Athletes are an at-risk population for mental health issues. Between 24% and 68% report mental health struggles (Nixdorf et al., 2016), often due to the high stress and demanding environments that athletes operate within (Breslin & Leavey, 2019). Mental health and well-being in athletes is an emerging priority (Breslin et al., 2017). This rapid increase has uncovered the need for improvements in design, methodologies, interventions, and measurement (Breslin et al., 2017; Breslin & Leavey, 2019).

In addition, a conceptual and operational understanding of the intersection of mental health and sport is needed. Breslin et al. (2019) advanced an international consensus statement of mental health in sport and advanced a sport specific definition as “not merely the absence of illness, but a state of well-being in which those involved in competitive sport realise their purpose and potential, can cope with competitive sport demands and normal life stressors, can work productively and fruitfully, can act autonomously according to their personal values, are able to make a contribution to their community and feel they can seek support when required” (Breslin et al., 2019, p. 4).

This consensus statement further calls for “psychometrically validated, theory informed, and context appropriate measurement tools” (Breslin et al., 2019, p. 4) to assess mental health in sport as a critical next step in the process of better understanding mental health in athletes. Thus, the PhD project is informed by an internationally recognized network in mental health in sport.

The PhD project will follow a mixed methods measurement and scale development protocol (i.e., systematic review, qualitative phase, quantitative phase) that is widely utilised and accepted for developing new measures. The PhD project will produce a novel and valid measurement tool with the objective of being the international standard to assess mental health in sport.

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 successful applicant will have a strong background (masters degree preferred) in either sport and exercise psychology, kinesiology, sport sciences, social psychology, psychometrics, psychology, health sciences, or a related field. The applicant should demonstrate knowledge and experience in one or more of the following research methodologies: measurement and survey design, quantitative research using questionnaires, qualitative research using semi-structured interviews or focus groups, meta-analysis, and/or systematic reviews.

Evidence of publications, conference presentations, or other forms of dissemination of research is also an asset. The candidate will be supervised by a multi-disciplinary supervisory team and will be affiliated with the Institute of Mental Health Sciences (IMHS) with access to the IMHS Doctoral Training Hub.

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.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

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%
  • 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.

Funding and eligibility

Department for the Economy (DFE)

  • The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance of £15,609 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). The scholarship also provides £900 per annum as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation.
  • To be eligible for the full scholarship, applicants must meet UK residency requirements. This means that you must have been resident in the United Kingdom for the full three year period before the first day of the first academic year of the course.
  • EU nationals who do not meet UK residency are eligible to apply for a fees only award which will cover tuition fees (no maintenance support is provided).
  • Non-EU nationals must be ‘settled’ in the UK by the closing date of the application or have been ordinarily resident in the UK for purposes other than study for the past three years in order to be eligible for an award.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Profile picture of Joshua Williamson

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