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Biological Pathways Linking Early-Life-Stress to Comorbid Mental and Physical Health Problems

Project Description

The University of Bath (Department of Psychology) is pleased to offer a PhD studentship project starting in Spring 2020, supervised by Dr Esther Walton, Dr Graeme Fairchild, and Professor Andrew Ward (University of Bath). This project is funded as part of the Horizon2020 scheme supported by the European Commission


The World Health Organisation has identified mental disorders, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among its leading non-communicable diseases. Recent research has also increasingly suggested that many mental and physical diseases find their developmental origin in the accumulated effects of stress early in life, both pre- and postnatally.
In addition to their separate complexity, existing research has shown important comorbid patterns linking these diseases. However, the specific causative and biological mechanisms (including genetic, epigenetic and inflammatory processes) leading to multi-morbidity across mental and physical diseases are not well understood.


The successful applicant will investigate the hypothesis that early-life stress (e.g. childhood maltreatment), a risk factor for depressive, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders individually, is a cause of multi-morbidity between these conditions.

As part of this PhD studentship, the applicant will apply advanced causal inference techniques such as Mendelian Randomization to gain deeper insight into whether early-life stress is a causal risk factor for multi-morbidity, and to what extent biological factors point towards causal mediating mechanisms.

The applicant will work closely together and collaborate with several large-scale international studies, such as ALSPAC ( ), with genome-wide and longitudinal epigenetic and other biological data available.


The applicant will generate findings that will enable us to estimate the societal and economic burden across the lifespan and aid identify biological targets to reduce rates of multi-morbidity for further investigations.

Career Development opportunities:

The applicant will be part of an international consortium comprising 13 high-profile research institutes in eight European countries providing an excellent international research network for training and future career opportunities.
This studentship includes travel to yearly consortium meetings and international conferences as well as funds for training courses.


Desirable qualities in candidates include intellectual curiosity, a background in working with biomedical data and programming experience.

Applications are invited from excellent candidates with a First or Upper Second Class degree and/or Master’s level and/or equivalent professional practice in psychology, genetics, epidemiology, computer science, or related areas. Candidates must have excellent teamwork and communication skills and be enthusiastic about their research. Relevant research experience and programming knowledge in R as well as experience working with biomedical data would be advantageous.

Informal enquiries about the project should be directed to Dr Esther Walton: .
Enquiries about the application process should be sent to

Funding Notes

There is one studentship available associated with this project, funded by the European Commission, for 4 years of full time study. The studentship will pay an elevated annual stipend of £19,919 (2019/2020 rate) to cover living expenses and the cost tuition fees. There will also be additional funding available to cover training costs.

The successful applicant would be expected to commence their PhD studies in April 2020.

How good is research at University of Bath in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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