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PhD Studentship - NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) – The Role of Sex Hormones in Reward and Punishment Sensitivity and the Implication for the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders

Newcastle University

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: 100% tuition fees (paid at home rate) and a minimum annual stipend of £18,622 (2023/ 2024 UKRI rate) with support for research costs. International candidates will be required to fund the difference between the home and international fees
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 2nd February 2024
Closes: 15th March 2024
Reference: TC080

Award Summary

100% tuition fees (paid at home rate) and a minimum annual stipend of £18,622 (2023/ 2024 UKRI rate) with support for research costs. International candidates will be required to fund the difference between the home and international fees. 

Overview

Women, particularly older women, are at a greater risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders than men. The causes are multifactorial but sex hormones play a role. This statement is evidenced by the relationship of mental health symptoms and disorder with the pre-menstrual, post-natal and peri-menopausal periods. 

Neurocognitive consequences of sex hormone changes including alterations in reward and punishment sensitivity may underlie this increased pathophysiology, may offer novel therapeutic strategies, treatment stratification and response and relapse prediction.  

This project aims to evaluate and increase the emerging evidence of an important interplay between sex hormones and cognition and to consider the patient monitoring and therapeutic potential of this. 

The project builds on the Supervisory team’s existing work in the area including Quentin Huys’ (UCL) £5M Wellcome funded study examining reinforcement learning in depression using antidepressants as probes. The longer term aim is that the development of an academic programme incorporating sex hormones, mood and reward will cross fertilise with our clinical (Regional Affective Disorders) service enabling clinical expertise in the management of women, particularly at times of sex hormone change, and that this clinical service will drive further academic development.   

The PhD will commence with a narrative and systematic review of the relationship between sex hormones, mood and cognition; specifically reinforcement learning and sustained attention. It is anticipated that the PhD will incorporate an evaluation of sex hormone dynamics, reinforcement learning and sustained attention in human subjects. 

Expertise in the neuropsychology of reward- including measurement of motivation and activation using wearables and the endocrinology of sex hormones will be developed over the project. 

Number Of Awards: 1

Start Date: September 2024 

Award Duration: 36 months 

Application Closing Date: 15 March 2024 

Sponsor: NIIHR Newcastle (BRC) 

Supervisors

Stuart Watson (Lead Supervisor) 

Peter Gallagher 

Richard Quinton 

Quentin Huys 

Mike Browning 

Eligibility Criteria

You must have or be expected to gain a minimum 2:1 Honours degree or international equivalent in a subject relevant to the proposed PhD project. A master’s qualification will be advantageous. 

Applicants whose first language is not English require an IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 5.5 in each subsection. International applicants may require an ATAS clearance certificate prior to obtaining their visa and to study on this programme.  

How To Apply

You must apply through the University’s Apply to Newcastle Portal 

In ‘Course choice’ tab, put ‘Postgraduate Research’ in 'Type of Study', ‘Full Time’ in ‘Mode of Study’, ‘2024’ in ‘Year of Entry’, code ‘8440F’ in ‘Course Title’, blank in ‘Research Area’. Press ‘Search’, select ‘PhD Translational and Clinical Research (FT)’, and save selection. 

Either upload a document or write into ‘Personal Statement’. Put code ‘TC080’ in ‘Studentship/Partnership Reference’. When prompted for research proposal, select ‘Write Proposal’. Type in the title of the research project from this advert. A research proposal is not required. Please upload a covering letter and CV and state how your interests and experience relate to the project.  

Degree transcripts/certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualification if completed must be uploaded.  

Contact Details: stuart.watson@newcastle.ac.uk

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