Reports of mental health issues in society are becoming increasingly prevalent. In the university setting, health professionals have seen a major spike in recent years in the increase of students reporting anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations (Association for University and College Counselling Centre Directors, 2016). In broader society, feelings of anxiety and depression are also on the rise in both men and women affecting about 18% of the population (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2018).
Sport and physical activity have often been outlets that individuals seek for its physical and psychological health benefits (e.g., Clow & Edmunds, 2014). Much research has focused on physical activity as a method to improve physical and mental health (Faulkner & Biddle, 2010). However, the social environment in sport is an important context to understand in that humans are inherently social beings and the need to affiliate is an innate fundamental human desire (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Deci & Ryan, 2000).
Sport participation can lead to adaptive social and mental health outcomes (e.g., increased self-esteem, increased belongingness, increased social support, and happiness; see Andersen et al., 2018 for a review). However, sport is not always an adaptive experience for all involved, and negative social environments in sport may facilitate maladaptive outcomes for participants (e.g., tension, anxiety, conflict, rumination, worry, burnout; Paradis, Carron, & Martin, 2014; Raedeke & Smith, 2001; Rip et al; 2006; Vallerand et al., 2003).
Further, feelings of loneliness has been cited as the number one cause of poor mental health (e.g., Mushtaq et al., 2014). The desire for belonging and to participate in social settings is one of the more enduring human characteristics as people by nature are social beings who seek out security through social interactions. Adaptive social environments in sport is a context that can potentially satisfy the fundamental human need to belong, whereas maladaptive social environments may hinder this process. Thus, the social environment in sport is a worthy context to consider as the group dynamics may pose psychological implications for mental health and well-being in athletes (Martin, Bruner, Eys, & Spink, 2014; Eys, Bruner, & Martin, 2018).
The successful applicant will study within the School of Sport and the Institute of Mental Health Sciences, within the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at Ulster University. The PhD studentship project will focus on a particular area of interest surrounding the social environment in sport and mental health in athletes. The successful applicant will have a background (masters degree preferred) in either sport and exercise psychology, social psychology, kinesiology, sport science, health sciences, or a related field. The successful candidate will have experience with different research methodologies (e.g., quantitative and qualitative).
The project aim is two-fold: first is to understand how the social environment and group dynamics influences mental health in athletes, and second is to uncover important mental health implications (both adaptive and/or maladaptive) of sport participation as possible areas to target for intervention and contribute to the multidisciplinary approach in understanding mental health implications from sport participation.
- 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.
- Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
- A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
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
- 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
- Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
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:
Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)
Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). 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.
Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)
Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). 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.
Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)
Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). 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.
Department for the Economy (DFE)
The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 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: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies
The Doctoral College at Ulster University
My research examined the ability of exercise to inflict damage to DNA and other biologically important structures. During my PhD I had the pleasure of being supervised by Prof Gareth Davison and Dr Ciara Hughes. Pursuing a PhD was never a goal from the outset of my academic career - I wanted to be a PE teacher and completed my BSc in Sport and Exercise Science. However, I carried on with my studies and completed a MSc in Sports Nutrition before enrolling in my PhD.If I could give advice to any new graduate student, it would be the nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Have a life outside work. Although your lab group is like your work family, it’s great for your mental health to be able to escape work especially when things don't go to plan.
Joshua Williamson - PhD in Sports Science