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Funded PhD Opportunity

Improving mental health among at-risk young people in a challenging border region.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Summary

The North West of Ireland has very high rates of mental health disorders and suicide. For many people, the symptoms related to these disorders start to develop during their late teens and early 20s. A number of recent studies have documented the increasing incidence of depression, anxiety and other disorders among the student population. In September 2015, we invited first year students to take part in the Ulster University Student Wellbeing study at the beginning of their studies. Over 1600 students participated providing a saliva sample to analyse the biological factors related to mental health disorders and 900 completed a survey to establish their rates of mental disorders. Similar to other recent studies in the UK and Ireland, we found alarmingly high rates of mental health issues among our students with over half of all students reporting that they had experienced a mental health disorder at some point in their life.

Another important finding from our study was that although many students reported problems with their mental health a low percentage of these students were willing to seek help using the on-campus counselling service or other available options. Research has suggested that there may be a reluctance among students to due to embarrassment, fear of stigma or a lack of awareness of their problems. Third level institutions are an excellent place to provide support and assistance to those with mental health problems but results from our study and others suggest that the current support may not be fit for purpose. The internet can play an important role in developing new, alternative interventions that may appeal to young people in particular. Young people use the internet to get information about their symptoms so it could be an important platform to develop new tools. Recently, internet-based programmes that deliver support online based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have shown promise in treating conditions such as depression and anxiety in other settings.

The primary goal of this study is to determine whether a recently developed web-based intervention (iCare) is effective in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. To test this, we will compare the level of symptoms of depression and anxiety in students in a randomised control trial comparing routine campus-based counselling with treatment with iCare. We will determine depressive/anxiety symptoms as well as quality of life before and after the interventions.

The results of this study will determine whether addition of the iCare intervention to the current mental health services would enhance the support options and increase help-seeking among students. We will also collect saliva samples from participating students so that we can analyse biological factors related to mental disorders and examine biological changes that influence adherence and response to the intervention. Saliva samples collected from participants will allow us to obtain information about biological correlates, specifically the genetic and epigenetic factors that are associated with mental illness in this population. Promising preliminary data suggests that epigenetic changes in DNA methylation patterns are associated with depression, and we will explore if these can be used for patient stratification and/or prediction of response to therapy.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • 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
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    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 fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Kieran O'Donnell

My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

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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Profile picture of William Crowe

Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe


Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
6, 7 and 8 March 2018


Applying

Apply Online  


Contact supervisor

Dr Elaine Murray


Other supervisors

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