Funded PhD Opportunity Visual and ocular side effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication in children and adults/Healthy Communities.

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Across the Western world an increasing trend has been observed in the prescribing of medication to manage conditions such as ADHD, particularly in young males. In the UK, an 800% increase was observed in the prescribing of methylphenidate, dexamphetamine/lisdexamphetamine and atomoxetine between 1995-2015 for ADHD (Renoux et al 2016).  This dramatic increase has been associated with an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with ADHD during this period.  A wide range of systemic side effects are associated with these medications including effects on the visual system.

Limited data exist describing the ocular side effects of these medications and there are suggestions that methylphenidate (most commonly prescribed medication for ADHD, also branded as Ritalin or Concerta) is associated with reduced accommodation (poor focusing leading to reduced near vision), pupil dilation and dry eye in addition to an increased risk of angle closure glaucoma (Larrañaga-Fragoso et al 2015, Tractman 1992, Whitman et al 1997). In one month (August 2017) in NI, 3749 prescriptions for methylphenidate were issued by GPs. It is not clear however, if these were issued for adults or children, however, this medication is licensed only for ADHD and it is likely that a large proportion of these prescriptions were for individuals under 16 years.  In addition to the problems associated with education in children with ADHD, the side effects of medication could compound behavioural problems impacting further on their education.

The proposed project aims to provide comprehensive visual assessments of children and adults with a diagnosis of ADHD who have been prescribed medication and compare those findings with an age and diagnosis matched group who are not taking prescribed medication in addition to a typically developing control group.

These findings will help parents, teachers and children themselves make informed decisions regarding this controversial treatment. It will allow parents, educators and eye professionals of those children who have been prescribed these medications to ensure any visual problems associated are addressed preventing poor near vision impacting on learning.

In order to further investigate the impact of this medication, additional measures of severity of key symptoms and behaviours, such as hyperactivity, conduct disorder, defiance disorder, and  depression and anxiety, will be conducted with all participants,  using the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Rating Scale (VADRS - Wolraich, et al., 2003) and The Connors 3rd Edition (Connors et al. 2011). Both these psychological assessment tools, completed by parents and teachers of children aged 6-18 years, are designed to measure the severity of ADHD symptoms, and comorbid behaviours such as oppositional defiance disorder and conduct disorder, as well as learning problems, peer relationships and family relationships.

The research questions to be addressed are:

(1) How does the prescribing rate of methylphenidate in NI compare with that in other parts of the UK.

(2) Do children and adults prescribed methylphenidate for ADHD have a similar visual status to those with the condition who have not been prescribed medication?

(3) If visual anomalies are present, could near vision intervention improve visual behaviours?

(4) Does the presence of near vison abnormalities affect symptom and co-morbid behaviour severity?

The applicant must be a GOC registered optometrist.

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 Julie McClelland

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #345292 when applying for this PhD opportunity