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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

PhD opportunities

BSMS > Postgraduate > Research degrees > PhD opportunities

PhD opportunities

All our current PhD studentship opportunities are listed on this page. 

In order to apply, please visit the University of Brighton website by clicking the “Apply Now” link below, and select “Doctoral College” as the School. You should then select the project that you wish to apply for. 

Apply for your PHD here >

We are also happy to consider applications from self-funded individuals, and for personally developed projects, we recommend an approach to a lead supervisor, following which you will have help and support with your application. 

For self-funded and speculative applications, we require that you submit a research proposal alongside your application. Within this you should take the opportunity to clearly outline your research idea; your research methodology and critical approaches; experience; and original contribution to knowledge and key themes, concepts and ideas. See our guidance on writing a research proposal >


How might we best support dyslexic medical students and foundation doctors in safe and effective prescribing?

Supervisors: Prof Michael Okorie, Dr Sebastian Shaw, Prof Nicola Martin, Prof G Ferns 

Application deadline: Wednesday 5 June 2024 

Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Foundation doctors are responsible for most of the prescribing of medicines in the acute care setting in the United Kingdom, and unsurprisingly they also have the highest prescribing error rate in comparison to more experienced prescribers. Furthermore, medical students do not feel adequately prepared for prescribing in the foundation years after graduation. Dyslexia is a specific learning difference that related to reading and writing without impacting on intelligence. Prescribing is a complex task and may be more challenging for dyslexic doctors than for their non-dyslexic peers. One study has demonstrated that medical students requiring reasonable adjustments underperform in the national Prescribing Safety Assessment in terms of both score and pass-rate. Further research is required to better understand the possible reasons for this.

Little is known about the social world of dyslexic doctors in relation to both the learning and undertaking of the prescribing of medicines. This PhD studentship is aimed at beginning to fill this dearth of research. The successful applicant will be supported in undertaking both qualitative and quantitative approaches to research in this subject area, which will culminate in a national survey of the experiences of dyslexic medical students and foundation doctors in relation to the prescribing of medicines.


1) Literature review. This will include transferable concepts from related disciplines.

2) Focused ethnographic study. The doctoral candidate will recruit 15-25 dyslexic FY1/FY2 doctors for this stage. Data will be collected in the following ways:

  • Direct participant observation in clinical settings
  • In situ interviews
  • Focus group discussions

3) Questionnaire validation study. The doctoral candidate will create and validate an online questionnaire, using the findings from the ethnographic study. The primary aim of this survey will be to quantify our qualitative findings. This will be piloted and validated for the following:

  • Content validity
  • Face validity
  • Test-retest reliability

4) National survey of medical students and foundation doctors using the validated questionnaire.

Research Plan

Phase 1: A review of existing policy and literature surrounding prescribing education, the act of prescribing in clinical settings and dyslexia in medicine/medical education. (4 months)

Phase 2: Utilising focused ethnography, an exploration of the culturally grounded experiences of dyslexic foundation doctors will be performed. This aims to generate a rich description of their world in relation to safe and effective prescribing. (12 months)

Phase 3: This will entail the creation and validation of an online questionnaire, using the findings from the ethnographic study. The main aim of this survey will be to quantify qualitative findings. (6 months)

Phase 4: This will entail the distribution and analysis of the online questionnaire nationally to dyslexic medical students and foundation doctors (8 months).

Phase 5: Analysis of data, thesis write up and publications. (6 months)


The doctoral candidate will benefit from a diverse supervisory team and the supportive collaboration of John Anderson. Our backgrounds and interests span across medicine, disability studies, critical autism studies, sociology, medical education, social justice, and participatory research. Our supervisory team includes lived experience of neurodivergence. SS (second supervisor) is dyslexic/autistic/ADHD. We strive to create a supportive, neurodiversity-affirmative research/educational environment.


We encourage applications from a wide range of backgrounds, not just medical/healthcare. We particularly encourage applications from those with social science backgrounds and/or those with previous experience in ethnography or wider qualitative research approaches. We also actively encourage applications from neurodivergent candidates. 

How to apply

In order to apply, please visit the University of Brighton website, and select “Doctoral College” as the School. You should then select the project that you wish to apply for. Interviews will take place on Friday 14 June 2024.

Funding notes

This is a 3-year PhD studentship funded by Brighton and Sussex Medical funded, starting on 1st October 2024. Funding will cover tuition fees for UK students (at the Home rate), a stipend at the UKRI rate and a research allowance which will cover research running costs. International applicants are welcome to apply but will be required to cover the difference between Home and International fees.


  • Kennedy MB, Haq I, Ferns G, Williams SE, Okorie M. The role of undergraduate teaching, learning and a national prescribing safety assessment in preparation for practical prescribing: UK medical students' perspective. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2019 Oct;85(10):2390-2398.
  • Shaw SCK, Okorie M, Anderson JL. Safe and effective prescribing with dyslexia: a collaborative autoethnography. The Qualitative Report. 2022;27(6):1710-29.
  • Shaw SCK, Hennessy LR, Anderson JL. The learning experiences of dyslexic medical students during the COVID-19 pandemic: a phenomenological study. Advances in Health Sciences Education: Theory and Practice. 2022;27(1):107-24.
  • Hennessy LR, Shaw SCK, Anderson JL. Medical students’ attitudes towards and beliefs about dyslexia: a single-centre survey study. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies. 2020;7(4):69-79.
  • Anderson JL, Shaw SCK. The experiences of medical students and junior doctors with dyslexia: a survey study. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies. 2020;7(1):62-71.
  • Shaw SCK, Hennessy LR, Okorie M, Anderson JL. Safe and effective prescribing with dyslexia. BMC Medical Education. 2019;19(1):277.
  • Shaw SCK, Anderson JL. The experiences of medical students with dyslexia: an interpretive phenomenological study. Dyslexia. 2018;24(3):220-33.
  • Shaw SCK, Malik M, Anderson JL. The exam performance of medical students with dyslexia: a review of the literature. MedEdPublish. 2017; 6(3): 2.
  • Shaw SC, Anderson JL, Grant AJ. Studying medicine with dyslexia: a collaborative autoethnography. The Qualitative Report. 2016; 21(11): 2036-54.

Sympathetic microneurography and its application to understanding pain in Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS)

Supervisors: Dr Yoko Nagai, Dr A Dilley, Prof H Critchley, Dr J Eccles  

Application deadline: Friday, May 31, 2024 Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (PoTS)1,2 is a form of dysautonomia, a condition characterised by differences in autonomic reactivity and symptoms such as dizziness on standing.  PoTS is associated with fibromyalgia3, a chronic widespread pain condition, and is more common in people with variant connective tissue (manifest as Joint Hypermobility)4,5. Understanding the link between dysautonomia and pain is clinically importance for the better management of symptoms that give rise to of disability and impair poor quality of life. Autonomic cardiovascular arousal, reflecting the action sympathetic nerves, and body-to-brain (interoceptive) feedback of this arousal, influence the experience of pain. For many people, increases in blood pressure, signalled through arterial baroreceptor firing at systole, can inhibit pain processing6 but, in some people with chronic pathological pain conditions, this can intensify pain7. Blood pressure is part-regulated by muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA), constricting vascular beds. The technique of microneurography can enable direct measurement of MSNA8.9, which can provide fine-grained insight into stress-sensitivity and individual differences2,3,8,9. This PhD project will use sympathetic microneurography to define mechanisms of interaction between pain processing and autonomic dysregulation that can account for fibromyalgia and experience of pain  symptoms in patients with PoTS.  With support from the Autonomic Charitable Trust and input from expert collaborators, we propose to train a scientist to doctoral level in the use of sympathetic microneurography and its application to understanding autonomic/pain interaction in PoTS.

The PhD will;
1) provide mechanistic insight into autonomic modulation of pain in PoTS and fibromyalgia;
2) enable the piloting of biobehavioural interventions10 that may help with dysautonomia and pain management;
3) strengthen collaboration between autonomic research centres nationally and internationally. 

Entry requirements

This studentship is suitable for those with background in neuroscience, physiology or another relevant subject area. We invite applications from students who have received or are on target to achieve a relevant undergraduate degree with minimum 2:1 classification (or equivalent). An MSc and previous experience in experimental research studies, ideally in humans, are desirable but not essential. 

How to apply

Applicants must apply through the University of Brighton application portal (StudentView, where they can submit a CV and complete the application form. The deadline for applications is 31st May 2024. Interviews will be held in June 2024. Informal enquiries are welcome and should be submitted to Professor Hugo Critchley or Professor Andrew Dilley

Funding notes

This is a 3-year PhD studentship funded jointly by the Baroness Susan Masham Autonomic Charitable Trust Research Award and by Brighton and Sussex Medical School to start between July and October 2024. Funding covers tuition fees for UK students (at the Home rate), a stipend at the UKRI rate, and research running costs. International applicants are welcome to apply but will be required to cover the difference between Home and International fees.The funding also supports and essential training component in the laboratory of Professor Vaughan Macefield, Baker Institute, Monash University Melbourne to which the capacity to travel is required.


1) Postural tachycardia syndrome--current experience and concepts. Mathias CJ et al Nat Rev Neurol. 2011 8:22-34.

2) Sympathetic nerve activity in response to hypotensive stress in the postural tachycardia syndrome. Bonyhay I, Freeman R.Circulation. 2004 110:3193

3) Hyperexcitable C nociceptors in fibromyalgia. Serra J, et al Ann Neurol 2014 75196- 208.

4) Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a.k.a. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome Type III and EhlersDanlos syndrome hypermobility type): Clinical description and natural history. Tinkle B, et al., Am J Med Genet C Semin Med Genet. 2017 175:48-69.

5) Joint hypermobility syndrome. Psychiatric manifestations. Eccles J, et al BMJ. 2011 342: d998.

6) Baroreceptor activation attenuates attentional effects on pain-evoked potentials. Gray MA, et al., Pain. 2010 151:853-6.

7) Sympathetic nervous system: contribution to chronic pain. Jänig W, Häbler HJ. Prog Brain Res. 2000; 129:451-68.

8) Sympathetic microneurography. Macefield VG. Handb Clin Neurol. 2013;117:353-64

9) Physiological and pathophysiological firing properties of single postganglionic sympathetic neurons in humans. Macefield V, Wallin B. J Neurophysiol. 2018 119:944-56.

10) Epileptic seizures are reduced by autonomic biofeedback therapy. Nagai Y et al., EBioMedicine. 2018 27:112-122.

PhD studentships now recruited

  • Coping Strategy Enhancement - adapting the intervention for the treatment of hallucinations in the context of dementia
  • Developing a co-designed brief, low cost and scalable intervention for student carer mental health and wellbeing
  • Optimising infection prevention and control in healthcare settings through applied genomics and prediction
  • Determining the role of long non-coding RNA in the pathogenisis of high-risk gain(1q) positive, multiple myeloma
  • Detection and characterisation of non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM)
  • Development of a new treatment for osteoarthritis
  • Substance use in relation to the mental and sexual heath of vulnerable adolescents and young adults under 25 in coastal areas of Kent and Sussex 
  • The mental health and wellbeing needs of looked after and displaced children in southeast England 
  • Helping young people to live successfully with long-term health issues
  • Resourcing Resilience: Positive psychology among adolescents living with HIV 
  • Widening access to psychological interventions for diverse communities: exploring the potential of community-led interventions 
  • Co-producing stigma-proof mental health interventions with and for newcomers (asylum seekers, refugees and migrants) in southeast England 
  • Defining Mycobacterium tuberculosis in lung tissue – a novel discovery platform for new vaccine and drug targets
  • Epidemiology of cancer in the elderly (aged > 65 years) in England
  • The roles of oxidative stress and redox regulation in chronic inflammatory disease (Supervisors: Dr Lisa Mullen, Prof Pietro Ghezzi, Prof Kevin Davies)
  • Pillars of Expertise: Visual Perception & Memory (Supervisors: Dr Natasha Sigala, Prof Mara Cercignani
  • Investigating the genetic basis of osteosarcoma in children & dogs (Supervisors: Prof Sarah Newbury, Dr Peter Bush, Dr Chris Jones)
  • The embodiment of unconscious knowledge in maladaptive behaviour (Supervisors: Prof Hugo Critchley, Dr Sarah Garfinkel, Prof Dora Duka)
  • Can simulation clarify diagnostic skills for newly qualified doctors? (Supervisors: Dr Inam Haq, Dr Wesley Scott-Smith)
  • Impact of oxytocin on emotional regulation in binge drinking and alcoholism: behavioural, physiological and fMRI investigations (Supervisors: Prof Hugo Critchley, Prof Dora Duka)
  • Developing an algorithm for predicting children with severe asthma (Supervisors: Prof Somnath Mukhopadhyay, Dr Katy Fidler)
  • Development of a refined model of neuropathic pain: a model without frank nerve injury (Supervisors: Dr Andrew Dilley, Prof Pietro Ghezzi)
  • Role of secreted oxidoreductases in osteoarthritis, rheumathoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (Supervisors: Prof Pietro Ghezzi, Dr Manuela Mengozzi)
  • Measuring quality of life in severe dementia: validation of DEMQOL-Proxy in family and professional carers of people with severe dementia (Prof Sube Banerjee, Prof Naji Tabet)
  • Stigma in health care: Does it influence the way general practitioners record consultations? (Supervisors: Dr Elizabeth Ford, Prof Helen Smith, Prof Flis Henwood)
  • Interoception and preventative intervention for anxiety in adults with autism (supervisors: Dr Sarah Garfinkel, Prof Hugo Critchley)