Funded PhD Opportunity Extending the reach of a Virtual Reality System in collaboration with clinicians, people with Stroke and their carers

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Nursing and Health


Virtual reality (VR) has been suggested as a potential tool for use in stroke rehabilitation. However there are several barriers to its adoption in clinical practice including the usability of the system for people with stroke; and training for clinicians providing the systems. In this project the successful candidate will come from a Health Sciences background and work closely with a team of existing technical PhD students. The technical students will build the prototypes based on the usability testing completed by the clinical PhD student.

Our team has developed an adaptive VR rehabilitation system which uses physical motion (body and arm/hand motion tracked with camera sensors) as an active controller to engage with interactive sensory motor tasks in VR rehabilitation activities and games.1-2 Despite evidence of the benefits of VR rehabilitation for recovery of arm and hand function, and activities of daily living,3 the majority of the evidence is found in those with less severe motor impairments who are also without other common impairments such as cognition (found in 46% of people with stroke), inattention (30%), and vision (60%). These are common reasons for exclusion from VR trials.3 The latest Cochrane review on VR emphasised the need for usability studies when designing VR programs for rehabilitation purposes.3

Given the advances we have made in VR rehabilitation, it is important to adapt our interventions to meet the needs of greater numbers of people with stroke, in particular for those with more severe motor deficits, as well as common cognitive, visual and inattention problems. This is important as these conditions in a person with stroke will influence their ability to engage and adhere to the required repetitive sensory-motor practice that is needed for recovery of arm and hand function.

Therefore the aim of this project is to optimise our current VR technology to better meet the clinical needs for people with stroke by working closely with clinicians, people with stroke and their carers. The PhD student will recruit people with stroke, with a range of motor and co-existing deficits (cognition, vision, inattention). Our experimental method will adopt a multistage problem-solving process known as User Centred Design (UCD).4 This is a method used to determine how easy an application or device is to use and to identify issues that must be addressed to improve the design and functionality of the application/device for the group who stand to benefit from the intervention.5

The PhD student will work closely with people with stroke, their carers and clinicians as partners to improve engagement with the system by 1) determining the requirements of the system to address rehabilitation needs (e.g. explore intervention approaches such as mirror therapy) and 2) test the user experience and acceptability of several prototypes in people with stroke 3) develop training materials for clinicians and people with stroke 4) evaluate the final version of the technology development to ensure that it works in real world settings e.g. the clinical setting for people with stroke.

1.Charles D, Pedlow K, McDonough S, Shek K, Charles T. Close range depth sensing cameras for virtual reality based hand rehabilitation. Journal of Assistive Technologies, 2014 Volume 8(Issue 3), pp.138–149.

2.D E Holmes, D K Charles, P J Morrow, S McClean, S M McDonough.  Usability and performance of Leap Motion and Oculus Rift for upper arm virtual reality stroke rehabilitation, Ulster University, Coleraine/Jordanstown, UK.  Proc. 11th Intl. Conf. Disability, Virtual Reality and Associated Technologies. 2016, pp. 217-226

3.Laver KE.  Virtual reality for stroke rehabilitation. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (2), 2015 p.CD008349.

4.Brox E, Konstantinidis S & Evertsen G. User-Centered Design of Serious Games for Older Adults Following 3 Years of Experience With Exergames for Seniors: A Study Design. JMIR Serious Games, 2017 5(1), p.e2.

5.Lange B, Flynn S & Rizzo A. Initial usability assessment of off-the-shelf video game consoles for clinical game-based motor rehabilitation. Physical Therapy Reviews, 2009, 14(5), pp.355–363.

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.

  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area



    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

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

Watch Video


From my personal experience, I know Ulster University is extremely welcoming, and it provides students with fantastic facilities. In Nursing and Midwifery, it is renowned in the UK. So I sincerely encourage and advise you to consider studying at Ulster University as your top option.

Professor Chien-Huei Kao - PhD Midwifery

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 30 April 2018
Interview Date
May/June 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Suzanne McDonough

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #245674 when applying for this PhD opportunity