Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates For the latest information and advice see: Coronavirus (COVID-19) frequently asked questions
Sgoil Cheumnaichean Saidheans Sòisealta na h-Alba

Examples of successful Studentship applications


Professor Chris Carman

Politics and International Relations

University of Glasgow

The Role of the News Media in Perpetuating Electoral Fraud Myths in the UK and US

This project seeks to examine the British and American news media’s role in perpetuating myths about voter and electoral fraud in UK and US elections. The central research questions include whether news coverage is based more on fact or elite rhetoric, the role of tabloids and the partisan press in the UK relative to the US, what policies are linked to fraud (e.g., immigration), and the particular frames used by the media. The project will involve extensive data collection of coverage of recent UK elections, the 2020 US presidential election, and the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. The analysis will be carried out mainly using Quantitative Text Analysis, in particular unsupervised topic modelling and structured topic modelling. The analysis will also involve advanced count data regression modelling to assess variations in news attention to fraud. The project will be linked to a large-scale, multi-strand research project involving information environments in the UK and US surrounding voter and electoral fraud. The outputs will contribute to the planned knowledge exchange, impact, and dissemination programmes involving government officials, journalists, policy stakeholders, and public interest pieces.

Dr Zachary Greene

Politics and International Relations

University of Strathclyde

Intra-Party Division and Multi-level Politics

Devolved powers for multiple levels of government cause tensions between groups with similar ideologies, but competing regional or national identities. Distinct regional priorities likely encourage disagreements between members of local and national party representatives, particularly in the face of strong independence movements. Independence referendums in Catalonia, Scotland or Quebec highlight how regional movements hold substantial consequences for politics at both regional and national levels. Despite the importance of devolved powers and the ways parties facilitate the growth of new issues and positions, scholars have yet to thoroughly explore the relationship between regional and national preferences within the same organizations. Do debates within regional parties mirror national debates? How do regional issues emerge? Do internal party rules and institutions resolve or exacerbate tensions between regional and national goals?

Working with the Party Congress Research Group, this project will answer these questions with novel data from regional party conferences in Canada, Germany, Scotland and Spain to evaluate internal divisions and their consequences for regional competition. Party conferences offer distinct insight into internal debates as conferences often select leaders and vote for motions eventually included in election programmes. The content of these debates, therefore, offers rich information on regional divisions, which until recently was difficult to rigorously examine cross-nationally due to the resource and time constraints associated with content analysis. To analyse the large amount of textual data from these meetings, the student will train in advanced tools recently introduced to political research for computer assisted content analysis using machine learning. These tools will enable the researcher to study internal party dynamics such as changes in internal preferences, emphasis on independence or other issues, and even internal factional groups. The results from such a study offer compelling answers to questions on how distinct regional issues and preferences influence policy development in representative democracies.

Professor Hill Kulu


University of St Andrews

Residential Context and Childbearing: Application of a Spatial Multilevel Multiprocess Hazard Model to Study Contextual Determinants of Fertility

Fertility levels are below replacement level in most industrialised countries and have further declined in recent years. However, they vary significantly within countries by residential context. Fertility is high in rural areas and small towns and low in large cities. The reasons for spatial variation in fertility remain unclear. Some studies argue that fertility levels vary between places because different people live in different settlements. Others emphasise the importance of factors related to immediate living environment. The role of selective migrations has also been discussed.

This PhD project will investigate childbearing patterns by residential context in Britain, a country with a significant spatial fertility variation. The objectives are: First, to determine the extent to which spatial variation in childbearing patterns is attributed to compositional characteristics and selective migrations, and what role contextual factors play. Second, to investigate how contextual factors influence individuals’ childbearing behaviour. Third, to develop a spatial multilevel multiprocess hazard model to properly measure the effect of living environment on individuals’ childbearing behaviour. An understanding of how residential context influences fertility is essential to improve our understanding of the causes of low fertility in industrialised countries.

The project will develop and apply a spatial multilevel multiprocess hazard model to data from the ONS Longitudinal Study, the Scottish Longitudinal Study and the British Household Panel Survey to determine how contextual factors shape individuals’ childbearing behaviour. The performance of the proposed approach will be compared to that of conventional methods using maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. The project will provide rich and reliable information on spatial fertility variation in Britain and will improve our understanding of the causes of high fertility in some areas and low fertility in others. The developed method could be applied to study contextual determinants of other domains of individuals’ behaviour (e.g. health, employment, residential relocations).

Dr Caroline Brown

Human Geography

Heriot Watt University

The right to play – a comparison of rural and urban outdoor play opportunities, environments and experiences

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out a series of universal children’s rights, including Article 31, known as the right to play. Play is central to children’s health and development, and outdoor play in particular offers a range of benefits including enjoyment, socialisation, physical activity, learning and skills acquisition.  There are, however, growing concerns that children’s lives are becoming ever more dominated by indoor, screen-based, sedentary activities at the expense of participation in active, outdoor pursuits.  At the same time, it is not yet clear how the different types of environments available to children across the urban-rural gradient impact on outdoor play.  The project will explore and compare urban and rural children’s outdoor play participation, environments, and experience using a mixed methods approach.  This will consist of: 1) secondary analysis of existing social survey data on outdoor play and outdoor activity participation in childhood using both cross-sectional and longitudinal analytical techniques; and 2) qualitative case studies using visual methods to explore young people’s outdoor play environments and experiences in urban and rural contexts. The student will benefit from access to an interdisciplinary supervisory team with considerable experience of supervising PhD students to timely completions and of supervision and research in this subject area.  In addition, the inclusion of a nominated supervisor from the James Hutton Institute will offer the student insight into policy-focused academic research outside the university setting and direct experience of the science-policy interface, including opportunities for knowledge exchange with policymakers and practitioners working on promoting outdoor access.

Dr Mirko Moro


University of Stirling

Investigating the impact of public interventions to reduce drinking water lead contamination on infant health in Scotland

Labour and health economists appreciate that positive birth outcomes (such as higher birth weight) and infant health are strong predictors of successful academic and labour outcomes later in life. Lead is a very toxic element that can have adverse consequences on babies and children’s health, even at low concentrations. There are different sources of lead exposure. Tap water and leaded-petrol were two of the most common in the UK until mid 1990s. Lead service pipes were widely used around the world to connect homes to street water mains. Lead is dissolved from the interior of the pipe and ingested when drinking from the tap. We propose to examine how specific interventions to reduce exposure to tap water lead in Scotland influenced pregnancy outcomes (e.g., live births, birth weight, stillbirths) and infant mortality. The approach to be taken combines historical and administrative health data with modern statistical techniques. The analysis we propose will study two water treatment programmes that successfully reduced lead content in tap water in Glasgow in 1978 and 1989. The aim is to develop causal estimates of lead removal on the universe of births and infant deaths in Glasgow by employing difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity design. Babies and young children worldwide are still routinely exposed to potentially hazardous levels of lead today, from multiple sources, both in developed (see Flint, Michigan, USA) and developing countries. Being able to identify the health effects of exposure to lead is thus very important. This project can be seen as the first building block towards a broader research programme about the short- and long run impacts of lead removal in Scotland that will be expanded to include further urban areas and acquisition of other administrative datasets, such as education and crime, will be investigated further by the team.

Dr Alastair Rutherford


University of Stirling

“A Life Lived for Others”: Volunteering Participation and Transitions in Older Age

Volunteering participation is bimodal in age, peaking both in the early 20s and in the years around retirement. Increases in life expectancies, leading to an ageing population in the UK, might be expected to be associated with increasing voluntary participation in retirement. However, changing retirement ages, more flexibility in retirement, policies to encourage longer working lives, and family caring responsibilities are increasing the competing pressures on the time of potential volunteers in older age. At the same time, overall volunteering participation rates have been stable or falling despite significant policy and sector effort to encourage increased participation.

Volunteering in older age is more concentrated in social care activities and organisations (Price, 2007). Motivations for volunteering also differ by age: older volunteers are more likely to be motivated by altruistic or social motivations, and less by material or investment concerns (Fischer and Schaffer, 1993; IVR, 2007). While volunteering now plays a critical role in public service provision through a range of voluntary organisations, there are also significant benefits to older people themselves from voluntary participation. Several studies have shown that volunteering in older age is associated with reduced mortality and improved quality of life (Lum & Lightfoot, 2005; Piliavin & Siegl, 2007).

The most useful data for understanding patterns of volunteering is longitudinal because participation is a dynamic process: individuals transition into and out of volunteering; employment; and caring responsibilities. While volunteering participation at the population level is relatively steady, analysis of longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) shows that there is significant turnover. Nearly 85% of adults volunteered at least once in a ten year period, with most starting and stopping at different points in their lives (Kamerade, 2014). Indeed, transitions in volunteering are particularly likely in older ages. For instance, retirement and other employment and family transitions associated with ageing might encourage new volunteering activities, but older age is also a time when participation might cease, particularly due to deteriorating health or challenges with mobility.

This PhD project will use longitudinal data drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to explore the life events which predict changes in volunteering participation in older age. In particular, the interaction of retirement decisions and participation decisions will be explored, comparing how variations are related to different social circumstances such as occupations.  The longitudinal data will allow us to examine whether falling voluntary participation is explained by changes in overall participation levels, or by displacement of volunteering participation to later life due to changes in patterns of retirement and caring.

Zoe Russell



Influenced by scholars who have demonstrated the mystifications and discursive strategies used to hide many of the realities of socio-natural relations under capitalism, I will investigate the social construction of heritage and nature-society relationships in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands.

The research will analyse dominant discourses and practices surrounding nature and landscapes and the role of place as a source of culture and identity (Escobar, 2008). Wester Ross provides the focus for a situated-historical study of heritage, culture, nature and conservation as the region is currently understudied, despite fruitful opportunities for research. Wester Ross was awarded UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in 2016, a conservation accolade promoting sustainable human environment relationships. Furthermore, the region has been consistently identified by national actors since post-war years for statutory conservation designations, deemed the last great wilderness of Scotland. This project analyses socio-natural relations within this context and in relation to land reform policy and the cultural politics of Gaelic language revival.

The research questions are:

  • How do dominant discourses constitute ‘common-sense’ understandings of Highland landscapes as ‘natural’ and ‘wild’?
  • In what ways do these discourses inform associated policies and practices surrounding land use, resources and socio-natural relationships?
  • How are these negotiated and contested?
  • What are the implications for policy and practice in natural heritage conservation and socio-natural processes in this context and beyond?
  • Can alternative understandings, sensitive to socio-natures, resource-based rights and justice issues on a global scale inform future approaches?

Mary Allison



Despite the established physical and mental health benefits of physical activity (PA), the prevalence of physical inactivity has been described as ‘pandemic’. In 2014, the Scottish Government launched a National Walking Strategy that identified increased walking as a key mechanism through which the population’s PA levels can improve.  Paths for All are a key partner in delivering the walking strategy, and their annual 8-week Walk at Work Step Count Challenge (SCC) is a flagship activity.  Building on previous collaborative work, the overall aim of this PhD is to work with Paths for All to undertake a realist evaluation of the SCC in order to understand for whom, under what conditions and how the programme is effective in changing PA behaviour.

In line with realist evaluation, the proposed project will address 3 objectives.  Firstly, in order to develop a programme theory (Context-Mechanisms-Outcome) of how the SCC may lead to increased PA, the student will undertake a realist systematic review of existing literature on work-based interventions similar to SCC, and interview key stakeholders.  Secondly, in order to test the programme theory the student will undertake a longitudinal qualitative study with SCC participants to gain a nuanced understanding of their experience.  Thirdly, the programme theory will be revised based on the findings of the longitudinal study and stakeholder input.

The supervisors have a strong mix of experience and skills relevant to the project.  The student will join thriving research centres focused on PA and public health research (PAHRC and SCPHRP) and benefit from the world-class training and infrastructure facilities at the University of Edinburgh. The project team will work with Paths for All to produce useful outputs that can inform practice, support funding applications, and influence policy. It is anticipated that the project will result in at least 3 high quality academic outputs.

Dr Jonathan Delafield-Butt

School of Education

University of Stirling

Children move with their own agency to create experiences they enjoy and learn. Self-generated movement is a hallmark of ‘sensorimotor intelligence’, enabling learning the consequences of one’s actions. It forms a bedrock of experience that expands in social collaboration to make sense of the world. We create stories in movement in what educational psychologist Jerome Bruner named ‘narrative cognition’. However, evidence demonstrates children with autism spectrum disorder exhibit a subtle, but significant disruption to self-generated movement, thwarting its success, creating distress and isolation, and consequent social and emotional autistic symptomology. This project will advance novel technology to assess this disruption, and provide a possible new tool for the early detection of autism. This ESRC Interdisciplinary PhD will advance the state-of-the-art in child development and autism (Delafield-Butt) with precise human movement analysis (Rowe) to develop and deploy bespoke, lightweight wearable sensors

(Andonovic) for the ecological characterization of the autism motor signature in very young children and infants. The project will explore, develop and deploy a new, ecological serious game paradigm employing bespoke feather-weight wearables suitable for very young children. Data will be collected from children at-risk for autism, and typically developing, as well as through a whole-population birth cohort study in Madeira, with whom the project team is collaborating. We will produce new technological innovation to address gaps in theory in the aetiology of autism, and satisfy practical need in early years education and care to identify children with autism spectrum disorder before current methods allow. These data will inform our scientific and professional understanding of the role of the motor disruption in autism, and provide a possible new target for treatment.

Professor Emily Cross

School of Psychology

University of Glasgow

The overarching aim of this PhD project is to develop a library of naturalistic emotional movements generated by expert dancers, and then implement and test the communicative value of these movements in artificial agents in naturalistic social settings. This studentship is richly interdisciplinary in nature, drawing from the social sciences, performing arts and engineering to tackle a major challenge that falls under the remit of the RCUK Digital Economy theme: namely, to improve artificial agents’ social acceptance and usability by providing them with emotionally expressive behaviours that are instantly readable by human interaction partners. This project comprises three main studies, with the first two primarily involving social sciences research (with performing arts elements as well), and the third study combining knowledge generated from the social sciences and performing arts with computing science. For the first third of the project, the student will work closely with the Scottish National Ballet and motion tracking technology to create and validate a rich library of emotions expressed via bodily movement. Next, the student will develop expertise with quantitative and qualitative behavioural methods (including eye tracking, self-report measures of affective valence), as well as working with different participant samples (expert and naïve dancers) to further identify how emotion is expressed via bodily movements, and which elements of a body in motion convey the most meaningful information about a mover’s emotion. The final third of the project applies insights gained from the first two parts to the computing science and robotics world, by implementing insights gained into the movements and behaviour of physically present robots and virtual representations of avatars. Together, the project provides an ideal and exciting opportunity to train a PhD student who is equipped with the theoretical and technical skills to work between the social sciences, arts, and technology.

Professor Ade Kearns

Social Work and Social Policy

University of Glasgow

Developing a Behavioural and Experiential Understanding of Fuel Poverty: Improving the Effectiveness of Policy and Practice for Home-Warmth and Energy-Efficiency Interventions

Fuel poverty persists, despite fifteen years of policy attempts to eradicate it.  A new Scottish Government fuel poverty strategy proposes a revised fuel poverty definition that uses the concept of health vulnerability and a post-housing costs measure of incomes to better target affected households.  Alongside income, fuel prices and energy performance, occupant behaviour has been recognised as a fourth driver of fuel poverty yet few solutions have been identified to address this other than the provision of advice to occupants after warmth and energy interventions carried out within the home. Meanwhile, energy efficiency interventions can be ineffective in reducing fuel payment difficulties.

This research attempts to develop the behaviourist perspective on fuel poverty and to extend the notion of vulnerability beyond health risks from cold homes to include social, financial and psychological vulnerability.  A partnership between the University of Glasgow and the Energy Agency, a charity that works with Scottish Government and local authorities to provide advice and warmth and energy installations to householders, will enable a mixed-methods pre- and post-intervention study of recipients.  In-depth interviews with occupants will be combined with environmental monitoring and diary keeping to investigate how people understand and value warmth and energy use, what other factors affect their use of heating and energy consumption, how their reality of heating regimes and fuel costs compare to official norms, and what differences interventions make to their fuel poverty experience and to their health.

The research is intended to provide a broader interpretation of fuel poverty beyond simple financial and energy efficiency metrics, to assess some of the key criteria within the official definition of fuel poverty vulnerability, to inform better targeting of vulnerable households, and to make existing interventions more effective as well as suggesting additional ways to assist people and reduce their risk of fuel poverty.

Dr Josephine Ross


University of Dundee

What happens when we make art together? The impact of engaging with the arts on infant’s well-being, development and attachment relationships.

This project will embed a Psychology PhD student within the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre in order to study the impact that the art participation has upon the social well-being of young children and how shared art experiences may help to build strong attachment relationships. This will be looked at from two perspectives; studying the impact upon families with children who attend participatory arts activities as part of the DCA activity programme, and measuring the efficacy of a specific arts psychotherapy intervention which targets families with young children where the attachment relationships are considered vulnerable. The project aims to look for details of the behavioural changes following these participatory and therapeutic arts experiences in order to pick apart what is happening when young children make art together with their carers.

This project builds on existing collaboration between Dr Ross and an Art Psychotherapist specialising in early-years interventions. Strong empirical evidence links the quality of parent infant attachment to a variety of mental health outcomes, in infancy and beyond. Although parent-infant art therapy has a strong theoretical basis in attachment theory, the existing evidence base for this work relies on isolated case studies. To address this research gap, we propose a relatively large controlled trial including the provision of eight parent-infant attachment groups (N = 64). Outcome measures will be derived from a tool based on close

observation of the parent-infant dyads and through standardised measurement of attachment to allow thorough statistical assessment of the extent to which art therapy is an effective early mental health intervention, for whom, and why. In consultation with the DCA, these evaluative and observation tools will also be refined to be workable within a community participatory arts setting. This will address questions of what impact the DCA’s arts programme is having and how this can be measured.

Dr Yvette Taylor


University of Strathclyde

Exploring issues of social equity and learner identities in the phenomenon of the ‘bottom reading group’.

The aim of this collaborative PhD with Renfrewshire Council is to investigate the under-researched phenomenon of the ‘bottom reading group’ in Primary education, from the perspectives of identity and social equity. It will also co-produce and explore alternative mixed-attainment methods of teaching reading, with the intention of improving experience and outcomes for disadvantaged children (see letter of support).

All children come to school with valuable but different experiences of reading. For children with less experience of shared stories at an early age, their destination may be ‘the bottom reading group’, with inexperience being mistaken for inability. Research on ‘ability groupings’ in general suggests that once in a low ‘ability’ group pupils are most likely to remain there for their entire educational life, and that this disadvantage and resulting stigma travels with them into adulthood. Children from low socio-economic and some ethnic minorities backgrounds are significantly over-represented in lower ‘ability’ sets. Theoretically, the study will draw on Bourdieusian (1984, 1990) perspectives of capitals, refracted through the lenses of transactional literary theory and socio-cultural perspectives on literacy (Albright and Luke, 2010). It will adopt a mixed-methods approach to enquiry. Quantitative attainment data will be collected and analysed, as well as qualitative data from ethnographic and participatory sources. Qualitative social network analysis will also be used to illuminate patterns of interactions and relationships in ‘ability-grouped’ and mixed-attainment reading settings (see methodology).

It is anticipated that the research output will make a valuable contribution to the current UK academic, policy and public debates around inequality in education and pupil groupings. Renfrewshire will benefit from teachers’ involvement in research and from knowledge-exchange activities such as literature seminars, practical clinics to support mixed-attainment reading pedagogies, a collaborative blog, and the production of a resource pack for mixed-attainment teaching strategies for reading. The research will help support and evaluate practical pedagogical alternatives to grouping by ‘ability’, which has potential wider inter-national relevance (see letter of support).