Funded PhD Opportunity Vitamin D across the lifecycle to inform nutritional policies

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Vitamin D is essential for calcium and phosphate metabolism and plays a major role in bone health(1).  Research has also shown that vitamin D has other non-skeletal roles including muscle function, immune regulation, brain development and anti-cancer effects(2).  The primary source of vitamin D is via sun exposure, with limited rich dietary sources available.  Ensuring optimal vitamin D status is now a recognised worldwide public health problem(3) and strategies are needed to reduce deficiency and insufficiency as well as prevent excess intake.

In July 2016, the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published new guidelines on vitamin D, recommending a reference nutrient intake (RNI) of 10µg of vitamin D per day throughout the year for everyone in the population aged 4 years and older(4).  This intake refers to all dietary sources of vitamin D including: natural food sources, fortified foods and supplements.

Currently there is a paucity of data from randomised controlled trials to inform specific dietary requirements for young children. A safe intake of between 8.5 and 10µg vitamin D/day is supported for this age group albeit no clear guidance exists. Factors such as sun-exposure, diet (including fortififed foods) and optimal need to be considered.

The aim of this proposed PhD is to investigate factors predicting vitamin D status across the lifecycle to inform nutritional policies. The main objectives of this PhD research will be met using a range of research methods, to:

*systematically review the literature to critically evaluate changes in vitamin D status and intake across the lifecycle, with a particular emphasis on the current evidence in children

*determine factors predicting status across the lifecycle (using all available ‘biobank’ data from previous studies)

*using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to map vitamin D status of a sample of the population and identify spatial variations that may exist.

*conduct a randomised controlled trial in children to establish the distribution of dietary vitamin D required to maintain vitamin D status throughout wintertime to inform dietary guidelines

The proposed research will extend the vitamin D research expertise of NICHE, building on the existing evidence-base and directly informing the REF Impact Case Study on ‘Vitamin D and Health’ for Biomedical Sciences.

The PhD researcher appointed to the project will be given every opportunity to maximise on training by participating in relevant workshops, specialist skills sessions, relevant online courses, PhD researcher initiatives and personal development activities organised by the Doctoral College. In addition, the student will be expected and strongly encouraged to prepare and present their research findings when appropriate at national and international conferences.


1.Wintermeyer E, Ihle C, Ehnert S, Stöckle U, Ochs G, de Zwart P, Flesch I, Bahrs C, Nussler AK. Crucial Role of Vitamin D in the Musculoskeletal System. Nutrients 2016,1;8(6), 319-335.

2.Wacker M & Holick MF. Vitamin D—Effects on skeletal and extraskeletal health and the need for supplementation. Nutrients 2013,5, 111–148.

3.Hollick MF, Chen TC. Vitamin D deficiency a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:10805–68 4.Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) (July 2016) Vitamin

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

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%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • 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
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 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 £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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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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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 18 February 2019
Interview Date
Weeks commencing 11, 18, 25 March 2019


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact Supervisor

Dr Emeir McSorley

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #342918 when applying for this PhD opportunity