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Investigating the role of trauma in eating behaviours and bariatric surgery outcomes

Start date

1st October 2023


1 fully funded 3-year PhD studentship, full time, funded by Department of Psychology, IoPPN


We are seeking a talented and highly motivated individual to undertake a fully funded 3-year PhD programme investigating the role of trauma in eating behaviours and bariatric surgery outcomes. The successful candidate will be hosted within the world-renowned IoPPN at KCL and linked to an NHS bariatric psychology service(s) to conduct clinical aspects of the research.

This PhD would be suited to someone with an interest in obesity research and the intersections between physical and mental health, and/or in health psychology or clinical psychology.


Bariatric surgery (also known as weight loss surgery) is currently the most successful treatment of obesity for individuals with a body mass index over 40 (or 35 with comorbidities). Despite significant medical advances in bariatric surgery, the psychological literature remains inconclusive and sparse.

Individuals who present for bariatric surgery often have complex psychological histories, including but not limited to exposure to trauma. Trauma history has been associated with increased rates of psychopathology in those who have had bariatric surgery, such as PTSD-symptoms and suicidality. Although many patients benefit from surgery, some display poorer behavioural outcomes post-surgery, such as recurrence of binge eating and substance misuse. These patients may also show suboptimal weight loss or weight regain.

Successful bariatric surgery requires individuals to make substantial changes to their long-term eating behaviours and to follow strict dietary regimes. Those with a trauma history may particularly struggle with these behavioural changes due to trauma-related nervous system dysregulation and, consequently, emotion dysregulation. Given that food consumption is a known mechanism through which some people regulate their emotions (e.g., ‘emotional eating’), it is possible that a history of trauma could potentially mediate or moderate this relationship. To date, little is known about the relationship between trauma, eating behaviours, and bariatric surgery outcomes.

The PhD:

This exciting PhD aims to build a psychological research stream to investigate the role of trauma in bariatric surgery outcomes (e.g., weight loss or regain, PTSD-symptoms); with a particular focus on potential mechanisms between trauma, emotion dysregulation, and eating behaviours.

The PhD projects will employ a mixed-methods approach combining different methodologies, also requiring the student to set up studies and collect primary data within an NHS clinical service (including applying for NHS ethics). We anticipate that the PhD will include a systematic review; quantitative data collection and advanced statistical analyses; and in-depth qualitative interviews. We will develop and refine the final research questions and studies with the successful candidate.

Depending on the candidate’s CV and background, there may also be scope for them to complete their professional BPS Stage 2 training in Health Psychology alongside this PhD (though note, the Stage 2 qualification is not funded through this scholarship and will incur fees at the candidate’s own expense).

This PhD will be co-supervised by Dr Emily McBride (Project Lead) and Dr Whitney Scott, in the Health Psychology Section, Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London (KCL).

For informal inquiries, contact Dr Emily McBride on


Dr Emily McBride & Dr Whitney Scott  

Entry requirements

Applicants should have (or be expected to obtain) a Bachelors degree with 2:1 honours (or Overseas equivalent). A 2:2 degree may be considered only where applicants also offer a Masters with Merit.

Award types and eligibility

Students will be fully funded for three years full-time, to include home tuition fees (studentship not available to Overseas applicants), annual stipend, and some research and travel costs. Overseas applicants may apply but will need to cover the difference in fees.

The annual stipend will be commensurate to the UKRI minimum rate which is currently £19,668 per annum for 2022-23. The rate for 2023-24 is yet to be confirmed.  

To be treated as a Home student, candidates must meet one of the following criteria:

  • A UK national (meeting residency requirements)
  • Settled status
  • Pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements)
  • Indefinite leave to remain or enter

Further information

School of Mental Health & Psychological Studies – Department of Psychology:

About the IoPPN (

Studying at the IoPPN (

MSc programmes at the IoPPN (link to

Research degrees at the IoPPN (link to

How to apply

Applicants must complete and submit an online admissions application, via the admissions portal by midnight (23:59 GMT) on Sunday 23rd April 2023.

On the ‘Choosing a programme’ page, please select Psychology Academic Research MPhil/PhD (Full-time).

In your application, you will be asked to include:

  • Academic Transcripts – where applicable, academic transcripts must be submitted with the online admissions application
  • Details of your qualifications (you will need to attach copies)
  • Details of previous employment - please include your CV
  • A personal statement describing your interests and why you wish to apply for this project. Please include this as an attachment rather than using the text box.
  • Academic References – all admissions applications require one supporting reference. If the applicant is relying on thier referees to submit a reference directly to the College after they have submitted thier admissions application, then the applicant must ensure that (1) their chosen referee is made aware of the funding deadline (i.e. 7 days from application deadline) and (2) that the reference needs to be sent from an institutional email address.

In the Funding section, please tick box 5 and include the following reference: EM-IoPPN-HP-23

Please note: there is no need to complete the Research Proposal section in your application as the project has already been set. 

You are welcome to email Dr Emily McBride ( for more information regarding the project and studentship.

If you have any queries regarding the application process, please contact the Education support team at

References must be received by the deadline for the applicant to be eligible. Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted.

Closing date

Sunday 23rd April 2023


Interviews will be held in mid May 2023



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