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Funded PhD Opportunity

Socialisation and psychological wellbeing: Modelling change in social network size and quality and psychological wellbeing from childhood to adulthood

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


For decades, researchers interested in childhood psychopathological risk have explored myriad possible aetiological markers. Genetic heritability studies (Cook, Stein, Krasowski, Cox, Olkon et al., 1995; Rhee and Waldman, 2002; Sharp, McQuillin and Gurling, 2009), neuro-chemical imbalance studies (Killeen, Russell and Sergeant, 2013; Rogeness, Javors and Pliszka, 1992), studies mapping the structural abnormalities of the brain (Krain, Castellanos, 2006; Pavuluri and Sweeney, 2008) and early prenatal development and birth complication studies (Buka, Tsuang and Lipsitt, 1993; Huizink, Mulder and Buitelaar, 2004) have each constituted distinct literatures dedicated to the exploration of childhood psychopathological vulnerability. A psychosocially oriented research literature has also been established. This literature, conversely, has pointed towards risk within family environments (Repetti, Taylor and Seeman, 2002), parenting (Webster-Stratton, Reid and Hammond, 2001), parental mental health and well-being (Cummings and Davies, 1994; Smith, 2004), and childhood adversity, abuse, neglect and trauma (Afifi, McMillan, Asmundson, Pietrzak and Sareen, 2011; Evans, Davies and DeLillo, 2008).

While each of these factors individually have been evidenced to contribute to the onset, development and maintenance of childhood psychopathological disorder, they in themselves have not fully accounted for the mechanisms by which risk translates into disorder. Risk, in and of itself, is simply risk; an individual or child, having been exposed to risk, rarely becomes ‘disordered’ or ‘dysfunctional’ immediately but instead reacts, adapts, functions and responds to risk gradually and becomes distressed when their risk related behaviour becomes maladaptive or dysfunctional (Bonanno, 2004; Bonanno and Diminich, 2012).

Psychopathology onset and development therefore may be more accurately represented by risk related maladaptive functioning than by exposure to risk alone. Childhood social functioning may offer one possible explanatory ‘route’ for articulating the possible mechanisms by which this childhood risk leads to disorder. A central feature of psychopathology, for both children and adults, is impaired social functioning. Defined partly as the ability to establish and maintain human relationships, social functioning is impaired among many children diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder (Lam, Filteau and Milev, 2011). Diminished social functioning has been found among children diagnosed with externalising disorders e.g. attentional deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; Lee, Falk & Aguirre, 2012), conduct disorder (Webster-Stratton, Reid & Stoolmiller, 2008), and a range of internalizing disorders e.g. generalised anxiety and depression (Rodriguez, Bruce, Pagano & Keller, 2005) and social phobia (Ginnsberg, La Greca & Silverman, 1998).

This project and the successful candidate will use data from valuable prospective data sources such as e.g. RADAR, Understanding Society, ALSPAC to (i) develop latent variable models capable of capturing change in social network size and quality in childhood and adulthood (ii) develop latent models that accurately represent the dimensional structure and change in psychological wellbeing in childhood and adulthood and (iii) evaluate the impact of social network size, quality and change on child and adult psychological and social functioning. References available from proposed Chair.

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)

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
  • Masters at 70%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Publications record appropriate to 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

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
Week commencing 12th March 2018


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Contact supervisor

Professor Jamie Murphy

Other supervisors

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