PhD Studentship: Harnessing the potential of community groups to prevent loneliness in older people.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science, Medical School

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants. 

Ten generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, 5 offered by the University of Exeter and 5 by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of:  Physical Activity and Nutrition; Healthy Ageing; and Environmental Sustainability.

Supervisor information

Exeter Academic Lead:  Dr Mark Tarrant

Queensland Academic Lead:  Professor Catherine Haslam

Project Description

Up to half of people over 60 years of age experience loneliness. Life course changes (e.g., retirement, bereavement, ill-health, a move into supported living), many of which accumulate as people age, often precipitate loneliness. Being lonely puts elderly people at greater risk of functional decline, and it increases the risk of premature death by nearly 50%. These associations remain when controlling for other risk factors including existing illness.

Concern about the scale and health consequences of loneliness has filtered into public and political discourse, with the UK appointing its first “minister for loneliness” in 2018. The public health implications are stark: as a mortality risk factor, loneliness is equivalent to the risks presented by obesity and physical inactivity. There is thus a clear and urgent need for effective and scalable interventions to address what has been labelled as the “public health challenge of our time”. Non-clinical community services may contribute part of the response to this challenge.

Project aims
(i) to map the generalisable components of existing community groups for the elderly that may buffer against loneliness;
(ii) to embed these components within an existing community group for the elderly, and assess their delivery.

Project design
(1) A multi-country longitudinal survey will explore the processes of social connectedness (e.g., social interaction, group cohesion) within existing community groups for older people and assess links to health.

(2) Ethnographic observations of existing community groups will establish principles of group connectedness in intervention delivery, extending a methodology developed in an ongoing trial of a group intervention for stroke survivors led by Mark Tarrant.

(3) Components identified in (1)&(2) will be manualised and introduced into an existing community group for the elderly, and a case study undertaken. Mixed methods evaluation will assess key feasibility issues (e.g., acceptability, delivery fidelity) and intervention processes through participant/facilitator interviews, checklists, and researcher observations.


Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £15,000 are available over the 3.5 year studentship

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South West England