PhD Opportunities at the Department of Psychology
Applying for a PhD at the Department of Psychology
Applicants with suitable qualifications (i.e: 2:1 or 1st class honours degree in Psychology, Neuroscience or a subject relevant to the project) are welcome to apply for a PhD place (part-time or full time) to study in the Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IOPPN).
Before you apply online for a PhD, you will need to find a supervisor who is able to supervise you, and to identify funding.
Finding a Supervisor
Once you have identified an area of research, you will need to email the supervisor, preferably with your CV, to find out whether they are available. Supervisors are busy and get many requests so please check their research interests carefully rather than firing emails randomly at all members of the department. It would help if you already had some basic idea of a research project, although you will need to be flexible to fit in with the supervisor’s interest.
Please note that other departments in the IoPPN offers PhDs in a psychology related area, so if you don't find anyone in the Psychology Department you may find a supervisor in another department.
Unless you have already secured your own funding (e.g. from your government or via a scholarship), or you can self-fund (see below) you will need to find funding for your living expenses, tuition fees and costs of your research project.
It is also worth checking Research Council websites (for instance MRC,ESRC,BBSRC, Wellcome Trust) for their Open Competition studentships. Please note that all of these studentships are highly competitive.
We will also consider self-funders on a case-by-case basis, for instance if you have sufficient personal resources, or are already a staff member of IoPPN or SLaM, or your income is very secure.
Please note that the total cost of a full-time PhD is likely to be approximately £70,000 for home students for the three year duration (£5,250 tuition fees, an estimated £2,300 for research expenses and conference attendance, and £16,000 living expenses in London, per annum), and approximately £120,000 for overseas students (£18,200 per annum tuition fees). For further information on fees and living expenses.
You will need to provide a clear statement on how you propose to fund your studies in your application, and be prepared to provide supporting evidence of your ability to self-fund.
Once you found a supervisor and funding, you will need to be interviewed by a panel for a PhD place in the department. Occasionally it may be possible to be interviewed before funding is obtained. In that case you will be given a conditional offer, e.g. subject to funding being confirmed. If you are successful at your interview you will then need to submit a project approval form at least three months before your planned date of being offered a place on the PhD programme.
For application deadlines in 2017 (students can start in February, June or October of each year), please click here
The Department also routinely submits projects to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience's central PhD studentship call.
For general enquiries about PhD opportunities at the Department of Psychology, please contact us.
Self-funded research projects
1. Parkinson’s disease – are you worried? Cognitive, affective and motor interactions
2. Psychological predictors of acute renal graft rejection
Supervisor: Professor Richard Brown
Details: Parkinson’s disease (PD) is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases. Although typically seen as a disorder of movement, PD is associated with a wide range of non-motor symptoms including impairment in cognition and mood. Recently, interest has started to focus on anxiety, both clinically and theoretically. The project will address two questions: (1) What role do cognitive processes play in anxiety and anxiety symptoms in PD? (2) How does anxiety interact with motor control? Two series of experimental studies in patients with PD and age matched controls will first examine the ways in which ‘top down’ attentional control and stimulus-driven processing relate to anxiety, and also bottom-up effects of anxiety on attentional processes. The second set of studies will build on the first and explore the way in which anxiety (and associated attentional processes) impact on (and are in turn influenced by) motor control. These will be first studies to date to study the interactions between anxiety, cognition and motor function in PD. The results will both inform our understanding of the brain and its functional networks, and directly guide the development of novel therapeutic approaches for the management of anxiety and motor symptoms in PD.
3. Understanding Food Intolerance - Developing a new model and treatment
Supervisor: Dr Joseph Chilcot
Details: Renal transplantation is the most desired treatment for advanced kidney failure although is restricted due to the number of available organs and patient factors. In the first year of transplantation acute rejection of the donor organ affects around 25% of patients. Currently it is not known whether psychological factors are associated with this clinical outcome.
Whilst renal transplantation vastly improves patient outcomes, psychological factors remain significant issues impacting upon physical and mental well-being. To date the role of psychological factors in predicting kidney function and acute rejection following renal transplantation is not known. The primary aim of this PhD programme is to understand if psychological factors (depression, illness perceptions and personality) contribute to outcomes in renal transplant patients. The work will investigate psychological and clinical predictors of depression over the first of transplantation and aims to identify the pattern of these symptoms over time. The role of psychological factors predicting decline in kidney function and acute rejection will be evaluated.
It is hoped that this work would inform the development of future tailored psychological interventions in this patient population.
4. Investigating the interaction of attentional control and cognitive processing biases in the maintenance of worry and Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Supervisor: Dr Emma Godfrey
Details: Food intolerance (FI) describes many food-related symptoms, while food allergy is a specific reaction involving the immune system, although these terms are often used interchangeably. Non-immunologically mediated forms of food intolerance are becoming increasingly prevalent and can have a major impact on people’s health and lifestyle (Zopf et al. 2009). 35% of the population of developed countries report having a food allergy or intolerance (Rona et al. 2007). A UK study found that while 20% of the public claimed to have a food allergy or intolerance, biological reactions could only be confirmed in 1% of cases (Young et al. 1994). FI thus represents an increasing burden to individuals and society, while current research and management remains inadequate.
This PhD will explore how psychological factors, such as illness attributions, mood, stress, and disordered eating, are related to FI. 100 people with FI will be recruited from Guy’s Hospital Allergy Service to a quantitative study about food-related symptoms and their impact. A qualitative study will interview 15-20 of these participants to get a more in depth understanding. The results will be used to build a theoretical model that will guide development of a brief intervention to help people manage their symptoms more effectively. This will be tested in a pilot study to check its feasibility and acceptability to both people with food intolerance and those involved in their care
5. Cognitive processes that facilitate psychological resilience following remission from prostate cancer
Supervisor: Dr Colette Hirsch
Details: Hirsch & Mathews (2012) model of pathological worry posits that worry is maintained by an interplay between controlled allocation of attention (i.e. top-down processing) and more involuntary habitual cognitive biases, which are tendencies to preferentially process threat when threat and benign information are available (i.e. bottom-up processing). This PhD investigates the extent to which individuals with pathological worry, and community controls, can and do utilise controlled resources, either to reduce, or possibly augment the focus on threatening information due to involuntary habitual cognitive biases. One possibility is that at least some individuals actively seek to stop worry, by recruiting attentional control resources to direct attention elsewhere, but that these efforts are relatively ineffective in pathological worriers. However, it is also possible that others (especially those who believe that worry is uncontrollable or helpful) may not try to divert attention elsewhere and may even deliberately attend to threatening information, perhaps due to erroneous beliefs that worry is helpful. Furthermore, the extent of the respective contribution from controlled or involuntary processes remains to be precisely quantified, as does the extent to which controlled efforts can succeed in modifying habitual cognitive processing biases in both pathological worriers and community volunteers.
6. Cognitive bias modification and eating disorders: modifying attention to social threat and negative interpretation bias
Supervisor: Dr Colette Hirsch and Professor Rona Moss-Morris
Details: A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating and even after successful treatment, the psychological impact can be longstanding. While anxiety and depression are common and understandable responses following a diagnosis of cancer, individuals vary in terms of their psychological resilience once cancer is in remission. Why is this? One part of the answer may relate to the manner in which individuals process information. We hypothesise for the first time that psychologically resilient survivors have more benign thinking habits. For example we predict that they will attend to benign information when threatening and non-threatening information is presented, and generate benign interpretations when information is ambiguously threatening. We also expect that they will be more flexible when thinking about emotional information and have better control over what they choose to focus on. This PhD will provide an exciting opportunity to be at the cutting edge of cognitive research into resilience following remission from cancer. The research will be the first to assess the way in which psychologically resilient and non-resilient survivors process cancer related information and the extent to which any differences promote resilience. This will pave the way to develop future interventions to enhance psychological resilience among cancer survivors.
7. Social cognition as an enhancer of cognitive remediation functional outcomes in schizophrenia
Supervisors: Dr Colette Hirsch and Professor Janet Treasure
Details: People with eating disorders (ED) have anomalies in their sensitivity to reward and punishment. This is marked with attentional biases towards illness-related stimuli and signals of social emotions. We have found that people with eating disorders have high levels of insecure attachment and social anxiety with vigilance to adult facial signals of criticism, anger and dominance and inattention to compassionate faces. This sensitivity to threat and criticism and a harsh representation of the self is thought to both cause and maintain eating disorders. The aim of this translational medicine PhD is to explore the use of attention-bias modification (ABM) and interpretation bias modification (IBM) techniques, which have been used to treat anxiety disorders and addictions, and see if they can reduce anxiety in reaction to food and social stimuli in eating disorders, and to explore whether this could be translated into treatment.
8. Adaptation to the trauma of psychosis and negative symptoms: The role of trauma-related cognitive processes
Supervisors: Professor Til Wykes and Dr Matteo Cella
Details: Hallucinations and delusions are well studied clinical features of schizophrenia that contribute substantially to the illness disability. However, some of the more long standing and disabling characteristics of schizophrenia, such as poor social and functional capacity, seem to be associated more with cognitive symptoms. With pharmacological interventions proving largely ineffective in addressing these symptoms a number of psychological treatments were specifically develop to target cognitive symptoms. Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT) is the most used psychological intervention to target cognitive problems in schizophrenia and although designed to improve cognitive functioning its ultimate aim is to impact on social and every-day life functioning (Wykes et al., 2011). Recent studies suggest that coupling CRT with additional rehabilitative interventions may improve the quality and the durability of cognitive gains (e.g. Bowie et al., 2012). Most of these additional rehabilitative interventions are characterised, unlike CRT, by group work with this becoming a candidate factor to explain the improved outcomes. Practicing cognitive skills and strategies learnt during CRT in a protected and controlled social context may provide the right platform to improve confidence but also to practice on important social skills. Adding elements of social cognition training to CRT may therefore result in supplementary functional capacity gains that may also last longer. There is currently very little evidence systematically exploring this issue and large scope for research.
9. Self-management education for people with poorly controlled epilepsy: stakeholders’ perspectives
Supervisors: Professor Philippa Garety & Dr Amy Hardy
Details: It is well established that psychosis (e.g. persecutory beliefs) and related experiences (e.g. hospitalisation) can be traumatic and result in post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as behavioural and cognitive avoidance (Berry et al., 2013). Negative symptoms of psychosis (e.g. impaired motivation, interest and pleasure) have marked phenomenological overlap with trauma-related avoidance symptoms, leading to the view that negative symptoms may actually represent a psychosocial reaction to the threat associated with the experience of psychosis (Stampfer, 1990). However, there has been little investigation of the relationship between post-psychotic avoidance and negative symptoms, or the trauma-related cognitive processes that may account for any identified associations. The PhD programme will aim to address this in a series of studies. First, a cross-sectional design will be used to examine relationships between post-psychotic avoidance symptoms and negative symptoms in people affected by psychosis. Second, cognitive factors underpinning any relationships will be explored, including threat beliefs, overgeneral memory and narrative identity. Third, a prospective study will examine whether cognitive factors can predict change in trauma-related avoidance and negative symptoms at follow-up. It is anticipated that the research will assist in the development of targeted cognitive-behavioural interventions for negative symptoms.
10. Perfectionism in university students.
Primary Supervisor: Prof Laura H. Goldstein
Other supervisors: Prof L Ridsdale, Prof M Morgan
Details: There is a dearth of robustly-evaluated NHS-provided self-management education for people with epilepsy, and no commonly held view as to how to best develop epilepsy self-management skills. In the context of an NHS-funded trial of self-management education workshops for people with poorly controlled epilepsy that our group will be running, the current PhD project will use in-depth interviews and qualitative methodology. The project will investigate the expectations, experiences and preferences of people with epilepsy (and their carers) who do (~n=20) or do not (~n=20) participate in our courses, regarding the provision and development of epilepsy self-management education. The project will also investigate the views of other stakeholders and ~20 healthcare professionals nominated (e.g. neurologists, general practitioners, epilepsy nurses) by people with epilepsy participating in the NHS-funded study on how best to foster self-management of epilepsy by people with epilepsy, including their views about self-management education courses where relevant. Transcribed data will be subjected to Framework Analysis. The aim will be to identify common and differing themes identified from interviews with the different groups in terms of their expectations, experiences and preferences for approaches to fostering epilepsy self-management. Findings will be used to derive recommendations about the implementation of self-management education in the UK to accompany quantitative outcomes from the larger trial that will form the background to the project.
11. Longitudinal analysis of biological and psychosocial predictors of mental health outcomes in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) populations
Supervisor: Dr Katharine Rimes
Details: Striving for high standards can be associated with many positive outcomes. However, if an individual pursues high standards because of fear of failure or negative evaluation by others, and despite negative consequences, this is sometimes known as ‘negative’ or ‘clinical’ perfectionism. Such forms of perfectionism can cause distress, adverse effects on other areas of the person’s life, and are a risk and maintaining factor for psychological problems such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety (Egan et al., 2011). Addressing unhelpful forms of perfectionism in university students has the potential to reduce associated distress and help prevent future psychological problems.
The project will involve 1) Study assessing the prevalence and impact of clinical perfectionism in university students; 2) Experimental studies investigating processes likely to be contributing to perfectionism in students; 3) Evaluation of an intervention aimed at reducing clinical perfectionism in university students.
12. Psychological therapies services for lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals: Improving accessibility and service-user experience
Supervisors: Dr Katharine Rimes and Dr Qazi Rahman
Details: LGBT individuals are 3 to 4 times more likely to meet the criteria for common mental health disorders. several cross-sectional studies now show that factors such as discrimination and victimization are key promoters of mental health problems in sexual minorities. However, there is little work on how these factors result casually in mental health disparities between LGBT and heterosexual populations and almost no work in sexual minority youth (who are at greater exposure of precipitating factors). The aim of this PhD will be to address this gap by using several longitudinal data sets to quantify the causal relationships between established and novel biological, psychological and social promoters of distress in LGBT youth. In addition, the PhD will be able to separate out the effects of sexual orientation-specific factors (such as gender nonconformity) and general, minority stress-related factors (e.g., victimisation due to minority status). The PhD will provide an opportunity to train in managing longitudinal datasets and statistical techniques such as multilevel modelling and structural equation modelling.
Supervisors: Dr Katharine Rimes, Dr Janet Wingrove, Dr Qazi Rahman
Details: Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals are at increased risk for mental health problems. However, earlier negative experiences with health care professionals in relation to their sexual orientation can result in a reluctance to seek help for mental health difficulties. These and other potential barriers to help-seeking from psychological therapies services will be explored with LGB people who have not sought help for their mental health problems. Secondly, LGB individuals who have been treated in psychological therapies services will be asked about their experiences and whether any service improvements would be helpful. Qualitative interviews and questionnaire surveys will be used for both of these two studies. Applying the findings, strategies will be developed for increasing both the accessibility and service-user experience for LGB individuals with mental health problems in psychological therapies services. The impact of these changes will be evaluated, using randomised designs where possible.
13. Stress and physical health in sexual minority young adults
14. Compassion-Focussed Therapy for University Students
Supervisors: Dr Katharine Rimes, Dr Patrick Smith
Details: Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals have poorer self-reported general health, greater physical health morbidity and more medically explained symptoms than heterosexuals. One suggested reason for this disparity is that stigma / discrimination experiences cause stress which impacts on physical health through direct pathophysiological effects and by increasing risky health behaviours such as smoking and excessive alcohol. Increased rates of stress, medically unexplained symptoms and risky health behaviours are already apparent by young adulthood for LGB individuals. This PhD will used mixed methodology to investigate stress and physical health in LGB young adults and evaluate a new early intervention approach.
Compassionate focussed therapy has been shown to be effective in groups for patients with high shame and self-criticism (Gilbert and Procter 2006). Gilbert has also shown that perfectionism can be divided into improving oneself and into harming oneself, the latter being more pathogenic (Gilbert, Clarke et al. 2004).
Among students, the advantages of CFT are that it can help students cope better with failure experiences and the challenges of student life. Among those who had recently failed a midterm exam, for example, those with high levels of self-compassion were more likely to engage in adaptive emotion-focused coping styles, such as seeking support and acceptance, rather than merely avoiding their failure experience (Neff et al., 2005). (Neff, Hsieh et al. 2005). Self-compassionate students not only have less fear of failure in general but also are more likely to try again when they do fail (Neely, Schallert, Mohammed, Roberts, & Chen, 2009)(Neely, Schallert et al. 2009). Furthermore, self-compassion has been found to moderate students’ reactions to academic and social difficulties in the transition from high school to college (Terry, Leary, & Mehta, 2012) (Terry, Leary et al. 2013). Students with high levels of self- compassion appear to handle social and academic struggles more effectively, experience less homesickness and depression, and report less dissatisfaction about their choice to study at university.
Compassion also seems to be related to academic development. Neff, Hsieh, and Dejitterat (2005) (Neff, Hsieh et al. 2005)found that self-compassionate students were more likely to report having more intrinsic motivation to grow and understand new material (mastery orientation) and less likely to focus on avoiding negative performance evaluations (performance orientation) in their academic work. Finally, Breines and Chen (2012) (Breines and Chen 2012)used mood inductions to engender feelings of self- compassion for personal weaknesses, failures, and past moral transgressions. When compared to a self-esteem induction or a positive mood distractor, the self-compassion condition resulted in more motivation to change for the better, try harder to learn, and avoid repeating past mistakes.
However, a self-compassion intervention seemed to improve compassion but not mood or worry. Smeets and colleagues (Smeets, Neff et al. 2014)have shown that a brief 3 week self-compassion intervention for female college students led to increased self-compassion and self-efficacy and reduced rumination among intervention group students compared to control group students. However, no differences in mood or worry were found.
This PhD aims to a) examine the literature about compassion and compassion focussed therapy among students and b) test an intervention with university students to reduce depression and anxiety
Planned research methods and training provided:
a) Systematic review of compassion
b) Qualitative methods in order to improve acceptability
c) Quantitative data analysis in order to assess take-up and outcomes
Objectives / project plan:
Year 1: systematic review;
Year 2: focus groups to discuss acceptability issues for intervention; develop intervention for university students and pilot
Year 3: Write up results and disseminate in conferences
If you are interested, please contact Dr June Brown (June.Brown@kcl.ac.uk)
Breines, J. G. and S. Chen (2012). "Self-Compassion Increases Self-Improvement Motivation." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38(9): 1133-1143.
Gilbert, P., M. Clarke, S. Hempel, J. N. V. Miles and C. Irons (2004). "Criticizing and reassuring oneself: An exploration of forms, styles and reasons in female students." British Journal of Clinical Psychology 43(1): 31-50.
Gilbert, P. and S. Procter (2006). "Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self-criticism: overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach." Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 13(6): 353-379.
Neely, M. E., D. L. Schallert, S. S. Mohammed, R. M. Roberts and Y.-J. Chen (2009). "Self-kindness when facing stress: The role of self-compassion, goal regulation, and support in college students’ well-being." Motivation and Emotion 33(1): 88-97.
Neff, K. D., Y.-P. Hsieh and K. Dejitterat (2005). "Self-compassion, Achievement Goals, and Coping with Academic Failure." Self and Identity 4(3): 263-287.
Smeets, E., K. Neff, H. Alberts and M. Peters (2014). "Meeting Suffering With Kindness: Effects of a Brief Self-Compassion Intervention for Female College Students." Journal of Clinical Psychology 70(9): 794-807.
Terry, M. L., M. R. Leary and S. Mehta (2013). "Self-compassion as a Buffer against Homesickness, Depression, and Dissatisfaction in the Transition to College." Self and Identity 12(3): 278-290.