Studentship opportunity

Critical Transitions & Children’s Food Trajectories: Understanding how eating habits change from infancy to the teenage years and the role of key changes in children’s lives.

This studentship is funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences

The University of Edinburgh
Social Work and Social Policy
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
26 April 2019

Project details

This research project proposes to explore how the dietary habits and eating patterns of children in the UK develop from infancy to early childhood, adolescence and teenage years, and how food trajectories may change or evolve in light of key turning points and critical transitions in children’s lives.

Understanding how diets and eating habits differ in the population, how they evolve over time as children grow, and how they respond to changes in children’s lives is important in terms of providing an evidence base for policy which focuses on family and children’s diets. Research into eating practices is notoriously difficult to undertake, and even more so when researching children and changes over time. There is no study to date which uses longitudinal prospective data to track children’s eating habits from infancy to pre-adulthood and which captures enough contextual information, such as communal eating practices within a family, changes in family circumstances and key changes in children lives. This study will be the first nationally representative UK study to explore how eating habits and patterns change and develop from infancy through pre-adulthood, and will provide a better understanding of how food trajectories develop and change; and the role that key factors, such as schooling, poverty and family changes, play on children’s diets.

This project will use ESRC funded Millennium Cohort Study data tracking a starting sample of 19,000 children from 9 months to 17 years old. This would be the first study to map food trajectories from infancy up to pre-adulthood at a national level which would also be able to reflect on how changes in children’s lives may affect their eating practices. Using an impact oriented publication and dissemination strategy, this research can inform future food and health policy and interventions targeted at families, school children, and adolescents.

About the institution

The student will be based in the Social Policy subject area within the School of Social and Political Sciences. They will be supervised by Dr Valeria Skafida (Social Policy) and Dr Isabelle Darmon (Sociology).  
Social Policy 
The student will be based in the Social Policy subject area. The Social Policy group is committed to developing comparative and cross-national research in its field. The Social Policy subject area, which includes the Global Public Health Unit [GPHU], is the leading centre for research and teaching in social policy in Scotland and one of the major centres in the UK. In the 2014 RAE the University’s submission to sub-panel 22 (Social Work and Social Policy, comprising Social Policy and Social Work staff in the School and health and family researchers from other parts of the University), was graded as having 40% of activity at world-leading (4*) level and 41% at 3*. The grade point average of 3.19 was ninth in the UK. With 99% of eligible staff submitted in the REF, these results gave the submission first place in the UK in The Higher (18 December 2014) ranking of research power. Teaching was assessed as ‘excellent’ in the last Teaching Quality Assessment and further commended in its most recent Teaching Programme Review in 2014. There is a strong postgraduate programme, with ESRC recognition, and staff make significant contributions to postgraduate teaching in SSPS’s Graduate School. There are close links with colleagues with cognate interests in other subjects within the School (Politics, Sociology, Social Anthropology and Social Work) and further afield, notably Education, Law, and interdisciplinary research centres such as the Academy of Government and the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. Social Policy has an active programme of subject and school seminars and of international contacts. The group has close links with policy communities in Scotland, and many of its graduates have occupied prominent positions in Scottish academia, voluntary agencies or the Scottish Government.  
Q-Step – Quantitative Methods
The School hosts one of 15 UK Q-Step Centres which specialise in the provision of advanced quantitative methods training. Social Policy provides the leadership for the university’s multi-disciplinary Q-Step centre. Depending on prior experience, the student would be encouraged to complete the following PG courses in their MSc year: Core Quantitative Data Analysis; Intermediate Inferential Statistics; Researching Contemporary Britain Using Longitudinal data; Research Design. Q-Step runs a seminar series which brings together our community of students and staff involved in QM research, where all PG students are encouraged to attend and present. AQMeN, now based in the School of Social and Political Science, also offers relevant training, as do other UK QM hubs, and the student could enrol on condensed courses on, for example, Missing Data Imputation and Joint Models, Sequence Analysis and Latent Class Analysis if necessary. For more information:
FRIED – Food Researchers in Edinburgh
The student would also join a vibrant community of food scholars. Both supervisors are part of a small steering group which runs the Food Researchers in Edinburgh (FRIED) network, with 200+ members – an interdisciplinary network of food scholars. We run a monthly seminar series, and specific events for postgraduate students, which the incoming student would be encouraged to participate in. International workshops with our French and Danish partners will provide opportunities for possible comparative joint papers. FRIED activities spill over into teaching, and the student would be welcome to audit relevant UG Honours options, e.g.: The Social Life of Food (convened by 2nd supervisor); Digesting Food Policy (convened by 1st supervisor); Geographies of Food. For more information:


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:
  • A good first degree (at least 2:1), preferably with a social science component and preferably with some training in social science statistics.
  • Demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of, quantitative methods and statistics for the social sciences. Any prior experience in using longitudinal methods would be desirable.
  • Have a good grounding in social science and an interest in sociological theories on habits and diets. Familiarity with key social policy developments around issues of food policy would be desirable.  

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 (PhD only) or a 1+3 (MSc and PhD) programme depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process, and candidates will be advised to undertake either option depending on their prior training to date. The programme will commence on 1st Sep 2019.  It includes:
  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2019/20) rate £15,009 full-time)
  • fees at the standard Home rate
students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year.

Other information

Knowledge exchange: We expect the student to invest time in developing vital knowledge exchange skills to communicate findings with non-academic beneficiaries such as policy makers and practitioners as well as lay audiences. The student will also be encouraged to train in innovative visualization methods to present complex quantitative findings in an accessible way. The student will also be encouraged to undertake training provided by the UoE Institute of Academic Development in writing for lay audiences, and in speaking to the media and writing press releases, and to seek out opportunities to present to and write for non-academic audiences.

How to apply

  1. Applicants register on GradHub and fill out EO data (this is a requirement of the application process)
  2. Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Application form (download from button above)
  • Academic transcripts
  • 2 References
  • 2-page CV
  • 1-page cover letter explaining your interest in and suitability for this project.
  • A completed exercise on quantifying eating habits (click to download Word worksheet). This document should be completed and uploaded as an “additional document” with a naming convention as follows *name/supervisor/institution/competition/date*

Applicants submit application through GradHub (button below)

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by 3rd of May 2019. Interviews will take place on the 10th of May 2019. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within the University of Edinburgh’s Social Policy subject area.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Dr Valeria Skafida