Funded PhD Opportunity A natural experiment to investigate the effect of urban tendency on physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism


Physical inactivity is a risk factor for numerous chronic diseases (Lee et al 2012). Active travel has been recognised as an important intervention with the potential to influence current physical activity trends, in a way that activity promotion campaigns do not (Ogilvie et al 2010). Epidemiological evidence suggests choices around travel behaviour are influenced by both the location of workplaces and urban design characteristics. In addition, restricting car use for travel to work may influence the decision to use public transport and/or active travel (Panter 2013). In September 2019, the Jordanstown campus of Ulster University will relocate to a72,000 sq ft new building in Belfast City centre. A recent report suggests that many companies are making the decision to move into city centre locations. This shift in preferred location is known as Urban Tendency (Jones Lang LaSalle. 2013). The Belfast Active Travel. Action Plan 2014-2020 suggests that by 2035 there will be 46,000 more jobs in the city and an additional 66,000 people living there. To date there has been little experimental research examining the impact of reversing the trend of locating large workplaces in out-of-town locations on health outcomes. For the 15,000 students and 3,000 staff this relocation and resultant decrease in availability and increase cost of car parking is likely to have an impact on travel modethereby implications for physical activity and sedentary behaviour Such ‘natural experiments’ provide an opportunityto investigate the impact of large scale changes in built environment on health outcomes(Craig et al 2012) The aim of this project is to investigate the impact and mechanisms of influence of environmental change, such as relocating a workplace, on active travel and physical activity. The proposed study will generate valuable information on how relocation of a workspace into a city centre location may impact on employee health behaviours such as physical activity, through changes in either active travel or recreational activities. Physical activity and sedentary behaviour will be objectively measured (using accelerometry) in staff and students during January- June 2019. In addition, validated surveys will be used to assess built and social environment attributes, psychosocial and demographic variables, and additional outcomes (physical functioning, health conditions). These measures will supplement the accelerometer data and allow analyses of environmental features with specific physical activity and sedentary behaviours. All measurements will be repeated at the same time the following year after the relocation has occurred(September 2019) when travel mode choices are likely to have been established. This PhD project would suit a graduate with an interest in physical activity and health. The successful applicant is likely to have experience in working with human participants and measuring physical activity and sedentary behaviour using objective measures such as acceleromters. References *Lee IM, et al (2012); Impact of Physical Inactivity on the World’s Major Non-Communicable Diseases. Lancet. 2012; 380(9838): 219–229. *Ogilvie D, et al (2010). Shoe leather epidemiology: active travel and transport infrastructure in the urban landscape. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2010; 7(1): 1-15. *Craig P, et al (2012). Using natural experiments to evaluate population health interventions: new MRC guidance. Journal of epidemiology and community health. 2012; 66(12):1182-1186. *Panter J, et al (2013) Incorporating walking or cycling into car journeys to and from work: the role of individual, workplace and environmental characteristics. Prev Med 2013; 56(3-4): 211-217 *Jones Lang LaSalle (2013) The new geography of office demand.1:The Urban Tendency *Belfast Strategic Partnership (2014) Belfast Active Travel. Action Plan 2014-2020.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed 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 £14,777 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 £ 14,777 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

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Marie Murphy

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #237364 when applying for this PhD opportunity