Leverhulme Trust Biopsychosocial Doctoral Scholarship Programme

DSPI students doctoral

Moving Beyond Inequality 

The University of Oxford will be offering 15 doctoral scholarships from 2021-2025, thanks to a £1.35m grant from the Leverhulme Trust. Students will complete multi-disciplinary research on the impact of poverty and social inequalities in early childhood.

The ground-breaking programme of doctoral scholarships, spanning the social and biological sciences, will aim to reduce the impact of these disadvantages on children’s life chances.

Directed by Professor Jane Barlow, this is Oxford’s first doctoral programme that brings together expertise from diverse disciplines with the explicit goal of reducing the impact of social inequality in early childhood through the application of biological science.

Social inequalities and poverty have proved to be highly intractable and continue to be significant predictors of poor outcomes for children. It is now recognised that the social adversity associated with such poverty, is ‘biologically embedded’ in children during ‘sensitive developmental periods’, and thereby that the origins of long-term social inequality lie in developmental and biological disruptions occurring during the early years of life.

Early social interventions aimed at improving the life-chances of young children exposed to such adversity have made a significant contribution to reducing the impact of poverty on children globally. However, the overall benefit of these programmes is still limited. Emerging research suggests that this may be due to biological characteristics. These can influence the capacity of individual children to benefit from early interventions (known as ‘differential susceptibility’). The research also suggests that social interventions need to begin to address the early biological disruptions, now recognised to be a significant part of the problem.

We seek applications from high calibre individuals who have an interest in building on recent scientific advances, applying knowledge developed between the biological and social sciences. The aim is to use a multiple level of analysis perspective to reduce social inequalities in early childhood.

This exciting new programme of scholarships will expose you to expertise and cutting edge mixed-methods research across the fields of psychology, sociology, neuroscience, endocrinology, genetics, and ethics. The scholarships aim to produce a new generation of scientists who have the necessary skills to be future research leaders in this important field.

Four lead departments are affiliated with the programme: Social Policy and Intervention, Sociology, Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology.

You will complete a training programme tailored to your individual skills and project requirements, and attend activities offered to the full Leverhulme cohort. You will be formally admitted by the Department linked to your primary supervisor and will have access to the diverse range of seminars, workshops and advanced training opportunities.

The programme will be led by internationally renowned academics based in the four lead Departments. Projects are offered by a range of supervisors across relevant subject areas.

Programme Director: Professor Jane Barlow; Social Policy and Intervention

Co-director: Professor Melinda Mills; Sociology

Co-director: Dr Lucy Bowes; Experimental Psychology

Co-director: Professor Gaia Sceriff; Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology

Successful candidates will be awarded a 4-year scholarship covering tuition fees and a maintenance stipend at UK research council rates (£17,668 in 2022-23). They will also have access to research and training support funds.

While the Leverhulme Trust offers scholarships at ‘home’ fee levels only, where sufficiently strong overseas candidates apply, the University will consider offering them an award covering overseas fees.

These projects are advertised on a full-time basis. Applicants who are unable to study full-time may also apply; however, any offer to study part-time will be conditional on the University first receiving permission from the Leverhulme Trust.

All candidates will initially apply to the DPhil in Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation via the application link

This is solely for application purposes. Successful Leverhulme candidates will be registered on the DPhil programme based in their supervisor’s Department. You should ensure you meet the eligibility requirements for this programme.

Candidates must complete a University application form and submit a personal statement of a maximum of 1,000 words and research proposal of a maximum of 2,000 words, a CV, transcripts from previous study, written work (two essays, a maximum of 2,500 words each) and details of three referees. When asked to enter a scholarship code, please enter ‘LeverhulmeDSPI’. College affiliation will be arranged for the successful candidates, therefore we advise candidates not to list a college preference in their application.

The Directors and supervisors will select a shortlist of candidates for interview, from which the successful Leverhulme scholars will be selected.

Application Deadline: The funding deadline for the Leverhulme Trust Biopsychosocial Doctoral Scholarship Programme is 12:00 midday UK time on Friday 19 January 2024. Applications submitted after this date will not be considered.

Social Policy and Intervention Academic Office: admissions@spi.ox.ac.uk