The NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) has launched a PhD studentship competition, which offers a flexible opportunity to start a PhD in April 2022 for part-time applicants (studentships up to 5 years part-time) and by October 2022 for full-time applicants (3 year studentships). Applications are invited from individuals who wish to develop a career in public health research.  Applicants must have a first degree in a discipline relevant to public health research and will be expected to complete a PhD during the award period. This award will fund tuition fees up to the value of UK fees (annual tax-free stipend at £15,609 at UKRI rate) and a contribution towards research and training costs. Overseas students are welcome to apply but will need to fund the remainder of their fees and any visa requirements from alternative sources.

We warmly welcome applications from disabled people and those of different cultures, genders, ages, ethnicities, and beliefs.

SPHR is advertising a total of 27 projects, of which up to nine studentships are expected to be funded.  As a member of SPHR, LiLaC is advertising three potential projects, detailed below.  

Find out more about all the projects on offer and how to apply on SPHR’s website: 


LiLaC_1_Hollingsworth: Resilience, health, and economic shocks: how is a health shock different to an economic shock, and how can we be better prepared

Project outline: There has been a lot of research concerning economic shocks, the relationship to health (physical and mental) and there is an emerging literature on resilience and inequalities.

The aim of this PhD is to explore the impact of a health shock, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consequent economic impact in terms of which groups in society are more resilient.  What can we learn in policy terms as to where to invest resources to build resilience to future health shocks, and which groups need more resources to recover in the aftermath. This study would make use of secondary data, including Understanding Society, and would entail:

  1. Literature review of current evidence on the economic shocks and resilience.
  2. Quantitative analysis using data from Understanding Society, and methods such as matching and instrumental variable modelling to undertake investigation of the before and after effects of the pandemic in terms of which groups were able to react and sustain health, and which groups have been able to recover faster. Data are available to cover this period and the variables, and we have full access.
  3. Particular emphasis will be on areas of inequality, for example we will look at the relationship between health and education before during and after the pandemic, and on families and young peoples health and education outcomes.

The student will develop quantitative and economic skills across the LiLaC team, and will be supported by the Health Economics at Lancaster team, a cross Faculty team drawing upon expertise in Health Research and Economics.


LiLaC_2_Popay: Reducing health inequalities through embedding community participation and co-production in public health systems

Project outline: There is an urgent need to embed participation and promote real empowerment with communities as a central component of developing equitable public health systems. Research is rapidly accumulating on the benefits in terms of the acceptability and uptake of services and positive social and health impacts of community participation in decision making. There is a large body of research on specific co-production initiatives but relatively little on co-production at a systems level.  SPHR has undertaken innovative research on community-centred approaches to local action on health equity and pioneered using complex systems perspectives in evaluation. The proposed studentship would forge theoretical and empirical links across these areas, conducting in-depth qualitative research on co-production of action on health inequalities between the wider public health workforce and lay communities from a complex systems perspective. This is one of two PhD studentships to provide the necessary lens on system relationships, one will be embedded within the Lancashire & South Cumbria ICS and the other in a 3rd sector organisation. As participant observers the students will conduct participative action research with  a group of key stakeholders including professional staff and members of relevant communities of interest/place in each organisational context. The interactive PAR process would involve:

  1. Developing a shared understanding of barriers and enablers to achieving inclusive community involvement in designing action to reduce health inequalities;
  2. Using creative design approaches to develop ‘interventions’ to address some of the issues identified (e.g. service co-design; policy equity audit)
  3. Implementing interventions and evaluating the process and impact
  4. Reflecting on the learning and deciding on next steps

Data collection and analysis will involve observational notes,  documentary analysis, transcripts of group discussion and mechanisms to monitor intervention impacts. The students would be based at Lancaster University and part of a diverse disciplinary group of public health researchers across LiLaC.


LiLaC_3_Rodgers: Longitudinal analysis of the impact of Green and Blue Spaces on health

Project outline: As part of an NIHR Public Health Research project, we created a large “Green and Blue Spaces” dataset with 98 million environmental exposures and other observations for more than a million adults through time (2009-2018). We established an outcome of common mental health disorders and used it to answer several important research questions about the impact of GBS on mental health. We linked to these data a cross-sectional dataset from the National Survey for Wales, containing responses from individuals on their leisure visits to outdoor spaces, and detailed wellbeing and household deprivation. We found distinct patterns by deprivation that are important to disseminate widely.

This dataset is suitable to answer several additional research questions.The student will extend the dataset to include children, for example, as well as additional health outcomes, or they could focus on e.g. pregnant women, with new data linkage enabling assessment of the impact of GBS during pregnancy on maternal health (e.g. perinatal diabetes, mental health) and infant health, investigating how the strength of any associations differ by small area deprivation, and household material deprivation for the survey subsample. This will ensure the inequitable health impacts of these health promoting spaces is evidenced and disseminated widely.

We anticipate methods used will include extraction of outcome(s) using routine data, according to validated algorithms scoped from existing literature, and “data wrangling” skills to extend the dataset to include children, to prime the student to work on large, linked population health databanks. This would suit a student interested in developing expertise on the impact of in/equitable access to health promoting environments on different health outcomes. The student would be part of the LiLaC SPHR, and affiliated with the Applied Research Collaboration NWC as part of a large and vibrant academic community at University of Liverpool and across the northwest coast.