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Available research projects

Your study requires you to write a research proposal which builds on your own areas of interest from higher education or professional experience. Many staff have written short overviews of potential research projects to give an idea of potential supervision projects. These are designed to provide a stimulus for adapting to your own research ideas. Applications geared towards one of these project areas are likely to be favoured by supervisors.

Prospective applications should look at the research expertise of potential supervisors and contact them directly to check their capacity to supervise your PhD.

Centre for Advanced Studies in Language and Education (CASLE)

Prediction in language learning: Can we teach it and what sort of knowledge is generated?

Supervisor: Professor Emma Marsden

When we hear or read language in real time, we constantly, and extremely rapidly, anticipate which sounds, words and grammar might come up next. It is not clear whether this phenomenon is the result of having already learned language - that is, after multiple experiences we become adept at predicting what will come next - or whether, in fact, “prediction” is a key mechanism by which we actually learn language- that is: if our predictions are met by what we subsequently hear, this establishes or consolidates knowledge of the language; if our predictions are not met, we learn from our error and tally the likelihood of particular combinations in language (not) occurring. To date, there is strong evidence of prediction in native speakers, but evidence is much less clear in second language (L2) learners. Also, L2 research to date has (a) focused on a narrow domain of grammar in the noun phrase (gender, animacy, case) and (b) not yet investigated whether explicitly teaching and practising prediction can help learning. This research project would make a cutting-edge contribution to both learning theory and teaching practice by investigating these issues in a classroom experiment, focusing on hitherto neglected syntax.

Read more about this 'Prediction in language learning: Can we teach it and what sort of knowledge is generated?' research project.

Open science and a collaborative ethic in research: Motivations, barriers, and benefits

Supervisor: Professor Emma Marsden

Open science practices involve making the processes and products of research freely available for scrutiny by all. Open science can include making available the materials and procedures used to collect, code, and analyse data, as well as the data and final reports themselves. Across many disciplines, including within social sciences, such practices are increasingly encouraged via incentives from governments, funders, universities, journals and publishers. Open science is considered desirable for reasons relating to (a) social equity (publicly paid research should be available to the public), (b) the quality of research (rigour, validity and reliability), and (c) the rate of progress (allowing more and better replication). However, despite many calls over several decades, research communities are slow to react, in part due to a lack of data. This PhD would be among the first studies to provide hard data about attitudes towards and benefits of open science.

Read more about this 'Open science and a collaborative ethic in research: Motivations, barriers, and benefits' research project.

Improving motivation and language knowledge and proficiency in second language learning in low exposure contexts

Supervisor: Professor Emma Marsden

A great deal of research into second language learning focuses on the most effective ways of teaching. A range of interesting questions can be asked related to, for example, the kind of feedback given, intentional versus incidental learning, deductive versus inductive learning, different distributions of practice, different curriculum design principles (such as topic- versus language-driven), the role of rich, engaging texts. Generally, to date, effects on learning are measured—a few days or weeks after the intervention—on linguistic outcome measures (oral or written production, comprehension, grammaticality judgement, gapfill, or sentence matching tests). That is, studies are a) relatively short term and b) focused on linguistic outcomes. However, of major interest to educators is whether interventions that aim to help achievement (language knowledge and proficiency) actually also help motivation, such as a desire to ‘stick with it’ in the longer term (see Erler & Macaro, 2011 for a relevant example) or learners' belief in their own ability when faced with a task (e.g., their self-efficacy). A parallel problem is that surprisingly little motivation research to date has examined progress in language learning over time, focusing on the relationship between achievement and motivation. In Anglophone contexts, where drop out from language studies is a major concern, better understanding about the nature of the relationship between progress and motivation is critical.

Read more about this 'Improving motivation and language knowledge and proficiency in second language learning in low exposure contexts' research project.

Designing texts for learning and motivation among socially disadvantaged pupils in low-exposure language classrooms

Supervisor: Professor Emma Marsden

It continues to be frequently claimed that '(adapted-)authentic' texts are more engaging and more helpful for learning than texts that have been created for pedagogic purposes with a pre-defined (i.e., constrained) linguistic content (Graham et al., 2020a). Such claims have been extended to populations who tend not to choose to study a GCSE in a foreign language or tend not to enjoy literature- or text-based subjects, including socially-disadvantaged populations in England (Porter et al., 2022).  The causes for any benefits of specific text-types for motivation and learning could be related to (1) the texts themselves, (2) the teaching approaches used, and/or (3) the learners' individual characteristics. There is a need to explore the validity of such claims for these specific populations, whose motivation and exposure to the language can often be low. 

Read more about this 'Designing texts for learning and motivation among socially disadvantaged pupils in low-exposure language classrooms' research project.

Language and literacy skills of international students, home students and home students with dyslexia in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?

Supervisor: Dr Danijela Trenkic

Recent research shows that international students who speak English as a foreign language pursue their university education with a systematic disadvantage: despite arriving with required language qualifications, they know fewer words, are much slower readers and understand less of what they read than home students. They also experience lower academic success. Yet few UK universities make any assessment adjustments for students who speak English as a foreign language (EFL). In contrast, language comprehension and writing difficulties of home students disadvantaged by dyslexia are normally accommodated for, eg by extra time in exams. Should similar provision be in place for EFL students? This study aims to investigate whether language-related difficulties experienced by international EFL students are bigger or smaller than those experienced by home students with dyslexia.

Read more about this 'Language and literacy skills of international students, home students and home students with dyslexia in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?' research project.

Language and literacy skills of international and home students in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?

Supervisor: Dr Danijela Trenkic

International students in UK higher education often experience lower academic success compared to British home students. One of the contributing factors to the differential attainment appears to be language: despite arriving with required language qualifications, EFL students know significantly fewer words, are much slower readers and understand less of what they read than British home students. Language difficulties, however, have been predominantly demonstrated on Chinese students, and it is unclear to what extent the language and academic difficulties of this population are representative of other international students, especially of those who come from typologically closer languages to English or who study with fewer fellow speakers of the same language. Understanding language difficulties of international students and what factors contribute to them is critical for developing appropriate support.

Read more about this 'Language and literacy skills of international and home students in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?' research project.

Language development through games

Supervisor: Dr Danijela Trenkic

International students now play an important part in many UK universities but many struggle with the linguistic demands of their programmes and fail to achieve their full potential. Previous research has shown that reading for pleasure improves broad language skills and leads to improved educational outcomes. This project considers whether text-oriented games such as Disco Elysium, Heaven's vault or 80 Days could be used to motivate international students to read more English text, and how playing such games could improve their language skills and educational outcomes.

Read more about this 'Language development through games' research project.

Language learning in the age of Global English

Supervisor: Dr Ursula Lanvers

Currently welcoming projects in three areas:

Focus A: As the world is learning English, how is English dominance shaping the conditions, experiences and opportunities for the learning of languages other than English? What is the effect on learners with English as (part of their) L1? What is the effect for learners learning several languages?

Focus B: As the domain of Education gets increasingly englishized, what is the effect, on both learners and teachers, of learning via the medium of English (EMI)?

Focus C: Multimodal approaches in the foreign language classroom.

Read more about each focus within this 'Language learning in the age of Global English' research project.

Literary translation in education

Supervisor: Dr Clémentine Beauvais

There is currently little empirical or theoretical research on literary translation in education, despite a recent surge of interest in the practice of translation in foreign-language learning. The practice of literary translation for purposes other than language-learning – for instance, for literary education, intercultural competence or metalinguistic skills – is especially under researched. I am interested in supervising doctoral projects on literary translation at all levels of education, UK-focused or internationally.

Read more about this 'Literary translation in education' research project.

Language contact and language learning in the digital age

Supervisor: Dr Zöe Handley

Technological innovations have changed the way in which we communicate opening up the possibility for students studying a foreign language to engage with speakers of the target language from their home country without visiting the target country via a range of technologies from discussion boards and social media to text chat and video conferencing. At the same time the availability of these same technologies has made it easier for language learners to maintain contact with friends and family in their home country while studying abroad. Study abroad has long been assumed to be beneficial to language learners because it provides ample opportunities to practice the target language. The possibilities that new communications technologies offer students studying at home to engage in the target language, it has been argued, have the potential to reduce the advantage of studying abroad in terms in terms of levels of language use, often referred to as language contact, and at the same time increase the extent to which students use their first language during that time. Some research has started to explore the question of the impact of new communications technologies on study abroad and study at home.

This research is, however, limited and, as is true of the broader literature on study abroad, few studies have looked at these questions from the perspective of students studying for a degree abroad, as opposed to intensively studying the target language. In this project, you will explore students’ use of these new communications technologies to engage in the target language and their first language in a context of your choice and look at the relationship with language development.

Read more about this 'Language contact and language learning in the digital age' research project.

Computer-mediated task-based language learning and teaching: Exploring the impact of novel tasks on language production

Supervisor: Dr Zöe Handley

Selecting and grading tasks is one of the most significant challenges in implementing task-based language learning. In response to this challenge, a large body of research has examined the impact of task design variables and implementation factors on learner interaction and the quality of the language they produce. As new communication technologies have emerged, researchers have also begun to investigate the unique features of these modes of communication on task-based interaction and learner language production. New communication technologies also bring about new real world tasks and new ways of designing and implementing language learning tasks. For example, within the literature on business communication, a number of in-box simulations, ie email tasks, have been proposed. In this project you will explore the impact of some of these new ways of designing and implementing language learning tasks on the quality of the language they produce.

Read more about this 'Computer-mediated task-based language learning and teaching: Exploring the impact of novel tasks  on language production' research project.

Teacher cognition for technology in language teaching

Supervisor: Dr Zöe Handley

As a result of the current pandemic, teachers all over the world have been forced to move their teaching online. Through this experience teachers have gained valuable insights into how technology can be harnessed to facilitate language learning and teaching. Understanding these insights or teacher cognition (teachers’ thoughts, knowledge, and beliefs) about the use of technology to support language learning and teaching is important because teachers are active decision-makers who develop their own personal contextualised theories of learning and have a significant influence on the implementation of pedagogical innovations. Moreover, studies of teacher cognition provide valuable evidence about how novel approaches and methods of language teaching work in real learning contexts and the factors that influence their success and as such are an important complement to observational and experimental studies of such approaches and methods. With a view to contributing to the development of guidelines for best practice in the use of technology in language learning and teaching, you will interview and/or survey language teachers about their experiences of the use of technology to support and facilitate language learning.

Read more about this 'Teacher cognition for technology in language teaching' research project.

Grammatical development and real-time processing in the L2

Supervisor: Professor Leah Roberts

There is a large amount of research on L2 grammatical development but very little relating this to real time processing of the input in the target language, but it is clear that processing language with developing knowledge must somehow push forward linguistic knowledge. The project would take a range of grammatical phenomena (eg tense-aspect, pronominals, gender and number agreement), and using a mix of traditional SLA methods (judgement tasks) and psycholinguistic methods (eye-tracking, EEG), chart developing linguistic knowledge with different participant groups (beginning learners/less-literate learners, for instance) in a longitudinal design.

Read more about this 'Grammatical development and real-time processing in the L2' research project.

The development of present perfect in L2 learners: Diachronic and synchronic approaches

Supervisor: Professor Leah Roberts

The present perfect (eg, John has written a book) differs in a number of interesting ways across the Germanic languages (eg, English, Dutch, German). The current usage of the present perfect vs. the past simple in English arguably reflects change due to language contact over time. In this project, the historical change in the English present perfect/simple past will be studied and linked to the grammatical knowledge of second language learners (eg, English learners of Dutch, German learners of English, etc). Such research can push forward theories in both historical linguistic and SLA.

Read more about 'The development of present perfect in L2 learners: Diachronic and synchronic approaches' research project.

Investigating second language comprehension within the conceptual framework of Cognition Hypothesis

Supervisor: Dr Nadia Mifka-Profozic

Much of the research into task-based language teaching has been conducted within the framework of Robinson’s Cognition hypothesis (2003, 2007, 2011) which predicts that more complex tasks in terms of cognitive demands will promote second language development by increasing accuracy and complexity of L2 learner production. In this regard Robinson’s hypothesis is contrasted to Skehan’s Limited Capacity hypothesis (1996). The construct of cognitive complexity has been further elaborated and tested in the Triadic Componential framework for task design and classification in which cognitive complexity of tasks is argued to increase either along resource-dispersing or resource-directing dimensions. This claim has been supported by evidence obtained in a number of studies that measured language development in terms of accuracy and complexity via production in a pretest-posttest experimental design. Language comprehension has remained an unexplored area within the Triadic Componential Framework of task design. The aim of the proposed study is to examine whether Robinson’s Cognition hypothesis can be confirmed in tasks involving second language comprehension (via reading or listening). Will the Triadic Componential framework and the proposed sequencing of tasks promote language development in tasks in which the primary focus is on comprehension? To objectively measure the level of task complexity, a dual-mode task methodology and eye-tracking will be used along with the participants’ self-rating.

The design of less cognitively demanding and more cognitively demanding pedagogic tasks will involve both explicit measures of comprehension and more implicit measures of processing during comprehension. For this purpose either eye-tracking or self-paced reading can be used.

Read more about 'Investigating second language comprehension within the conceptual framework of Cognition Hypothesis' research project.

Centre for Research on Education & Social Justice (CRESJ)

Education and post-development: challenging dominant narratives

Supervisor: Dr Eleanor J. Brown

The role of education in international development has a long history and there is extensive research that investigates how these relationships work and how education can best be used to improve quality of life, particularly in so-called ‘developing’ countries. However, much of this work uses the development theories of modernisation and/or human capital as a starting point, and the assumptions built into these approaches affect the nature of the research, and as such, the findings tend to reproduce Western thinking about development that some argue is neo-colonial in its impact. Education can provide opportunities to challenge these narratives and search for appropriate and powerful alternatives in a range of different contexts. This will mean examining carefully how we understand development and what we should be aiming for in our attempts to improve living standards. The following step will be to explore the innovative ways that education may facilitate these aims. Education can be explored in a range of context(s) and at different stages, both formal and non-formal. The key aspect of the proposal will be the way the candidate engages with post-development literature and applies this to education in the chosen context of their research.

Read more about this 'Education and post-development: challenging dominant narratives' research project.

Mapping postdoctoral pathways

Supervisor: Dr Sally Hancock

This project will track the early to mid-careers of PhD graduates.  Over the past decade, there has been a substantial growth in the number of PhD graduates internationally, and with this a shift in careers doctoral graduates go on to do. Indeed, in many national contexts, the vast majority of doctoral graduates will forge so-called ‘alternative’ careers outside of the academy. This trend has been met with two opposing reactions from commentators - there are those who characterise this as a necessary step in the development of the global knowledge economy, while others question the extent to which the PhD sufficiently prepares  ‘disillusioned and directionless’ PhD graduates for work beyond the academy. Despite the political and economic importance of this debate, there is relatively little robust empirical data tracking the careers of PhD graduates, and of the particular variables and decision processes which shape individual trajectories. 

Read more about this 'Mapping postdoctoral pathways' research project.

Manifestations of gender-based harassment and violence in education

Supervisor: Professor Vanita Sundaram

Evidence suggests that forms of sexualised harassment and physical violence occur in educational contexts across the life course, including in early years settings, primary, secondary and tertiary education. These forms of harassment take place in different forms, through varying media and between different groups in education. Gender intersects with other characteristics in some forms of harassment and abuse. Our understanding about the multiple ways in which gender-based harassment and violence may be experienced by different stakeholders in education should be furthered.

Read more about this 'Manifestations of gender-based harassment and violence in education' research project.

Institutional responses to gender-based harassment and violence

Supervisor: Professor Vanita Sundaram

Under the Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty in the UK public institutions, such as schools, further education colleges and universities have a legal duty to ensure that they do not discriminate against people working and studying within these institutions. Discrimination might occur on the basis of characteristics defined as ‘protected’ under the Equality Act, including gender reassignment, sexual orientation, religion, race and sex. Institutional responses to gender-based harassment and violence (and other forms of harassment and hate crime) have been varied, ranging from spot-check solutions to deal with the immediate issue to institution-wide policy change and implementation of training programmes for staff and students. Few of these responses or interventions have been rigorously evaluated; few have considered the cross-cutting forms of harassment that might be experienced by students and staff.

Read more about this 'Institutional responses to gender-based harassment and violence' research project.

Teachers, teaching and gender equality

Supervisor: Professor Vanita Sundaram

From September 2020, Relationships and Sex Education will become a statutory subject in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. The updated curriculum requires schools to cover issues relating to healthy relationships, including enabling children and young people to recognise unhealthy relationship behaviours and dynamics. In secondary school, teachers are required to specifically teach about particular forms of abuse including coercion, grooming, sexual and physical violence. However, teacher education in England and Wales does not include a statutory component on gender, gender-based harassment or violence. Relatively little is known about teachers’ experiences of teaching about or for gender equality in schools, and research-informed modules on issues relating to gender, including harassment and violence do not form a standard or statutory element of teacher training.

Read more about this 'Teachers, teaching and gender equality' research project.

The changing role of education in the Anthropocene

Supervisor: Dr Peter Sutoris

The unfolding environmental crisis, from climate change to biodiversity loss, poses fundamental questions about human society’s relationship with the natural environment. Concepts such as intergenerational justice, stewardship of the environment and shared environmental futures are no longer just abstract notions but link to very tangible, pressing concerns at the heart of the Anthropocene moment. Education, both formal schooling and informal learning, has a critical role to play in shaping these conversations and the futures that are desirable and possible in the Anthropocene. This project will explore education’s changing social purpose in the Anthropocene through empirical, on-the-ground research in learning communities either in the Global North or in the Global South, with a particular focus on intergenerational dialogue and imaginations of alternative futures.

Read more about this 'The changing role of education in the Anthropocene' research project.

Educational approaches to degrowth

Supervisor: Dr Peter Sutoris

Degrowth has emerged as an alternative to the mainstream narrative of “green growth” in thinking about the future of society in the face of the unfolding environmental multi-crisis. Recognising the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet, degrowth questions the ideology of extractivism as well as the instrumentalisation and commodification of nature that underpin the contemporary international economic regime. This project will explore how education, schooling or informal learning processes in society, might enable or get in the way of a degrowth society.

Read more about this 'Educational approaches to degrowth' research project.

Education “outliers” and future-making practices in the Anthropocene

Supervisor: Dr Peter Sutoris

The education system is a key pathway for achieving a more sustainable world, yet much of the discourse around formal education is still confined to the narrowly-defined "21st century skills". Work to articulate an alternative to this and recognise the significance of the Anthropocene’s onset is still rare. By examining future-making practices of "positive deviant" educators, the project will examine how environmental futures can be moulded, both at the level of the individuals participating in this research and at-scale through the education system. The project will use immersive ethnographic research through extended fieldwork (either in the UK or internationally, depending on the candidate’s background, language skills and personal preferences) to build trust with study participants and explore their future-making practices in depth. 

Read more about this 'Education "outliers" and future-making practices in the Anthropocene' research project.

Psychology in Education Research Centre (PERC)

Using Genomewide Polygenic Scores in Education: A risk-benefit analysis

Supervisor: Dr Kathryn Asbury

Research shows clearly that individual differences in educationally relevant traits such as cognitive ability, academic achievement and motivation are partly explained by individual differences at the level of DNA.  More recently, international teams have begun to identify genetic variants of small effect that correlate with educationally relevant traits, and to combine them in genomewide polygenic scores (GPS) that explain increasing proportions of variance.  It seems likely that at some point in the future commercial companies will be interested in using GPSs for screening purposes, and there is potential for them to be used widely within education.  It is therefore necessary that we consider the risks and benefits of such an approach, before the technology becomes available, in order that we can (a) establish principles to avoid harm; and (b) put appropriate regulation in place.  This project will be of interest to people with interest in, or knowledge of, behavioural genetics; bioethics; medical ethics; law; philosophy; politics or risk analysis.

Read more about this 'Using Genomewide Polygenic Scores in Education:  A risk-benefit analysis' research project.

Digital technology and youth mental health

Supervisor: Dr Beth Bell

Digital technologies play a complicated role in youth mental health and wellbeing. On one hand, they confer many risks. For example, online sexual victimisation can contribute to depression, diet and exercise apps can contribute to disordered eating, and there exists a
wealth of online misinformation about mental health on social media more broadly. On the other hand, digital technologies can have many positive affordances. For example, online mental health information can help young people overcome barriers to help-seeking,
engagement with body positive social media content can reduce eating disorder risk, and forums can provide opportunities to connect with others. Developing nuanced understandings of the role digital technologies play in relation to youth mental health and
wellbeing is important. This project aims to explore the risks and opportunities afforded by digital technologies in relation to youth mental health and wellbeing, using qualitative and/or mixed methods.

Read more about this 'Digital technology and youth mental health' research project.

Digital technology and youth mental health

Supervisor: Dr Beth Bell

Young people are exposed to a wide range of risks in online environments, including risks related to Content (e.g., unrealistic appearance ideals), Conduct (e.g., engagement in bullying), Contact (e.g., grooming, bully victim) and Commercialisation/Contract (e.g., scams). All of these “4Cs” of online harm can have a significant negative impact on children and adolescents’ mental health and wellbeing. Educating young people about the potential harms of digital environment can help to mitigate against these online risks, including through digital citizenship and critical literacy programmes. Yet research on effective approaches to this is still in its infancy. This project aims to understand how digital wellbeing can be effectively promoted through education.

Read more about this 'Promoting digital wellbeing through education' research project.

Developmental trajectories of the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity in relation to mental health and wellbeing in children (or adolescents)

Supervisor: Dr Dusana Dorjee

Mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents has been highlighted as an increasing concern by policy makers, educators and healthcare professionals. The focus of wellbeing interventions delivered in schools has been so far mostly on physical health (such as diet and nutrition) rather than on mental health. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of clarity regarding determinants of mental wellbeing and limited understanding of developmental trajectories of wellbeing and their evaluation. This PhD project builds on previous work in Dr Dorjee’s lab and particularly her latest theoretical research on the core determinants of wellbeing development (Dorjee, 2017; Dorjee, in prep.; also see the article in The Conversation, titled, ‘Schools need to teach pupils skills to maintain good mental health – here’s how’. One of the two core determinants is the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity (MSRC). The MSRC enables us to notice thoughts, feelings etc. in our mind and to effectively manage these in support of our wellbeing (Dorjee, in prep.). The MSRC involves metacognition, attention control, emotion regulation and regulation of negative rumination. Previous research on related psychological constructs shows that self-regulation and self-control (involving metacognition, attention control and emotion regulation) in childhood predict health in adulthood (eg, Moffitt et al., 2010). We also know that negative rumination is strongly associated with psychopathology (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008).

Read more about this 'Developmental trajectories of the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity in relation to mental health and wellbeing in children (or adolescents)' research project.

Investigating the potential of contemplative practice programmes in supporting mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents

Supervisor: Dr Dusana Dorjee

Implementation and research on contemplative practice-based programmes cultivating qualities such as mindfulness, acceptance, self-compassion etc. in education greatly expanded over the last decade. There is growing evidence suggesting that such programmes may enhance cognitive abilities (Sanger & Dorjee, 2016) and reduce anxiety, depression and stress symptoms in children and adolescents (Dunning et al., 2019). However, it is not clear if such benefits are maintained longer-term beyond the completion of the programmes, impacting on developmental wellbeing trajectories of young people. In addition, majority of previous research examined the effects of mindfulness-based programmes only; the available evidence on the effects of programmes cultivating not only mindfulness but also explicitly training in kindness, compassion and/or cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning in life is very limited. The potential of contemplative practices in contributing to education has also not been harnessed in the context of religious education where such practices could help revitalise the subject by inclusion of innovative experiential, rather than mostly conceptual, learning about a variety of contemplative and religious traditions.

Read more about this 'Investigating the potential of contemplative practice programmes in supporting mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents' research project.

Developmental trajectories of existential awareness in relation to mental health and wellbeing in children (or adolescents)

Supervisor: Dr Dusana Dorjee

Mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents is an increasing concern for parents, educators, healthcare professionals and policy makers. The mental wellbeing programmes currently delivered in schools are often only a couple of months in duration and there is a lack of clarity about which programmes might be most effective at which age with a view of supporting long-term wellbeing of children and adolescents. One of the main reasons for this is limited understanding of the key determinants of mental wellbeing and its developmental trajectories. This PhD project builds on previous work in Dr Dorjee’s lab and particularly the latest theoretical research on the two core determinants of wellbeing (Dorjee, 2017; Dorjee, in prep.; also see the article in The Conversation, titled, ‘Schools need to teach pupils skills to maintain good mental health – here’s how’.) One of the two determinants is mode of existential awareness - a phenomenological felt-sense of self and world linked to purpose and meaning in life. Existential awareness determines how we relate to our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. For example, poor wellbeing would be associated with a mode of existential awareness characterised by immersion in, and identification with, thoughts and feelings (and associated with increased reactivity to them). Such state is often linked with a felt lack of connection with people in our lives and with the world more broadly. In contrast, better wellbeing would be associated with a felt sense of healthy distance from thoughts and feelings, and a sense of connection with others and the world; it would also be associated with more pro-social behaviour and altruistic/compassionate attitudes. 

Read more about this 'Developmental trajectories of existential awareness in relation to mental health and wellbeing in children (or adolescents)' research project.

Understanding Gender Gaps in Education

Supervisor: Dr Nadia Jessop

Gender differences in academic attainment and mental health are widely studied, as are the links between mental health and academic attainment. Gender interacts with the learning environment, and psychosocial factors (e.g. mental health, belongingness) to influence attainment. However, few studies explicitly link the gender differences in mental health to gender differences in academic achievement. A first step in understanding the link between gender differences in mental health and gender differences in attainment, is understanding the common causes and consequences of both, as well as identifying commonalities in what works and doesn't work across interventions meant to address each issue.

Read more about this 'Understanding Gender Gaps in Education' research project.

Multidimensional Student Inclusion

Supervisor: Dr Nadia Jessop

Social inclusion is particularly important for first-year international university students, who might be experiencing cultural mismatch at UK universities. A major developmental task of adolescence, including emerging adulthood, is the learning of sociocultural scripts within a particular context, in preparation for a successful transition to adulthood. However, cultural mismatch can occur when the social scripts for one cultural context do not translate into a new cultural context. Because first-year international university students find themselves in new physical settings within a new culture, while adapting to a new independence, inclusion cannot be examined within one dimension. According to sociocultural and social learning theories in educational psychology, the key to improving students' academic and psychosocial adjustment goes beyond addressing individual factors to include intervening upon multiple features of the learning environment.

Read more about this 'Multidimensional Student Inclusion' research project.

Improving the recruitment, selection, and development of teachers and school leader selection

Supervisor: Professor Rob Klassen

This project will explore ways of improving (one or more of) the recruitment, selection, and development of teachers and school leaders. The project will examine different approaches to the three important phases of improving the educational workforce - recruitment, selection, and development. 

Read more about this 'Improving the recruitment, selection, and development of teachers and school leader selection' research project.

Exploring teachers’ noncognitive attributes across contexts

Supervisor: Professor Rob Klassen

This project will examine how teachers’ ‘noncognitive attributes’ (motivation, emotions, personality, interpersonal skills) vary across cultural contexts. In addition, links between noncognitive attributes and teacher effectiveness will be examined.

Read more about this 'Exploring teachers’ noncognitive attributes across contexts' research project.

The power of stories: Effects on child development and learning

Supervisors: Dr Sebastian Suggate

Stories, both personal and historical narratives, not only form and consolidate our identities as human beings and connect us socially, they are also a potentially powerful way of acquiring language and literacy skills alongside other types of subject-specific learning. Much work exists on shared-book reading, but little research exists on the effect of free story telling. Free story telling can prove more captivating and inspiring for children, possibly augmenting their learning experiences. New approaches (e.g., digital story telling) seek to captivate listeners using multimedia methods, also aiming to improve learning. Many questions, however, remain unanswered.

Read more about this 'The power of stories: Effects on child development and learning' research project.

Is it all in the Mind? Imagery, reading, and learning

Supervisors: Dr Sebastian Suggate

Mental images - how we re-experience and simulate the world internally, in the absence of external stimuli—have been long thought to be fundamentals of human experience. Indeed, many people argue that problem solving and thinking involves imagining the problem from different perspectives. Similarly, when we read texts, many people report experiencing images of what they read, some say that reading for them is like “watching a film in their heads”. However, others, such as those with a condition known as aphantasia, claim to experience no (conscious) imagery. In fact, we know very little about our inner worlds of mental images, such as whether these are purely visual and auditory or whether these can exist for the other five or six senses we have. We know very little about how imagery relates to learning, reading, and reading comprehension in children and adults. Both quantitative and qualitative work is sorely needed to tackle the many outstanding questions for different groups of learners and different ages.

Read more about this 'Is it all in the Mind? Imagery, reading, and learning' research project.

The connections between fine motor skills and learning

Supervisors: Dr Sebastian Suggate

A question that has baffled and inspired psychologists, educations, and philosophers for centuries is how the mind and body are in intertwined. Children who struggle with reading, language, and mathematics tend to have lower fine motor skills. Indeed, for all children research has begun to show that fine motor skills link to learning and development, however there are still many unanswered questions, for many domains of learning and development (reading, maths, language, cognition, imagery), and age groups (children, adults, the elderly). Newer ideas about how exactly our mind is connected with our body have begun to change our understanding (e.g., grounded cognition), which has opened a great deal of new research questions.

Read more about this 'The connections between fine motor skills and learning' research project.

Why do some children perform better in school than others?

Supervisor: Professor Sophie von Stumm

School serves two important functions in society. Firstly, it equips children with the knowledge and skills essential for them to successfully participate in society, for example, reading, writing and arithmetic. And secondly, school performance functions as a gatekeeper regulating children’s access to further education. That is, children who perform poorly in school are less likely to secure a place at university or other higher education institutions that place great demands on learning ability, compared to children who did well in school. Because educational qualifications are positively associated with all important life outcomes, including income, health, and longevity, children’s differences in school performance have pervasive, long-term influence on their lifespan development.

Read more about this 'Why do some children perform better in school than others?' research project.

Alternative mental health interventions for autistic children

Supervisors: Dr Umar Toseeb & Professor Carole Torgerson

Autism spectrum conditions are characterized by social and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours, and high sensitivity to sensory stimuli (APA, 2013). In the UK, the prevalence of autism is estimated at ~1 (Baird et al., 2006). Autistic children are also more likely to experience anxiety and depression meaning that they are more likely to present in mental health services for support. Much of the support offered in these settings is based around talking therapies (e.g., IAPT). This is problematic for those with language and communication difficulties, such as autistic children, as it means they are effectively excluded from accessing support for mental health difficulties.

Read more about this 'Alternative mental health interventions for autistic children' research project.

Which factors make autistic children vulnerable to sibling bullying?

Supervisor: Dr Umar Toseeb

Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are characterized by social and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours, and high sensitivity to sensory stimulus (APA, 2013). In the UK, the prevalence of ASC is estimated at ~1 (Baird et al., 2006). The condition has a number of mental health correlates, which further reduce the quality of life of those affected (Matson & Nebel-Schwalm, 2007).

Autistic children have difficulties in social interactions, such as turn taking in conversation, and deficits in non-verbal communication (APA, 2013). These difficulties have implications for children’s relationships with the people around them. In neurotypical children, good quality sibling relationships are important as they help children develop social skills and are a source of emotional support. However, up to 50% of children have been bullied by their siblings and up to 40% have bullied their siblings (Wolke, Tippett, & Dantchev, 2015). Sibling bullying in childhood is associated with adverse behavioural (Wolke & Samara, 2004; Wolke & Skew, 2011) and worse mental health outcomes (Bowes, Wolke, Joinson, Lereya, & Lewis, 2014). Given the heritable nature of ASC, it might be expected that sibling bullying may be more likely in families in which a child with ASC due to a higher risk of poorer language and communication skills within these families (due to the broader Autism phenotype). Indeed, recent evidence suggests that children with ASC are more likely to bully and be bullied by their siblings compared to children without ASD (Toseeb, McChesney, & Wolke, 2018) and this is associated with various mental health difficulties (Toseeb, McChesney, Oldfield, & Wolke, 2020).

Whilst there are many possible reasons for the increased risk of sibling bullying in families with an autistic child there are no reports on the reasons for this. Therefore, the primary focus of the PhD project will be to understand which factors that make autistic children vulnerable to sibling bullying.

Read more about this 'Which factors make autistic children vulnerable to sibling bullying?' research project.

Who takes part in autism research and whose voices are being heard?

Supervisors: Dr Umar Toseeb & Professor Carole Torgerson

Autism spectrum conditions are characterized by social and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours, and high sensitivity to sensory stimulus (APA, 2013). In the UK, the prevalence of ASC is estimated at ~1 (Baird et al., 2006). The condition has a number of mental health correlates, which reduce the quality of life of those affected (Matson & Nebel-Schwalm, 2007).

There has been a great push towards involving the autistic community in research. For research to be conducted with autistic people rather than on autistic people. Funders expect the autistic community to have been involved in the planning of research. Some academic journals now require explicit statements about how the autistic community were involved in the reported research. This can include autistic people helping to identify areas of need, co-designing research questions, helping to interpret findings, or autistic people leading research projects. But the autistic community is so diverse - are everyone’s voices being heard?

Read more about this 'Who takes part in autism research and whose voices are being heard?' research project.

University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG)

Investigating genomics education in schools

Supervisor: Dr Jeremy Airey

Genomics literacy is a pressing issue in school science education, given the rapid development of genomics and its applications, the urgent need to support learners with personal choices and with their democratic rights to engage with related societal debates, and the evidence of persistently low levels of genomic literacy. There have been many calls, dating back at least two decades, for evidence-informed modernisation of school-level teaching of variation, inheritance and genetics, to meet these needs. These calls have come from within and beyond the genetics and science education research communities. However, the pace of change is frustratingly slow. 

There are some under-researched groups, in relation to ‘genomics education’ - notably teachers, and learners in the 9-13 age range. For example, we know little about science teachers’ views on what needs to be taught and how, or about how confident they feel with their relevant subject knowledge and pedagogical skills. We know little about what learners want to know, how they relate to the issues that genomics applications raise, or how they come to solid (or shaky) understandings of relevant ideas. Improved knowledge in these areas could support relevant educational reform.

Read more about this 'Investigating genomics education in schools' research project.

A climate of uncertainty? Investigating youth responses to climate adaptation, mitigation and technological intervention

Supervisor: Dr Lynda Dunlop

Urgent action is needed to deal with the climate crisis to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. Possible actions include reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and minimising the harmful effects of climate change. More recently, a range of technological responses to climate change have been proposed: large-scale intervention in Earth’s climate (geoengineering). Geoengineering includes technologies for carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. Geoengineering is debated among scientists and politicians, not least because of the unknown intergenerational consequences, and the potential differential impacts on people in different parts of the planet.

It is therefore important to include youth perspectives in decision-making about the development and use of these technologies. This project will investigate decision-making processes and youth perceptions of these different responses to climate change.

Read more about this 'A climate of uncertainty? Investigating youth responses to climate adaptation, mitigation and technological intervention' research project.

Science Education, the environment and social justice

Supervisor: Dr Lynda Dunlop

Whilst science education has the potential to contribute to more equitable environments and societies, it can also serve to reinforce oppressive systems and practices.  Inequities across race, class, and gender persist in science education, and also in who experiences exposure to environmental risks.

This project will examine the role that science education can play in bringing about social justice through an analysis of policies and practices that can be used to empower students in science education, with particular attention to how environmental issues are treated in science education.  .

Read more about this 'Science Education, the environment and social justice' research project.

Investigating education and youth environmental activism

Supervisor: Dr Lynda Dunlop

In recent years, young people have been at the forefront of climate activism, with demands for climate and intergenerational justice made by movements such as the School Strikes 4 Climate movement. This activism has included social media campaigning, legal injunctions and peaceful protest to draw attention to the climate emergency, its origins in extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, and the local - and differential, depending on who you are and where you live - impacts of climate change. However, the extent to which education builds capacity for, or is supportive of, environmental activism is questionable.

The project will investigate systems, policies and practices linking activism and education and develop our understanding of young people’s educational experiences in support of environmental activism.

Read more about this 'Investigating education and youth environmental activism' research project.