September 2019. These will be on a three-year (full-time) basis to those with a Masters degree (or equivalent training) with a research component in a relevant scientific discipline OR over a four-year period as an opportunity for postgraduate students to gain an appropriate Masters degree before starting a doctorate (‘1+3 studentships’). Part-time studentships are also welcome. Our staff and students have joined us from all over the world, and come from a range of academic disciplines. To view studentship opportunities for our six research programmes, click on the programme names at the bottom of this page.

What is offered?

During your PhD, you will:

  • Receive a tax-free stipend of £15,009 per annum (from 1st October 2019) and a training/conference allowance of £1,300 per annum (UK only).
  • Receive a thorough training in both generic research skills and transferable skills, as well as subject-specific training.
  • Work in a Unit with a strong commitment to student wellbeing and pastoral support.

MRC funded studentship eligibility

  • UK national and UK resident applicants – full funding is available, for University fees and a stipend. Includes a training allowance.
  • Other European Economic Area (EEA) applicants – partial funding is available, covering University fees only.
  • Full eligibility criteria is available here.

How to apply

Candidates are required to prepare a two A4 page research proposal. Please contact the supervisor of your proposed topic to discuss your proposal prior to submission.

Applications should be submitted to Postgraduate Admissions. Please ensure you apply to MRC/CSO PhD Studentships.

The full set of supporting documents noted below are required to be uploaded at the point of application:

  • CV/Resume
  • Degree certificate (if you have graduated prior to 1 July 2015)
  • Passport
  • Two A4 page research proposal (This should have been discussed with the supervisor prior to submission).
  • Reference 1 (a full reference should be submitted from an academic who has a knowledge of your academic ability from your most recent study/programme)
  • Reference 2 (a full reference should be submitted from an academic who has a knowledge of your academic ability)
  • Transcripts

Once you have submitted your application, please email to confirm. General enquiries regarding the application process can also be directed to this email address.

Closing Date: 26th July 2019
Interviews: 22nd August 2019

Follow us on Twitter: @theSPHSU

View topics by programme below. You can also read more about PhD studentships at the unit or view our current doctoral students.

Complexity in Health Improvement projects

NOTE: The topics below are indicative. 
Student-led applications/topics relevant to the Unit and programmes (ie on related topics and with different supervisors) are also very welcome.

Developing an intervention to improve quality of life, activity, connectedness and mental health of older adults living in a community setting.

Lead supervisor: Prof Sharon Simpson

Social isolation and loneliness among older people are linked with many health problems and poorer mental health. There is some evidence from systematic reviews that interventions offering social activity and/or support within a group format can be effective and social network approaches to understanding and tackling loneliness and social isolation show promise. This PhD will explore the evidence on the relationship between loneliness/social isolation and health and consider how interventions involving social networks and social support might address these issues. Methods could involve a systematic or theoretical review, co-production with key stakeholders, system mapping and qualitative or mixed methods approaches.

Application of Agent-Based Modelling in Population Health.

Lead supervisor: Dr Eric Silverman

Many population health issues are driven by interacting behavioural, environmental and social factors. Agent-Based Models (ABMs) are a potentially promising, yet currently underused method, to understand and simulate complex population health issues.  We are interested in supervising PhD students to either (i) develop an ABM on a particular issue, which may be suggested by the applicant or based on planned projects in modelling multimorbidity, Universal Basic Income policy in Scotland, or demand for social care; or (ii) develop procedures and software tools for the application of machine learning and deep neural networks to the development and analysis of complex ABMs.

Issues in the Design and Analysis of Randomised Trials of Complex Interventions

Lead supervisor: Prof Laurence Moore or Prof Rod Taylor

A studentship is proposed on two issues in the design of randomised trials of complex interventions. The first is the collection of large quantities of baseline data, often at great expense and putting recruitment and retention rates at risk. Can the cost and design of trials be improved by reducing the volume of baseline data collection? The second is:  Can the design and analysis of trials of interventions with multiple outcomes be improved? - what are the relative merits of alternative strategies such as composite outcomes; multiple response models; multivariate approaches to analysis? Methods may include: systematic review; individual data meta-analysis; simulation.


Measurement and Analysis of Socioeconomic Inequalities in Health projects

NOTEThe topics below are indicative. 
Student-led applications/topics relevant to the Unit and programmes (ie on related topics and with different supervisors) are also very welcome.

Investigating health inequalities in India using existing data

Lead supervisor: Dr Vittal Katikireddi

Inequalities in health outcomes across social groups have been observed across the world and throughout history.  With a population of over 1.3 billion people, health inequalities are likely to be particularly complex in India.  For example, differences in health are likely between gender, socioeconomic, caste and religious groups.  This PhD project will analyse existing quantitative data for insights into the social patterning of health outcomes, their trends over time and exploring which political and economic factors shape them.  Potential datasets for analysis include census data, the Sample Registration System, the Annual Health Survey and the Demographic and Health Surveillance Survey. 

Understanding and resolving divergences in the social patterning of childhood obesity and overweight data

Lead supervisor: Dr Linsay Gray

Data from Scotland indicate that childhood obesity prevalence levels are at an all time high.  Effective formulation and evaluation of actions require reliable and consistent data sources and an understanding of what drives obesity and overweight.  A key factor impacting on risk of obesity/overweight is socioeconomic status.  Data from the annual Scottish Health Survey indicate narrowing of the socioeconomic inequality gap in childhood overweight/obesity, however, data collected over time on Scottish Primary 1 school pupils indicate the opposite.  This PhD will explore the explanations for and find solutions to this divergence through record linkage to administrative sources.

The health of looked after children in Scotland

Lead supervisor: Dr Denise Brown

Looked after children are at risk of poorer educational outcomes and reduced life chances, but little is known in Scotland about the relationship between health and being looked after.  This project will examine how the health of school-age looked after children compares to children in the general population.  Data linkage is underway, with individual data being linked to a range of health data and other important factors.  Standardised illness rates will be compared between groups, across all of Scotland and by deprivation category, and survival models will be used to examine what affects the duration of time until poor health.

Utilising clustering within surveys and trials to examine social environmental influences on health behaviours and inequalities

Lead supervisor: Dr Anna Pearce

Risky health behaviours, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, are a major contributor to morbidity and mortality and are often initiated during adolescence.  Social environments and health behaviour norms, which operate at different levels (from proximal – e.g. family and friends, to more distal – e.g. schools and neighbourhoods), exert a powerful influence over young people’s health behaviours and contribute to health inequalities.  This quantitative PhD project will use information collected in clustered surveys and randomised controlled trials to better understand how these factors accumulate and interact to affect health behaviours and identify policy approaches most likely to reduce inequalities.

Social media use in young people: what are the consequences for health and health inequalities?

Supervisors: Dr Anna PearceDr Vittal KatikireddiDr Marion Henderson

Young people are increasingly socialising online, with the health consequences poorly understood.  Social media use may negatively influence health by substituting other forms of social interaction, supporting sedentary behaviour and exposing young people to cyber-bulling.  In contrast, recent declines in alcohol consumption may be a consequence of a shift from physical to virtual interactions.  This quantitative project will use questionnaire and time-use data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study to examine the type and duration of social media activities, associations with health and behaviours, and the extent to which social media use moderates or mediates socio-economic inequalities in health.

Social Relationships and Health Improvement projects

NOTEThe topics below are indicative. 
Student-led applications/topics relevant to the Unit and programmes (ie on related topics and with different supervisors) are also very welcome.

The role of the partner/father in supporting vulnerable mothers’ parenting: first steps in developing an intervention for partners/fathers

Supervisors: Dr Katie Buston, Dr Marion Henderson

The THRIVE study, led from within SPHSU, has highlighted the deep and enduring vulnerabilities that some mothers face.  This project will draw on secondary analysis of THRIVE data to explore these, and the role of the partner/father in the family.  Additional, in-depth interviews will be conducted with THRIVE mothers to glean their perspectives on partner/father involvement in parenting, and their own support needs.  Interviews will also be conducted with key staff in organisations such as Barnardos, Early Years Scotland, and Fathers Network Scotland, focusing on developing an intervention targeted at the partners/fathers of vulnerable mothers, which will appropriately support vulnerable mothers.

How does PrEP change personal and interpersonal scripts in relation to condom use?

Lead supervisor: Dr Kirstin Mitchell

HIV PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV negative individuals from contracting the HIV virus, but condom use is still required to protect against other STIs such as gonorrhoea and syphilis.  In reducing fear and anxiety about HIV, PrEP has potential to influence both inclination and confidence to use condoms.  A script is an ‘operating syntax’ which guides behaviour.  This PhD will explore individual scripts around condom use, and how these shape, and are shaped by, interpersonal sexual scripts created between partners.  Methods are likely to include a longitudinal qualitative analysis with men who have sex with men prior to starting PrEP and several months later.


Understanding and Improving Health within Settings and Organisations projects

NOTEThe topics below are indicative. 
Student-led applications/topics relevant to the Unit and programmes (ie on related topics and with different supervisors) are also very welcome.

The home and public health

Lead supervisor: Prof Paul Flowers

Within the home, many health behaviours begin and are sustained across the lifespan; within the individual, within families and within communities (eg sleep, diet, physical activity, hydration, self-management of illness and medication use, substance use).  This PhD aims to understand the importance of the home in relation to one or more key public health priorities amongst any group or populations.  The PhD could use qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods to explore the role of the home in shaping determinants and moderators of key public health outcomes. It could also work towards developing home-based interventions to improve aspects of public health.

Working at home and public health

Supervisors: Dr Lia Demou and Prof Paul Flowers

Working patterns are changing; with home-, remote- and agile-working increasing.  Traditional work settings have profound impact upon health for employees and beyond; far less is known about the impacts of emerging work settings.  Working at home may well affect issues such as isolation, social support, mental health, sleep, diet, sedentary behaviour, and work-life balance.  This studentship aims to explore this evolving workplace setting and its opportunities for public health improvement.  There is scope for qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods research and the studentship is flexible in relation to choice of public health outcomes (e.g., mental health, infectious disease, diet).


Neighbourhoods and Communities projects

NOTEThe topics below are indicative. 
Student-led applications/topics relevant to the Unit and programmes (ie on related topics and with different supervisors) are also very welcome.

The home neighbourhood, access to public transport and urban mobility

Supervisors: Dr Jon Olsen, Prof Rich Mitchell

Transport-related social exclusion impacts upon health and the ability to participate in many aspects of society.  There are inequalities in access to the transport system, where those most income deprived are often excluded or disadvantaged.  Recent methodological advances provide us with the ability to use mobility information about individuals collected using GPS devices, and hence understand their transport use.  The focus of this PhD will be to understand how the home neighbourhood and access to public transport may help or hinder urban mobility and the ability to live a healthy lifestyle.

Evaluation of outdoor nursery provision for child, family and community wellbeing (Co-funded PhD studentship with Glasgow City Council)

Supervisors Dr Paul McCrorie, Dr Anne Martin

This project will explore the extent to which outdoor nurseries can improve and maintain child, family and community wellbeing.  Outdoor nurseries are Early Years establishments where children spend most of their time learning through natural play in the outdoors while interacting with nature and embracing the climatic seasons.  With a range of potential benefits often cited in support of outdoor nurseries, it is unclear if there is a strong evidence base for their support.  This project will sit within a wider body of work focussing on systematically generating knowledge to support an emerging policy-relevant research area.

Planning healthy cities

Supervisors: Dr Yoni Almagor, Prof Rich Mitchell

Unequal access to clean air, water, green spaces, healthy and affordable food options, and efficient public transport systems is a contributor to health inequalities.  Urban planning is a system used to regulate, control and channel urban development, but with contrasting public interests and economic pressures, urban health is not always considered within it.  The research will assess which planning regimes, polices and rules seem more likely to lead to a healthy and equal city.  Using agent-based simulation techniques, the ideal planning principles identified could be tested by creating ‘alternative’ development histories for specific cities.

Informing Healthy Public Policy projects

What are policy recommendations in public health research papers based on?

Lead supervisor: Dr Peter Craig

Research quality assessment increasingly takes account of actual or potential impact.  Researchers face powerful incentives to emphasise the relevance of their work, yet reporting guidelines provide little guidance on how recommendations should be made.  The GRADE framework provides a systematic method for developing recommendations, but is rarely used in public health research.  This project will investigate how far recommendations for policy and practice made in public health research papers are supported by the data reported, and whether tools such as GRADE are used to formulate them.  It should appeal to candidates interested in public health policy and evidence synthesis methods.

Public perceptions of Basic Income

Supervisors: Dr Gillian Fergie, Dr Kathryn Skivington, Prof Shona Hilton

A Basic Income is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income for every individual as a right of citizenship.  It is attracting increasing interest from policymakers and researchers worldwide.  Various forms of basic income have been discussed, debated, and piloted e.g. in Canada and Finland, and a basic income is currently under consideration by the Scottish Government.  Across national contexts, public perceptions of basic income are not well understood.  The aim of this PhD would be to develop our understandings of the range and diversity of people's responses to basic income. Methods could be, for example, qualitative deliberative approaches and media content analysis.


Lead supervisor: Prof Shona Hilton

One of the greatest global health challenges of our time is antimicrobial resistance (AMR), with most of its burden falling on LMICs, both in human and animal health.  This PhD project links into an existing 3m investment in Supporting the National Action Plan in Tanzania.  The aim of this study will be to design, implement and evaluate a culturally targeted AMR communication campaign to Maasai communities on buckets (Ndoo).  Buckets are one of the key resources used in these communities for a variety of daily activities, including those associated to high prevalence of resistance (e.g. water fetching and milk storage).  This PhD will require travel and fieldwork in Tanzania.

Advancing legislative action on sugar

Lead supervisor: Prof Shona Hilton

Current estimates of sugar consumption in the UK show that school aged children and teenagers exceed the recommended levels, with those living in the most deprived communities consuming the most sugar and having the poorest health.  Legislative action on sugar is of public interest as it may signal an increased political will to tackle obesity and non-communicable diseases including diabetes and tooth decay.  This exploratory mixed-methods study, focusing on children and young people, will examine stakeholders’ roles and views in relation to the evidence-base, framing, advocating, and developing a roadmap for legislative action on sugar.

Hear from our current PhD students

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