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Funded PhD Opportunity

An evaluation of physical activity induced reductions in epicardial fat thickness and atrial fibrillation incidence

Subject: Nursing and Health


Disturbances to the normal heartbeat are called arrhythmias, with Atrial Fibrillation (AF) the most common sustained cardiac arrhythmia seen in cardiovascular departments, occurring in 1–2% of the general population (Camm et al., 2010). AF is associated with increased risk of death from stroke with one in five of all strokes associated with this arrhythmia (Bairapareddy, et al., 2018).

Obesity is increasingly recognized as a major modifiable determinant of AF.  A growing body of data from epidemiological and clinical studies has demonstrated that excess epicardial fat (EAT) is consistently associated with the presence, severity, and recurrence of AF (Wong, et al., 2017).

Exercise in the form of physical activity is well known as the cornerstone treatment for obesity-related conditions, however there is a scarcity of studies published evaluating whether exercise training changes EAT thickness.

The aim of this PhD is:

1 - To establish the current state of knowledge on EAT and AF.

2 - To devise a suitable physical activity programme tailored for EAT reduction.

3- To establish the feasibility and preliminary effects of the activity programme.

4 - To disseminate new knowledge, inform clinical practice development and promote further research to prevent AF in our local context.

This project is best positioned within the Centre for Health and Rehabilitation Technologies of the Institute of Nursing and Health Research as it combines an ECR and established expertise across cardiac physiology and health research.

Our overarching methodology is health technology assessment as this is a systematic approach to the evaluation of health technologies and interventions. Within this approach four elements are planned:

1- A systematic review and meta-analysis

2- Development of a research project evaluating physical activities and EAT informed by literature, theory and stakeholder engagement,

3- Design of a pilot study

4- The knowledge outputs from the literature review will be guided by theory to inform a knowledge transfer plan to engage with relevant stakeholders (Consultant electrophysiologists, Primary Care health providers and people with AF).  This will involve reporting to these stakeholders as well as academic papers for publication and conference attendance.

AccessNI clearance required

Please note, the successful candidate will be required to obtain AccessNI clearance prior to registration due to the nature of the project.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Clearly defined research proposal detailing background, research questions, aims and methodology
  • A demonstrable interest in the research area associated with the studentship

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%
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    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 fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to:

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Profile picture of Professor Stenver Lin

Ulster University has very enhanced independent  learning.  I strongly recommend my students to go abroad to broaden their vision to get  new motivation.  I tell them that when studying at Ulster University, they will receive an abundance of knowledge, new experiences and strong technology to enhance their life.

Professor Stenver Lin - PhD Radiology

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Profile picture of Professor Chein Huei Kao

I am currently the Director for the Department of Nursing-midwifery and Women's Heath at NTUNHS.  I studied at Ulster University for 3 years and it was a very happy time.  Ulster is very good for study, not only in academic work but it also shows you how to be a good teacher.

Professor Chein Huei Kao - PhD Health Science of Nursing

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
19th/20th March 2020


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Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact supervisor

Dr Cathal Breen

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