Funded PhD Opportunity Promoting resilience, wellbeing and help seeking amongst athletes

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism


Background to the Project:
The capacity of organised sport to offer athletes the opportunity to address aspects of their health lifestyles, has been the subject of increased scrutiny over recent years. The proposed PhD study will be embedded within on-going mental health through sport intervention programmes, and is designed to examine the efficacy of certain forms of delivery to offer robust and measurable improvements in wellbeing of athletes and club members in Northern Ireland. The study will be trans disciplinary and will examine issues of isolation, resilience, help seeking, stress management, potential mental health concerns and support networks available.

Initially the successful candidate will systematically review international best practice around the use of sport to address issues of stress, resilience, mental health and help seeking in athletes. The intention thereafter is to undertake a feasibility study for the development of an intervention on the mental health needs of athletes in the context maladaptive sport culture that fosters mental toughness and blocks effective help seeking. The study will adopt a mixed methods approach, deploying established psychological questionnaires designed to identify specific antecedents to marginalisation and potential mental health concerns and a series of in-depth, semi structured interviews with a range of stakeholders, including the athletes and sport club members at the centre of the proposed study to ascertain its effectiveness.

Objectives of the research:
1. To consider the efficacy of current practice around the use of sport to address isolation and the needs of ‘at risk’ athletes.
2. In consultation with mental health support services, to develop a viable intervention that addresses the specific needs of athletes at risk of mental ill health.
3. To extend and refine current knowledge around social and psychological theory to address marginalisation and potential mental ill-health amongst athletes.
Skills Required of Applicant:
The successful applicant should be from a health or relevant social science background and be familiar with, or have an interest in, research on athlete wellbeing. Knowledge of measures of wellbeing and emotional resilience are essential, as is the ability to demonstrate use of semi-structured interviews, ideally with experience of conducting interviews within this sensitive topic area. The ability to communicate findings clearly and effectively through oral and written means is also a desirable quality for those interested in this opportunity.

Relevant References:
Bauman, N. J. (2016). The stigma of mental health in athletes: Are mental toughness and mental health seen as contradictory in elite sport?" British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol.50 No. 3, 135-136. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095570.

Breslin, G., & McCay, N. (2012). Perceived control over physical and mental wellbeing: the effects of gender, age and social class. Journal of Health Psychology, 0, 1-8. doi: 10.1177/1359105312438600.

Griffiths MK, Crisp DA, Jorm AF and Christensen H (2011) Does stigma predict a belief in dealing with depression alone? Journal of Affective Dis¬orders Vol.132: 413–417.

Kelly, L. (2011) 'Social inclusion' through sports-based interventions? In Critical Social Policy, Vol.31: 126 – 150.

Sebbens, J. Hassmén, P. Crisp, D. and Wensley, K. (2016), "Mental Health in Sport (MHS): Improving the Early Intervention Knowledge and Confidence of Elite Sport Staff ". Front Psychol. Vol.24, No.7. pp.911. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00911.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Dr Gavin Breslin

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #237354 when applying for this PhD opportunity