Funded PhD Opportunity Healthy bodies, healthy eyes? Quantifying the impact of modern lifestyles on children’s eye health.

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


The WHO has identified childhood obesity, resulting from imbalance between diet and exercise, as a serious 21st Century public health challenge. Concurrently, modern children’s lifestyles are promoting an unprecedented rise in short-sight (myopia) across the world. Ulster’s Northern Ireland Childhood Errors of Refraction (NICER) study has demonstrated that prevalence amongst UK teenagers has more than doubled in the last 50 years and is appearing in children at younger ages. This is alarming because myopia is strongly linked with sight-threatening diseases such as glaucoma and maculopathy, and the younger myopia occurs, the larger the magnitude of myopia that will subsequently develop and the greater the likelihood of future vision impairment. Rising levels of myopia will impose increasing costs on both the individual and healthcare services in the UK unless strategies are introduced to reduce the number of children becoming myopic.

However, before such strategies can be developed a better understanding is needed of the factors which promote the excessive eye growth characterising myopia. An individual’s risk for myopia is influenced by genetic factors (ethnicity, parental history of myopia). Eye shape in early childhood may also influence onset/progression of myopia. These myopigenic features are not amenable to modification. However, recent studies have identified environmental/lifestyle factors which influence myopia, including protective factors (spending time outdoors) and factors that increase risk for myopia (sedentary lifestyles, increased time spent reading).

To-date, these modifiable risk factors have primarily been assessed using self-report, rather than objective measurement. Robust quantitative data describing the inter-relationship between myopia, time spent outdoors, physical activity, reading, and other near vision activities (e.g. tablet/smartphone use) are not available for UK/Irish children.  We will use a cross-sectional design based on the NICER sampling framework to identify myopic/non-myopic children (12-13yrs) and younger children (6-7yrs) at high/low risk of future myopia. Refractive error, eye shape and genetic factors will be recorded. Modern ‘wearable’ devices will be used to objectively quantify participants’ exposure to outdoor light, physical activity (both using Phillips Actigraph) and near vision activities (using Clouclip). These measures will allow us to establish robust UK-specific data on which to base anti-myopia strategies and public health advice. Such strategies/advice may ultimately benefit both eye and physical health.

This project involves strategic collaboration between Ulster University’s Optometry and Vision Science Research Group and the Sports Science Research Institute, who have extensive expertise in quantification of activity. Applicants should be optometrists registered with the General Optical Council, or able to register with the General Optical Council within six months of commencing the project. They need access to a car and a full UK driving license.

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
  • Masters at 65%
  • 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



    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.

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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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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
6th, 7th or 8th March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Kathryn Saunders

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #245959 when applying for this PhD opportunity