Funded PhD Opportunity Investigating genetic and epigenetic mediators of response to treatment for depression.

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Prevalence of mental health problems in student populations worldwide is rising, with data from our own research conducted as part of the WHO International College Student Project, indicating that over half of all students in NI have experienced at least one mental health problem in their lifetime1. Alarmingly, only a small percentage of those reporting mental disorders were willing to seek help from campus-based or other available services1. Recently, internet-based programmes that deliver support online based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have shown promise in treating depression, and could be used to augment existing campus-based services.

As part of an initiative funded by the INTERREG VA Programme, Cross-border Healthcare Intervention Trials in Ireland Network (CHITIN), we have formed an interdisciplinary team with partners in NI, RoI and world-leading collaborators in The Netherlands to test the efficacy of a web-based intervention in improving the symptoms of depression in students. Considerable inter-individual variation is evident in response to psychological interventions for depression. Genetic variability, environmental factors and gene-environment interactions play a role in the aetiology of depression and are potential predictors of response to pharmacological treatment and psychological interventions 2-3.

The aim of this PhD project is to determine whether epi/genetic variability among individuals with depression can be used to predict response to web-based intervention using a personalised medicine approach. The project will provide training in a range of methodologies, including participant recruitment, sample collection, whole genome/methylome analysis, pyrosequencing and bioinformatics, leading to a highly sought after skill set for academic, industry and healthcare settings.

1.McLafferty et al. (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0188785)

2.Lester and Eley (

3.Roberts et al. (doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32650).

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
w/c 11, 18 and 25th March 2019


Magee campus

Magee campus
A key player in the economy of the north west

Contact Supervisor

Dr Elaine Murray

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #343397 when applying for this PhD opportunity