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PhD Studentship in development and evaluation of a study within a trial to improve recruitment and retention (PhD2019YTU)

The Department of Health Sciences, University of York, is inviting applications for a fully funded PhD studentship, available on a full-time basis to start in October 2019.

The successful candidate will be part of the Trials and Statistics research group and will be supervised by Professor David Torgerson.

Project details

Recruitment and retention in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) present a huge challenge to researchers. Typically, 50% of RCTs fail to recruit on time and to target, which results in trials being under-powered or requiring an extension. Furthermore, poor recruitment often means participants are not representative of the community from which they are drawn. Once participants are recruited, retention is crucial to avoid select bias and loss of statistical power.

At the York Trials Unit’s Trial Forge Studies Within A Trial (SWATs) Centre, we have launched a programme of SWATs to test out interventions to improve recruitment and reduce retention. One of particular interest is the role of ‘nudge’ type interventions to improve recruitment and retention. In this PhD, the candidate will adopt the ‘MRC complex interventions framework’ to develop and evaluate a ‘nudge’ intervention aimed at improving recruitment and retention. This will adopt a multi-phased, mixed methods approach. The PhD will comprise of the following:

  1. A systematic review to identify nudge interventions that could be applied to improve recruitment and retention;
  2. Modification of the identified interventions, using qualitative methods, to make them applicable to a health context; and
  3. Testing the interventions in at least two SWATs in ongoing RCTs at York or in a collaborating clinical trials unit.

Consequently, for this PhD the student will gain experience of: systematic reviews, qualitative research, and randomised controlled trials. The student will also benefit from being based in a lively and supportive research and learning environment.


The scholarship is open to UK/EU citizens on a full-time or part-time basis.  The studentship provides a tax free stipend per annum for UK/EU citizens in line with RCUK standard rates (£15,009for 2019/20), plus tuition fees at the UK/EU rate, and research expenses of £2250 over the duration of the PhD.   

Essential and desirable requirements

Applicants will need to hold, or expect to gain, at least an upper second class honours (2:1) degree or equivalent. A Masters degree in a health/medical sciences related subjects is highly desirable, or alternatively, research experience in a relevant subject.

Applicants are required to submit a short research proposal (max 500 words) outlining their ideas in the area of trial recruitment and retention. Applicants will not be considered if a proposal for study is not submitted. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Professor David Torgerson to discuss proposal ideas before applying (contact details under Informal Enquiries below).

For students whose first language is not English there is a minimum requirement of an IELTS score of at least 6.5 in each component of the test and an overall score of at least 7.

Process for Application

Applications should be received no later than Thursday 23rd May before 16:00h UTC. Applications will not be considered for the studentships after this date.

Applications should be made using the Department of Health Sciences on-line application process which can be accessed using the following link.

When completing the electronic form, applicants will need to state that they are applying for the advertised studentship and include ref: PhD2019YTU under the ‘How studies will be funded’ section, in order to be considered for the scholarship.

Shortlisting: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date and shortlisted applicants will be notified promptly.

Start date: October 2019.


Individuals with the strongest academic record, experience, and research proposal ideas will be shortlisted and invited to interview in June. Interviews will be conducted face-to-face or via Skype or similar communication tools, if required.   

Informal enquiries

For informal enquiries please contact Professor David Torgerson (

Department of Health Sciences

The Department of Health Sciences includes over 280 academics, teachers, researchers and support staff engaged in delivering research, professional development, education and training. Our core aim is excellence in research and teaching, while contributing to improving health and healthcare through the application of our research to policy and practice. We are a multidisciplinary department, involving clinicians from a range of health professions including medicine, nursing and midwifery alongside disciplines such as statistics, health economics, health services research, psychology, sociology and epidemiology. In the most recent assessment of research quality in the UK (the 2014 Research Excellence Framework), the Department was ranked equal first nationally for its research environment and all aspects of our research environment was judged to producing research of world-leading quality in terms of vitality and sustainability.  

Our research activity is organised around six core themes: mental health and addiction; trials and statistics; public health and society; cancer epidemiology; cardiovascular health; and health services and policy

The successful candidate will join a vibrant community of over 200 postgraduate students in our Graduate School, including over 50 PhD students. Our PhD students are embedded in one of our research groups and have the flexibility to tailor their studies to pursue their own research interests, and a bespoke training programme is designed in conjunction with the supervisory team to support the development of essential subject-specific and transferable skills for their future careers.  

The University

The University of York is one of the foremost Universities in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of leading UK Universities. It has an outstanding record of research, teaching, and training across a full range of disciplines. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, The University ranked 10th on the impact of our research and 14th overall. The University has a particular strength in health-related research.

The main campus is a 200-acre landscaped park, with colleges and academic buildings within walking distance of each other. Proximity to the historic city of York makes the University a popular choice and provides a pleasant working environment. Transport connections to York are fast and effective.

University of York Graduate Research School