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Developing a conceptual model to support the engagement of military bereaved families in research (Ref: RDF22/HLS/NMH/WILSON-MENZFELD)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Gemma Wilson-Menzfeld  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Due to the nature of service in the Armed Forces, there is an increased risk of personnel being exposed to serious, and often unsafe situations, that may result in untimely death (Cawkill, 2009; Kiernan et al., 2021). Each death leaves behind dependent family members with a unique set of challenges.

Widowhood is complex, with identity reconstruction both pre- and post-loss. This is further exacerbated for military widows with changes in military status. To better understand this complex grief, and to consider the implications for the military bereaved, we must better understand the lived experience of loss with regard to untimely, sudden or violent military deaths.

The military bereaved community are a ‘hard to reach’ population and this has been evident through exploratory research within our current research programme, with participation being variable, and typically a small cohort of military widows participate in this research. Recruiting ‘hard to reach’ populations can be challenging and can potentially result in under-representation in research studies (Bonevski et al, 2104). It is imperative that this population is wholly represented as opposed to repeated representation from small sub-groups The extent to which participants agree to take part in a research study is dependent on the characteristics of the ‘hard to reach’ group and, therefore, the recruitment method employed needs to respond effectively to the known attributes of the target cohort (Shaghaghi, et al., 2011).

This PhD study will aim to develop a conceptual model to engage this community. The study will build a picture of this population, exploring changing military widow identities, sociodemographic challenges, etc, to further understand the facilitators and barriers of military widows engaging in research. Ultimately this study aims to support future research within this population, and to benefit this community through changes to policy and practice.  

This PhD will use a mixed method approach will be used. Peer involvement will be employed to reach an otherwise seldom heard population. Recruitment to any research study depends on the trust and inter-relationships that exist among the group of interest. Participatory approaches have been utilised within qualitative research studies as a way of recruiting potential participants and they have also been able to work with participants from ‘hard to reach’ groups. Using this approach, participants are centrally involved in the research from the design stage through to completion and they will often decide what questions to ask and what areas of exploration of explanation are important.

This study aligns with the bereaved military families research programme, in the Northern Hub for Military Veterans and Families Research, Department of Nursing Midwifery and Health. This study also aligns with the Integrated Health and Social Care MDRT.  

Bonevski, B., Randell, M., Paul, C. et al. (2014). Reaching the hard-to-reach: a systematic review of strategies for improving health and medical research with socially disadvantaged groups. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 14, 42.

Cawkill, P. (2009). Death in the armed forces: Casualty notification and bereavement support in the UK military. Bereavement Care, 28(2):25-30.

Kiernan, M.D. et al. (2021). War Widows ‘knock on the door’: An exploratory study of the experienced of bereaved military families. Project report, Northumbria University. 

Shaghaghi, A., Bhopal, R.S., Sheikh, A. (2011). Approaches to Recruiting 'Hard-To-Reach' Populations into Re-search: A Review of the Literature. Health Promotion Perspectives, 1(2):86-94. doi:10.5681/hpp.2011.009.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Gemma Wilson-Menzfeld ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes ( which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Ackley, J., & Wilson-Menzfeld, G. (2021). The theatre as therapy for military veterans? Exploring the mechanisms which impact psychosocial well-being and social connections during theatre-based programmes. Arts and Health. DOI: 10.1080/17533015.2021.1979608.
Leslie, C., McGill, G., Kiernan, M.D., & Wilson, G. (2020). Social Isolation and Loneliness of UK Veterans: A Delphi Study. Occupational Medicine.
Wilson, G., McGill, G., Osborne, A., & Kiernan, M.D. (2020). Housing needs of ageing veterans who have experienced limb loss. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 1791. Doi:10.3390/ijerph17051791.
McGill, G., Wilson, G., Caddick, N., Forster, N., & Kiernan, M.D. (2020). Rehabilitation and transition in military veterans after limb-loss. Disability and Rehabilitation. DOI: 10.1080/09638288.2020.1734875.
McGill, G., Wilson, G., Hill, M., & Kiernan, M.D. (2019). Supporting the principles of the armed forces covenant in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups across England. BMJ Open. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022053.
Wilson, G., Hill, M., & Kiernan, M.D. (2018). Loneliness and social isolation of military veterans: A systematic narrative review. Occupational Medicine, 68 (9), 600-609. DOI: 10.1093/occmed/kqy160.
Kiernan, M.D., Osborne, A., McGill, G., Greaves, J., Wilson, G., & Hill, M. (2018). Are veterans different? Understanding help seeking behaviours for alcohol problems. Health & Social Care in the Community. DOI: 10.1111/hsc.12585.
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