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4-year PhD Studentship: Machine learning for understanding causes of disease

   Faculty of Health Sciences

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  Dr L Millard, Prof P Flach  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This project will explore using machine learning to predict health outcomes using data in epidemiology cohorts (e.g. UK Biobank, and the use of explainable AI approaches to identify potential new predictors of disease. For example, you might choose to explore using deep learning – the current state of the art of machine learning prediction approaches – to build models predicting health outcomes with large and complex datasets [1].

The particular data you work with will depend on your particular area of interest, but examples are predicting health outcomes from physical activity data measured with accelerometers [2] or imaging data [3].

Aims and objectives

Aim: To identify novel determinants of disease outcomes using cutting-edge machine learning approaches.


  1. To develop machine learning models (e.g., using deep learning) to predict health outcomes using large-scale health data (e.g., from UK Biobank).
  2. To investigate the potential to understand the predictions using explainable AI approaches.

There may also be opportunity to follow-up identified associations to look at causal relationships with Mendelian randomization [4].


You will develop expertise in using machine learning for making predictions in health (e.g., using deep learning approaches), and explainable AI approaches to understand predictive models. You will also develop knowledge in epidemiology and working with health data e.g., data wrangling, high performance computing.

How to apply for this project

This project will be based in Bristol Medical School - Population Health Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Please visit the Faculty of Health Sciences website for details of how to apply

Funding Notes

This project is open for University of Bristol PGR scholarship applications (closing date 25th February 2022)
The University of Bristol PGR scholarship pays tuition fees and a maintenance stipend (at the minimum UKRI rate) for the duration of a PhD (typically three years but can be up to four years).


[1] Rajkomar, A., Oren, E., Chen, K. et al. Scalable and accurate deep learning with electronic health records. npj Digital Med 1, 18 (2018).
[2] Doherty A, Jackson D, Hammerla N, Plötz T, Olivier P, et al. (2017) Large Scale Population Assessment of Physical Activity Using Wrist Worn Accelerometers: The UK Biobank Study. PLOS ONE 12(2): e0169649
[3] UK Biobank imaging data:
[4] Richmond, RC, Davey Smith, G. "Mendelian randomization: Concepts and scope." Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine 12.1 (2022): a040501.
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