MPhil/PhD Programme in Health Sciences

Programme Leader: Professor Catherine Hewitt


The MPhil/PhD in Health Sciences is an opportunity to develop your research interests and skills in a centre of excellence for health, and within research groups building the international evidence base for health and healthcare. 

The programmes are three years full-time or six years part-time for a PhD, and two years full-time or four years part-time for an MPhil. They are designed to develop your academic excellence in a multidisciplinary context.

We will equip you to undertake, analyse and evaluate health research. At the same time you have the flexibility to tailor your studies to pursue your own research interests and develop the skills you need for your future career. We support a range of different methodological and disciplinary perspectives. The common theme is the rigour of the methodology and the aim of adding to the evidence base for health and healthcare.

We ask you to provide a brief research outline with your application and give some indication of the research group within which your research interest belongs.

PhD Student Profiles 

PhD student Nicole Valtorta has won NIHR funding for her doctoral fellowship in the Department, which will focus on loneliness and isolation in older adults. 



Sadie Bell is currently undertaking a full-time PhD exploring the acceptability and accessibility of sexual health services in the UK to over 50s.



All students are initially registered for their intended award aim (ie either MPhil or PhD). However, PhD students are only provisionally registered for their PhD. There is a confirmation of registration procedure which is a progression requirement that must be successfully completed if the student is to progress on the PhD.

As part of your research degree, you will plan a subject-specific ‘research training programme’ with your supervisor to meet your individual needs and the core training requirements of the Department. All MPhil/PhD students are usually required to demonstrate skills in the following areas, normally by taking these modules:

Further training, generally equivalent to at least a further 40 credits, will be agreed with your academic supervisor and programme leader. Most of our MPhil and PhD students follow the multidisciplinary approach of the MSc in Applied Health Research programme.

The University offers a variety of further opportunities for the training and personal development of research students, enabling you to make the most of your university experience. Workshops include communication skills, career management and training for postgraduate students who teach. Other learning programmes provide opportunities to enhance skills and develop new interests.

Postgraduates Who Teach (PGWT)

The Department can sometimes offer paid teaching opportunities to Postgraduate Research Students (PGRS) or, in exceptional cases, to experienced Masters students.

Teaching vacancies across the University are advertised periodically, usually at the start of each academic year. Click on the links for further information and current vacancies. You may also wish to view current rates of pay for PGWT.

While teaching experience is a useful addition to your CV as a research student, we try to ensure that teaching duties do not impinge on your own research or interfere with the completion of a good thesis. The University requires all PGR wishing to pursue paid teaching opportunities to undertake the 'Introduction to Learning and Teaching' training course, part of the training and support offered to postgraduate students. All PGWT should demonstrate a sufficient standard of English communication skills appropriate to the role. Further information about PGWT training can be found here.

Typically, candidates who meet the criteria will be interviewed, but this does not guarantee that teaching work will be offered. For further information about postraduate teaching within the Department please contact the PGWT coordinator, Cath Hewitt:


You will receive academic support from a supervisor and a Thesis Advisory Panel (TAP). Supervisors are matched to students by research interests and expertise and the TAP will be selected by your supervisor to provide specialist methodological advice or general guidance, as well as feedback on the quality of the research and written work. Your supervisor and the TAP will support you over the course of your period of study.

Preference in admission will be given to students whose proposed research fits within the research themes of the Department and the research programmes of the academic staff.

You should be sure to name a potential supervisor on your application form. For details of academic staff and research interests, as well as research teams and leaders, see Research in the Department, the Department’s Research Staff List, and Research Links with other Departments.


More information about fees and funding can be found on the central University Postgraduate fees and funding pages.

Commonwealth Scholarships for PhD and split-site (PhD) study

Research Proposals

Current Guidelines for Research Proposals 

  • The proposal should not exceed 1,000 words.
  • The proposal should include no less than 6 relevant references but no more than 10.
  • The proposal should state the hypothesis you wish to investigate; why it is important and/or original;
  • The proposal should state clearly and in as many details as possible the methodology that is going to be used in order to meet the aims of the study in addition to the expected impact of the project. 
  • But please note also
    • we are not expecting at the present stage a full and final statement of your research intentions which will bind you closely during your period of study here;
    • it will not contribute to the formal assessment of your work here at York.
  • The purpose of this exercise is that you and your eventual supervisor can be sure that you and the University are well-matched to one another and can make progress, through discussion and correspondence, towards defining your research topic before you start your course of study here.

The following are examples of successful research proposals received by the Department of Health Sciences. (The examples below may not follow all of the guidelines above as the guidelines have recently been updated).

Project 1 (Omara Dogar)

Pakistan is facing a dual burden of TB and tobacco use. Treating smoking dependence is an effective way of addressing a considerable proportion of premature mortality and morbidity attributable to tobacco use in TB patients. To address this public health issue in a high TB and tobacco burdened low-middle income country, the need for definitive experimental studies to assess the most effective and low-cost smoking cessation interventions focused on improving both smoking cessation and TB outcomes, is eminent.

As a first step, I attempt to test whether,
“Is it feasible to carry out a randomised controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of behavioural support smoking cessation intervention in TB patients to achieve continuous abstinence and improved TB outcomes compared to usual care?”
This work builds on a cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT), which I recently completed (detailed in next section), that assessed the effectiveness of smoking cessation interventions in TB suspects in Pakistan.

My aim is to carry out a series of scholarly work that addresses some of the fundamental uncertainties in carrying out a trial of behavioural support smoking cessation intervention in TB patients and inform its design. This will be the first trial in the world assessing the effects of stopping smoking among TB patients on their TB treatment endpoints and intermediate TB outcomes such as sputum smear conversion times that will have sufficient power and robustness to provide definitive evidence for policy and best practice.

I propound to do this by:

  • Carrying out a literature review to identify those outcomes (clinical and non-clinical) in TB patients that are likely to be most sensitive to smoking cessation and the most efficient means of assessing these outcomes;
  • A small scale pilot study in TB patients to inform the statistical requirements such as, sample size, recruitment rates, and attrition rates;
  • Analysis of the results of the pilot;
  • Map the intervention across the behaviour change theories and techniques identified as evidence-based for smoking cessation and study the extent to which these are useful in TB patients in Pakistan context.
  • Critical appraisal of the methods applied in this pilot and experiences gained;
  • The output will be the design and protocol of a definitive trial which will be more precise in light of the findings from the pilot RCT.


1. WHO. Global Tuberculosis Control Report; 2011.
2. Ahmad K JF, Jehan I, Hatcher J, Khan AQ, Chaturvedi N, TH. J. Prevalence and predictors of smoking in Pakistan: results of the National Health Survey of Pakistan. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2005;12(203-8).
3. Alam A, Iqbal A, Mohamud K, Laporte R, Ahmed A, S. N. Investigating socio-economic-demographic determinants of tobacco use in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. BMC Public Health 2008;8(1):50.
4. Alam S. Prevalence and pattern of smoking in Pakistan. J Pak Med Assoc 1998;48:64-6.
5. WHO. WHO: Global report: mortality attributable to tobacco; 2012.
6. Slama K, Chiang CY, Enarson DA, Hassmiller K, Fanning A, Gupta P, et al. Tobacco and tuberculosis: a qualitative systematic review and meta-analysis [Review Article]. The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. 2007;11(10):1049-61.
7. Lin HH, Ezzati M, Murray M. Tobacco smoke, indoor air pollution and tuberculosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS medicine. 2007;4(1):e20.
8. Jayawardena KAS, Samarathunga M. Baseline Characteristics of Patients and the Effect of Fixed-Dose Combination Chemotherapy on Sputum Conversion Time in Active Pulmonary Tuberculosis: A Preliminary Study in Kandy District, Sri Lanka. SAARC Journal of Tuberculosis, Lung Diseases and HIV/AIDS.5(1):1-6.
9. Gullon BJA, Suarez TI, Lecuona FM, Galindo MR, Fernandez AR, Rubinos CG, et al. Tobacco smoking and sputum smear conversion in pulmonary tuberculosis. Medicina Clin (Barc). 2007;128(15):565-8.
10. Metanat M, Sharifi-Mood B, Parsi M, Sanei-Moghaddam S. Effect of cigarette smoking on sputum smear conversion time among adult new pulmonary tuberculosis patients: A study from Iran Southeast. Iranian Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases.5(1):14-7.
11. K Siddiqi , A Khan, M Ahmad, O Dogar, M Kanaan, J N Newell, et al. Action to Stop Smoking In Suspected Tuberculosis (ASSIST) in Pakistan: a cluster-randomised trial. Lancet 2012 (submitted).


Project 2 (Dean Langan)

Having reviewed the potential projects offered within the CRD studentship on evidence synthesis, I found the proposal titled “routine methods for random effects meta-analysis” appealed most to my interests and past experience. The main reference given1, is one I have previously read and incorporated into my work within meta-analysis; an interesting and novel paper with scope for further work. Individual components of the PhD, including initial background research, statistical programming and development of statistical methods for random effects meta-analysis will ensure an opportunity to grow as a statistician. Julian Higgins, one of the supervisors of this project is aware of my familiarity with this work as a co-author on the papers I have previously been involved with.

Previous work within meta-analysis involved developing novel graphical methods based around the funnel plot, all of which can be described as additional overlays to the funnel plot. All aim to help investigate the potential impact a new study may have on an existing meta-analysis, once the meta-analysis has been updated to include this study. These novel methods illustrate the potential impact in terms of statistical significance and heterogeneity. The additional features of the funnel plot have applications including 1) informing sample size calculations for the design of future studies eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis; and 2) informing the updating prioritization of a portfolio of meta-analyses such as those prepared by the Cochrane Collaboration.

Two papers have currently been written as a result of this research; one published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology2 and another accepted in the Stata Journal3. Additional ideas still to be developed include the development of a single statistic which quantifies the current robustness of a meta-analysis in terms of how likely a new study may change statistical significance. Other potential further work includes the use of these methods in multiple contexts and the development of these methods within a health economic decision models. There may be scope to include this further work while completing the proposed PhD within York University. This may be possible after discussion with supervisors of this proposal and other collaborators involved with this work.


1. Higgins JPT, Thompson SG, Spiegelhalter DJ. A re-evaluation of random-effects metaanalysis. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A 2009; 172: 137-159; doi: 10.1111/j.1467-985X.2008.00552.x.
2. Langan, D., Higgins, J.P.T., Gregory, W., Sutton, A.J. Graphical augmentations to the funnel plot assess the impact of additional evidence on a meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2011.10.009.
3. Crowther, M., Langan, D., Sutton, A.J. Graphical augmentations to the funnel plot to assess the impact of a new study on an existing meta-analysis: The extfunnel command. The Stata Journal (in press).


Project 3

In today’s society, the field of public health is reaching a critical turning point – chronic conditions and ‘diseases of lifestyle’ are increasing rapidly in both the developed and developing world, while at the same time, there is growing evidence that aspects of the physical environment are increasingly beginning to falter. In light of these challenges, an important way forward is to focus on the human-environment interface to reveal virtuous, mutually beneficial cycles which will help to positively support both human health and the health of the natural world. In fact, there is increasing evidence of the existence of such cycles (1, 2) and there is great potential to promote these strategies as a way of ameliorating some of the major concerns of our time.

A potential research methodology for this project could involve the following:

A. Scoping review of literature to identify studies and evidence relating to people’s attitudes and behaviours with respect to health and environment
- Here the focus could be on identifying the theoretical potential for virtuous cycles through grouping of related health/environmental behaviours into sequential progressions

B. Secondary analysis of national survey data to identify predictors of individuals engaging in certain behaviours/attitudes
- Here the analysis could involve statistical regression modelling depending on the data, and predictors could be grouped by socio-demographic factors to assess social patterning of behaviours, etc

C. Conduct primary qualitative research study with different groups to identify barriers and facilitators to engaging in virtuous cycles at the individual and household level
- Qualitative questions will be designed to complement gaps identified in the scoping review and to enrich the results of the quantitative survey data
- Interviews may involve laddering technique to understand people’s deeper motivations and beliefs

This methodological approach will strive to answer the following research questions in the area of virtuous cycles in health and environmental behaviours (letters correspond to steps in the methodology):

  • What is the potential for virtuous cycles in health and environment? (A) E.g. How many examples are there? Success stories from UK/elsewhere?
  • What virtuous cycles are currently being engaged in by people in the UK? (B) E.g. What behaviours are people doing now that could be characterized as a virtuous cycle?
  • What are the characteristics of people who engage in virtuous cycles? (B)
  • What are the barriers to certain groups of people engaging in these behaviours? (C)
  • What is the best way to promote/facilitate virtuous cycles through policy? (C)

The findings of this Studentship will be important and original because they will provide some of the first evidence on the scope and feasibility of using virtuous cycles in health and environment to link mutually beneficial behaviours and policies at the individual and household level. This type of evidence will only become more critical in the future in light of ongoing threats to population health caused by the continued deterioration of the Earth’s life supporting systems.


1. London Sustainable Development Commission. (2008). Virtuous Cycles demonstrating the benefits of a sustainable development approach. Golder and Associates.

2. Capon, AG, Synnott, ES, and Holliday, S. (2009). Urbanism, climate change and health: systems approaches to governance. NSW Public Health Bulletin. Vol. 20 (1–2).


The Department of Health Sciences' minimum English language requirement is a total IELTS score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component or equivalent. You can, however, receive a conditional offer provided you complete the University of York's higher level pre-sessional course which runs for eight weeks. On successful completion, you can then progress to your programme within Health Sciences. The minimum requirements to join the pre-sessional course can be found here.

Click here for further details of the University of York's English language requirements.

To apply for the course visit our how to apply, fees, funding and studentships page or click on the buttons below.

Application for PhD in Health Sciences: 

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Application for MPhil in Health Sciences:

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