The University of Oxford will be offering 15 doctoral scholarships from 2021-2023, 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, but the overall benefit of these programmes is still limited. Emerging research suggests that this may be due to biological characteristics, which can influence the capacity of individual children to benefit from early interventions (i.e. known as ‘differential susceptibility’), and also 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 that have begun to apply knowledge developed between the biological and social sciences with the aim of using a multiple level of analysis perspective to reduce social inequalities in early childhood.
About the Programme
This exciting new programme of scholarships will expose students to expertise and cutting edge mixed-methods research across the fields of psychology, sociology, neuroscience, endocrinology, genetics, and ethics, producing 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.
Students will complete a training programme tailored to their individual skills and project requirements, including attending activities offered to the full Leverhulme cohort. They will be formally admitted by the Department linked to their primary supervisor, and will have access to the diverse range of seminars, workshops and advanced training opportunities offered by that Department.
The programme will be led by internationally renowned academics based in the four lead Departments. Projects will be 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: TBC, Psychiatry
Co-director: Dr Lucy Bowes, Experimental Psychology
Co-director: Illina Singh, Department of Psychiatry and Faculty of Philosophy
Projects for 2022 Entry
We have suggested a number of topics for which we would very much welcome applications (see below). However, you would also be welcome to suggest a topic in a cognate area that is not listed below.
The impact COVID-19 during pregnancy on early life outcomes
This project will use unique linked Finnish and Swedish register data, which includes information on biosocial medical pregnancy and birth data of children and parents in addition to education, occupation and income data. This project will examine the very early life course period from pre- and post-birth measurements using advanced quantitative and bio-statistical techniques.
Supervision - Professor Melinda Mills
The effectiveness of an early attachment-based intervention on children’s physiological regulation and epigenetic mechanisms.
This project will be located within an existing RCT of an intervention aimed at improving emotional and behavioural outcomes in infants and toddlers, and will involve the collection of a range of additional biological data to examine both the impact of the intervention and biological factors that modify its impact.
Supervision - Professor Jane Barlow
The role of biological mechanisms on the impact of adverse childhood experiences on risk for psychopathology
Adverse life events in the prenatal and perinatal period have been linked to the later emergence of depression and psychotic symptoms. We aim to investigate the biopsychosocial mechanisms through which early exposure to adverse events may lead to later poor mental health outcomes using data from large birth cohort studies.
Supervision – Professor Lucy Bowes
Scholarships and Eligibility
Successful candidates will be awarded a 4-year scholarship covering tuition fees and a maintenance stipend at UK research council rates (£15,609 in 2021-22). 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 Policy and Intervention via the link on the Graduate Admissions page, under ‘How to apply’. If you wish to be considered for a Leverhulme Trust Biopsychosocial Doctoral Scholarship, there is a section in the online graduate application form where you can enter the scholarship code LeverhulmeDSPI.
Candidates must complete a University application form and submit a research proposal, 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'. We would advise you to plan to submit your completed application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier. It is your responsibility to ensure that your referees submit your references by the deadline.
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 21 January 2022. Applications submitted after this date will not be considered.
Dr Ben Chrisinger email@example.com
Social Policy and Intervention Academic Office firstname.lastname@example.org