University of Oxford

Nuffield Department of Primary Care and Health Services

The Health Behaviours team aims to improve health through behaviour change using population-level and individual-level behavioural interventions. We have two fully funded PhD studentships commencing in 2023 for developing and testing individual level behavioural interventions in either people with mental health problems (project 1) or to mitigate the risk of type 2 diabetes following pregnancy in people who have had gestational
diabetes (project 2).

Project 1
Serious mental illness (SMI) shortens lives by 15-20 years, mainly due to preventable NCDs. Smoking prevalence is not falling commensurately with the general population and obesity, problem alcohol consumption, and poor diet remain prevalent. Mental illness and adverse health behaviours share common neuropsychological underpinnings and social causes, including systemic disadvantage. Cognitive, perceptual and affective symptoms of mental illness make behaviour change challenging. Antipsychotic medication does not reduce volitional and functional impairments in schizophrenia, which are associated with poor diet, smoking, and obesity. Depression and anxiety undermine motivation to change behaviour. Nihilistic thinking by professionals has compounded these disadvantages, viewing adverse health behaviours as intractable among individuals with mental illness.

Our Mendelian randomisation studies suggest that supporting people to change behaviour prevents NCDs and reduces the incidence of severe and common mental illness. We have co-designed interventions with commissioners, clinicians, managers, and patients, delivered in routine care, that benefit patients and reduce NHS costs.

The aim of this studentship, supervised by Prof Paul Aveyard and Prof Kam Bhui is to develop and test stratified innovative preventative interventions to address behavioural risk factors tailored to neuropsychological and sociocultural challenges of people with SMI to deliver practical interventions suitable for use in routine mental healthcare. We hypothesise that co-designed interventions addressing the neuropsychological deficits and social underpinnings will prove more effective than current behavioural interventions for people with mental illness. In this programme, you will assess which neuropsychological vulnerabilities and social risk factors are tractable to intervention, a programme to treat these issues to support behaviour change, and conduct early stage testing.

Project 2
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, and typically goes away thereafter. Approximately 16% UK pregnancies are affected by GDM, making it one of the most common pregnancy complications. Developing GDM increasesadverse perinatal health outcomes for mother and infant, including increased likelihood of developing pre-eclampsia, premature or stillbirth, having an induced labour or caesarean section, a larger than normal baby: making for a more painful birth and possible stress for the baby, neonatal hypogylceamia. However, it has also become clear that there are also longer-term implications for GDM. People with a history of GDM appear to have a nearly 10- fold higher risk of developing T2DM during their lifetime than those who have normoglycaemic pregnancy. Thus, targeting people who recently developed GDM during the postpartum period offers an ideal opportunity to help mitigate the risk for individuals of developing type 2 diabetes.

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Nerys Astbury and Prof Susan Jebb and aims to use co-deign with people who have experience of GDM to develop, refine, and conduct early feasibility testing of a behavioural intervention to be delivered during the postpartum period and aimed at mitigating the risk for future development of type 2 diabetes.

Project 1 is funded by Oxford Health NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) for 3 years starting June – October 2023.
Project 2 is funded by Diabetes UK for 3 years starting October 2023.
Funding will cover tuition fees for UK students (at Home rate only) and a stipend of £19,668 pa as well as a research and training allowance which will cover reasonable research and training costs.

These studentships are only available to home fee status students and can only be taken on a full-time basis.
These studentships are suitable for those with background in nutrition, dietetics, psychology, or any other relevant subject area. Applicants must hold a relevant undergraduate degree with minimum 2:1 classification (or equivalent) as well a masters degree in a suitable subject area. Some research experience is also desirable. We welcome applications from allied health professionals (nurses, midwives dieticians, psychologists etc) who wish to pursue an academic career.

Deadline: Review of applications will start on Friday 3rd March 2023, and the position will be filled as soon as a suitable person has been found; hence you are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

To make an application please supply an up to date CV and a cover letter explaining:
i) Which project you wish to be considered (1, 2 or either)
ii) Why you want to do a PhD/DPhil
iii) How your education, qualifications, experience and interests make you a
suitable candidate for the advertised studentship

Email applications to with the subject ‘DPhil Studentship application’

Informal queries should be directed in the first instance to

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