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PhD Studentship: Understanding polygenic and pre/post-natal environmental influences - and their interplay - in cognitive and behavioural development.

Birkbeck, University of London - Dept of Psychological Sciences and the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: London
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: The studentship is three years full-time and covers tuition fees at the UK/home fee rate, and a stipend for three years (The stipend rate was £17,285 per annum for 2020/21)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 23rd June 2022
Closes: 11th July 2022

Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship with Birkbeck University and Institute of Education, University College London

Project Title: Understanding polygenic and pre/post-natal environmental influences - and their interplay - in cognitive and behavioural development.

Studentship Information

This 3-year PhD studentship is a collaboration between Dr Meaburn at Birkbeck University and Dr Oliver at the Institute of Education, University College London. The studentship is funded by the Bloomsbury Colleges and will build on recent theoretical and technical advances to better understand the interconnected influences of DNA sequence variation and environmental influences on children’s development.

Studentship Description and importance

The studentship has four specific objectives. Firstly, in the context of structural equation models, to apply parent and child polygenic scores to systematically partition polygenic influence into direct and indirect (environmentally mediated) pathways to children’s outcomes. Secondly, to perform a series of pre-specified mediation analyses to examine specific (and mechanistically plausible) pre- and post-natal environments that mediate indirect paths identified.  Thirdly, to utilise existing longitudinally and cross-sectional datasets to examine developmental change and stability. Finally, individual differences in response to intervention are well recognised, yet little is known about polygenic effects that might moderate intervention response. The studentship will identify potential intervention datasets to explore the presence of polygenic score–intervention interactions. 

This output of this studentship will provide an enhanced understanding of the strength of non-genetically mediated paths between pre- and postnatal rearing environments and child development, and will have far-reaching implications for understanding causation, and for social policy. It will also provide more precise estimates of the magnitude of direct genetic effects, which will be crucial for evaluating the viability of using polygenic scores as prediction tools for health and behavioural outcomes.

Person specification

Graduates with a good first degree and/or Masters degree in social or medical statistics, quantitative biology, psychology or other relevant social science, child and adolescent development and quantitative methods are encouraged to apply.  Applicants should be comfortable with managing large files within a programming environment, and with using code in a statistical (eg RStudio) or scripting (eg Python) language. The project will require advanced statistical analysis skills (e.g., structural equation modeling).

Training and environment

The applicant will obtain generic skills (time management, project management, science communication) and domain specific skills (inc advanced statistics, genetic epidemiology, causal inference, programming, and dissemination of results to researchers and other stakeholders).

The student will have access to a broad range of training opportunities, including those provided by the institutional research centres, with their programmes of seminars, journal clubs and training courses.

Further details on the supervisors’ research can be found here:

Eligibility

The studentship is three years full-time and covers tuition fees at the UK/home fee rate, and a stipend for three years. The stipend rate was £17,285 per annum for 2020/21. Applicants from outside the UK may apply for this project. However, they will need to find means to cover the difference between the home tuition fees and the overseas through other sources.

If you have any queries regarding the vacancy or international tuition fee queries, please contact the principal supervisor of this studentship Dr Emma Meaburn (e.meaburn@bbk.ac.uk).

Please submit your application via https://www.bbk.ac.uk/student-services/financial-support/phd-funding/bloomsbury-colleges-phd-studentship-polygenic-scores-and-development & clearly state your interest in the ‘Bloomsbury PhD Studentship’.

Your application should be supported by a CV, a personal statement & contact details of two referees.

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