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Cambridge ESRC DTP Interdisciplinary Studentship 2020: Evolving cities: Understanding the health impacts of changes in the urban environment

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The University of Cambridge ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership [DTP] is pleased to offer an interdisciplinary studentship available for admission in October 2020. The studentship is open as either a one-year masters followed by three-year doctoral programme or a three-year doctoral programme and will be co-supervised by Dr Jenna Panter (MRC Epidemiology Unit) and Dr Alice Reid (Geography). DTP students will acquire a unique set of skills that will equip them for high-profile careers as leading social scientists, in academia or in other government, industrial, commercial and third sector organisations, either in the UK or elsewhere.


People’s physical and social environments affect behaviours such as diet and physical activity, and these in turn affect mental and physical health and may have social and environmental co-benefits. However, scientific uncertainty surrounds the effects of environmental interventions to change population patterns of activity and the mechanisms by which that goal might be achieved.

Environmental changes include changes in transportation systems, housing and public open spaces. Epidemiological analysis to assess the health impacts of these environmental changes usually view the common challenges of cohort attrition and migration (both between neighbourhoods and at larger scales) as problems to be overcome. However geographical approaches see migration not as a problem, but an important part of the system to be studied. In-comers usually have different socio-demographic profiles, housing and health needs from the established community, while different levels of population turnover can dramatically influence social systems, infrastructural needs, and interactions with the environment. Combining epidemiological understanding of population level behaviour change with geographical and demographical understanding of migration would provide a major step change in public health promotion with potential for public health impact.

We envisage students using a combination of epidemiological, demographic and spatial statistical skills to work on a combination of detailed individual- and local-level data, potentially supplemented by qualitative data collection and analysis to provide a deeper understanding of mechanisms. There will be opportunities to develop some, but not all, of these during a PhD. We encourage applicants from a range of science and social science backgrounds. Students will be expected to develop their own research questions, but they might choose to work towards questions such as:
- How do changes in the urban built environment affect the health of the population living there?
- What are the spatial and temporal patterns of these changes?
- How does population turnover affect changes in population health and interactions with the built environment?
- What are the other social and physical processes that bring about any changes in health outcomes?

A full ESRC DTP studentship will cover fees and DTP students also receive a personal allowance for additional training costs. Students who already have a masters in a relevant discipline (e.g. epidemiology, demography, human geography or similar) are invited to apply for the 3 year doctoral programme. Other applicants are encouraged to apply for the 4-year programme (1-year masters plus 4-year PhD). Students can apply for further funding to pursue fieldwork, academic exchange, and collaboration with non-academic partner organisations. For example, we anticipate the possibility of a research visit to the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, through our collaborations with Professor Rich Mitchell and Dr Rebecca Mancy.

Cambridge ESRC DTP studentships are currently open to students who meet UK or EU residential criteria and the required academic conditions. Full studentships are open only to those meeting certain residency requirements. You can find out more here:

What to do next

You can find out more about the Cambridge ESRC DTP at: and read about some of the opportunities that will be available to you. You can find out more about the MRC Epidemiology Unit at and the Department of Geography at Please address any questions about this studentship to Dr Jenna Panter at

All Cambridge ESRC DTP applicants follow the University’s standard admission process. Applications for this studentship should be made to the MRC Epidemiology Unit. Please go to our Graduate Admissions Portal to start your application and ensure you indicate that you wish to be considered for funding in the Funding section of the online application form.

The closing date for applications is Tuesday 7 January 2020.

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