2018 Studentship Topics: Social Relationships and Health Improvement

2018 Studentship Topics: Social Relationships and Health Improvement

Programme Leader: Professor Lisa McDaid (lisa.mcdaid@glasgow.ac.uk)

Exploring families’ experiences of emerging gender variance among children
MRC funded*
Supervisor: Dr Ruth Lewis

Parental support has been identified as key to improving indicators of mental health and social wellbeing among trans youth, yet the factors shaping parents and other family members’ abilities to create supportive contexts for gender variant children are poorly understood. How do families experience and navigate emerging gender variant identity and expression? What barriers and facilitators do families experience to providing a supportive context, how do these evolve over time, and how do they intersect with other social contexts (e.g. schools, peers, communities)?

The proposed qualitative study could explore a range of dimensions including, but not limited to, families’ experiences of:

  • Intra-familial awareness and communication about a child’s emerging gender variance
  • Interactions with schools, including teachers, administrators, and other students/families
  • Supporting children within broader neighbourhood and community contexts (e.g. religious settings, youth groups, sports, etc.)
  • Discussing, accessing and utilising clinical services to support children with gender variance

This exploratory study wouldbe conducted with a view to informing development of an intervention designed to help support families experiencing children's emerging gender variance.


Involvement of fathers and father figures in the lives of Scottish older children and teenagers: a mixed method study sited in Growing Up in Scotland (GUS)
MRC funded*
Supervisor: Dr Katie Buston

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, Kristiansson et al. 2008, Flouri, Midouhas et al. 2016, Kroll, Carson 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). A recent analysis of extant GUS data suggested that, at age 10, children with father figures report lower supportiveness than those with resident biological fathers (Parkes, Riddell et al. 2017). Given increasing numbers of children with non-biological resident fathers/father figures, it is particularly important to investigate facilitators and benefits of supportive father-child relationships across family types. This PhD project would use data from around 3,000 10-13 year old children and their parents in the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS, see http://growingupinscotland.org.uk/). 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, comparing families with resident biological fathers with those where the father figure is not the biological father. GUS will also be used as a sampling frame to conduct an in-depth interview study with a small number of families, exploring issues which have been highlighted by the quantitative analysis. For example, it may focus on understanding different perceptions of fathering, facilitators/barriers to paternal involvement and socio-emotional outcomes for the child in different family types.

The work will contribute more widely to research on understanding the intrinsic contribution fathers make to their children’s wellbeing, highlighting mechanisms that are key in understanding the link between parental supportiveness and child socio-emotional outcomes. Implications for policy, and for the development of parenting interventions will be drawn out by the doctoral project, which will be one strand of multi-component Relationship programme work making use of Growing Up in Scotland data and its sample. The studentship will particularly suit those with an interest and/or expertise in: fathers, young people, families, parenting interventions and/or mixed method work.

Flouri, E., E. Midouhas and M. K. Narayanan (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, M. Redshaw and M. A. Quigley (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).

Parkes, A., J. Riddell, D. Wight and K. Buston (2017). Growing up in Scotland: Father-child relationships and child socio-emotional wellbeing. Edinburgh.

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, F. Oberklaid and S. Bremberg (2008). "Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies." Acta Paediatrica 97(2): 153-158.


What do young people understand by ‘sexual wellbeing’ and how do they seek to attain it?
MRC funded*
Supervisor: Dr Kirstin Mitchell

This qualitative study will explore how young people define and experience sexual wellbeing; their expectations of ‘good enough’ sex for their own encounters; what they wish they’d known more about at the start; and how they ‘learn’ (or otherwise) from early experiences. In particular, it will explore sexual problems; what young people see as problematic; and how they respond to the problems they encounter.

The research will contribute to the sex positive agenda in sex education policy by identifying structural, social and interpersonal mechanisms influencing early intimate relationships. The study will seek to identify both key messages and intervention approaches through which young people may be supported to attain sexual wellbeing.


Peer based interventions for young people to improve mental or physical health
MRC funded*
Supervisor: Professor Sharon Simpson

There is evidence for the effectiveness of peer-based interventions in reducing unhealthy behaviours in young people. Peer based interventions have been successful in reducing smoking prevalence, increasing physical activity and the stigma of mental illness. This project will seek to review peer based interventions and explore evidence around how best to identify and train peer supporters to inform likely intervention approaches in areas such as diet, physical activity, wellbeing or sexual health. Methods will likely include a systematic and/or theoretical review and primary data collection using qualitative or mixed methods approaches. 


Loneliness and social isolation and its impact on health
MRC funded*
Supervisor: Professor Sharon Simpson

There is a considerable body of evidence that social support, social connectedness/social ties have a positive influence on health. For example socially integrated men have half the risk of getting a myocardial infarction over 15 yrs. Loneliness or social isolation also impacts on a range of other health and wellbeing outcomes including increased risk of cancers, increased risk of complications during pregnancy, lower levels of self-worth and esteem and increased anxiety and depression. 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 (population to be defined by applicant) and consider how interventions involving social network and social support might address these issues. Methods used could include systematic and/or theoretical reviews, qualitative and/or mixed methods and analysis of existing cohort datasets.


Social media and young people’s mental health
MRC funded*
Supervisor: Professor Lisa McDaid

Social media has become ubiquitous in the lives of young people and recent research has demonstrated that it can have positive and negative effects on health.  Growing rates of cyberbullying are of concern, however, social media networks can also be an important source of social support for young people.  This PhD study would aim to explore young people’s awareness and perceptions of the impact of social media on their mental health and identify the ways in which social media could be harnessed to inform intervention approaches to improve health.  It would then seek to co-produce a social network intervention to counter the negative effects on mental health with young people and other key stakeholders, using a community-participative approach.


*Some of these could be wholly or partially College of Medical, Veterinary or Life Sciences (MVLS) funded studentships.