Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brains to remodel and reorganize itself. This is of great importance to all of us in our day to day lives, as it allows us to learn new skills, create memories and make connections between the brain and the rest of the body(Hallett, 2005).  Neuroplasticity changes can be measured and the response of neuroplasticity to different situations explored, using non-invasive brain stimulation such as Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Non-invasive brain stimulation is being used to help us better understand the mechanisms of recovery in patients following stroke and acquired brain injury.

These techniques such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) or Transcranial direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) allow us to measure and potentially modulate changes in neuroplasticity in the brain. This technique allows the investigation of excitability changes in the brain that can help us better understand neuroplasticity (Dimyan & Cohen, 2011). This is of interest in a healthy population but is of particular importance when considering the important role neuroplasticity plays post brain damage such as stroke.

The mechanisms of neuroplasticity are beginning to be better understood however there is a number of key questions that need to be investigated in a healthy population to enable better clarity on neuroplasticity prior to this being applied in a stroke population.

Required now is a greater understanding of how to translate these discoveries into real benefit for people with movement difficulty after stroke. These include increased awareness of individual differences in response to neuroplasticity enhancing brain stimulation (Wiethoff, Hamada & Rothwell, 2014; Uehara & Hanakawa, 2015). By gaining insight into the variation in response and neuroplasticity changes, this information can be used to refine neurorehabilitation techniques to ensure maximal recovery following stroke. Thus the research will have direct relevance to the real world provision of rehabilitation for people after stroke.

Objectives of the research:

This project will enhance current knowledge by investigating the individual differences in the enhancement and measurement of neuroplasticity using non-invasive brain stimulation.

The use of non-invasive Brain Stimulation such as  Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) or  Transcranial direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to investigate individual response to brain stimulation

The investigating, monitoring and controlling for key variables that may influence an individual’s response to non-invasive brain stimulation

Methods to be used:

This project will utilise the Cognitive Neuroscience lab on Coleraine Campus, Ulster University. Experimental neuroscience and psychology techniques will be used in this study, such as non-invasive measures of brain stimulation.  These will include measures of brain connectivity, muscle activity and cortical excitability measured by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Other techniques such transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and eye-tracking may also be incorporated. Full training will be provided on all experimental techniques.

Skills required of applicant:

Candidates should have at least an upper second class first degree in an area with relevance to the research area for the studentship.  This includes, but is not exclusive to: Psychology, Neuroscience, Health Science, Physiotherapy and Occupational therapy.

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.

Funding and eligibility

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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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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I got my BSc in Psychology at Ulster and brought my interest in behavioural epigenetics to my PhD, testing the effect of prenatal maternal levels of socialisation on the mental health of children.My proudest moment was sending the email to submit my thesis in mid-September 2020, looking back on the 6 months I spent in lockdown, working for 10 hours a day sometimes, 7 days a week. I knew that in that instant, as I clicked 'Send', I'd made so many people proud of me but especially my wife, my clinician parents, my supervisors, and my friends in the doctoral cohort.

Erik Spikol - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

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I completed my BSc in Health Studies many years ago and studied part-time through most of my career in child & adolescent mental health completing two MScs in the process. I was privileged to have received a Public Health Agency funded R&D fellowship which allowed me to complete my PhD full-time. I conducted a clinical study focused on autism trait prevalence in people attending specialist gender services in Northern Ireland under the supervision of Professor Gerard Leavey, Dr Michael Rosato and Professor Hugh McKenna.I am proud to have finished my PhD during one of the most challenging years ever. I couldn`t have got through this without the support of my supervisors and experts by experience who supported my research. I`ll never forget the generosity of participants who allowed me some insight into their lives.

Katrin Lehmann - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

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I completed my degree in Forensic Psychobiology at Abertay University Dundee. I then completed a MSc in Health Psychology at Ulster University and published my research on the benefits of Yoga on the psychological well-being of first time mums, supervised by Dr Liz Simpson. I started my PhD at Ulster University following the completion of my MSc in Health Psychology.One of my proudest moments was having the opportunity to lead an international collaborative piece of research, spending time in Rome with Italian researchers, which led to a publication. I am very proud to have completed my PhD during a very challenging time through the Covid-19 pandemic and completing with 3 published papers. Doing a PhD is a transformational journey, and my supervisors played a crucial role in my success.

Deirdre Timlin - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

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I completed my first degree in Product Design at LYIT, in my home county of Donegal. After which, I completed my degree in Psychology and master’s in Applied Psychology at Ulster University.While this PhD may have been challenging, it has been equally one of the most rewarding resilience building experiences of my professional and personal life. My proudest moments were i) getting accepted as a PhD candidate, ii) the following year publishing my first paper, and iii) then successfully defending my project in the viva. I am extremely proud to achieve this PhD and to have successfully completed my doctorate despite the unforeseen challenges faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.I could not have got through this without the support and expertise of both my supervisors Professor Brendan Bunting and Doctor John Mallett. I would also like to thank my family and friends for all their morale support and agricultural input over the years. I would like to wish every one of my fellow

Kelly Trearty - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

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I started my PhD at Ulster University after completing my BSc Psychology degree at Magee campus. Returning to education to complete a PhD was a goal of mine ever since I completed my BSc Pharmacy degree in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 2006. My PhD research examined patterns of healthcare utilisation by older adults using service evaluation and longitudinal epidemiological data. Looking back at my PhD I have many fond memories including having the opportunity to spend a week in Utrecht University developing my longitudinal data analysis skills, presenting my research at the FIP World Congress in Glasgow, collaborating with the Medicines Optimisation in Older People team in Northern Ireland, and contributing to Project ECHO NI. I am incredibly grateful to the many friends and colleagues in the School of Psychology and Doctoral College who made my PhD experience at Ulster a thoroughly enjoyable one. I wish to extend my sincere thanks to my wonderful supervisory team Prof

Ann Doherty - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

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My PhD journey as a part-time student was not straight forward and I am delighted to have completed my PhD under the phenomenal supervision of Prof. Siobhan O'Neill and Dr. Edel Ennis. I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Masters in Addiction Studies in Dublin Business School, as well as gaining a PgDip in Applied Behaviour Analysis from NUI Galway. My PhD research looked at unemployment and mental health examining the process of being unemployed and seeking work. It also looked at suicidal ideation with people who experienced unemployment.A PhD part-time is hard, particularly as life will drag your attention off course from time to time! During the course of my PhD journey I got married, built a house and had a baby. There were definitely times when I didn't think I'd get here. My advice to anyone is 'keep going', it will be hard at times but it will be worth it. Surround yourself with people who understand the commitment needed and come up with some good one liners

Maeve Murphy - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

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My name is Nargis Khan and I am originally from Pakistan. I first came to Ulster University to study psychology at the undergraduate level and later joined a doctoral course which I have now successfully completed. I had a fantastic time studying in Ulster at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. Throughout my PhD, I was well catered for in terms of resources with access to well-stocked libraries full of friendly and helpful staff, funding to travel to conferences, the availability of various courses (e.g., statistics) and above all a supportive and stimulating environment which fostered my academic development. The seminars organised during the term time allowed me to present my work and hear about the research of others across a range of areas. I particularly appreciated the teaching opportunities available to me during my PhD. My supervisors were supportive and generous with their time. Other members of staff in the Psychology department also took a genuine interest in the

Nargis Khan - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience