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Exploring the potential to promote healthy ageing and reduce multimorbidity by enhancing social connections post-retirement.

Project Description

This three and a half (3.5) year studentship is part of the Healthy Lifespan Institute at The University of Sheffield. This exciting new research initiative is dedicated to the understanding and prevention of multimorbidity, which is the presence of two or more chronic health conditions that create disability and poor quality of life in old age. We are taking a unique multidisciplinary approach that spans the biological and social sciences and strive to create new practices, policies and products across the life course that target multiple conditions and help people live longer, healthier and more independent lives.

As a student within the Healthy Lifespan Institute, you will be a valued and active member of the Institute and your work will be vital in contributing to our aims and helping to effect real change.You will be part of a wider multidisciplinary network of PhD students and will have the chance to influence and lead Institute activity, (i.e. sitting on Committees, representation at Exec, designing a programme of activities), to take part in seminars and events, and to meet leaders in the field.

Project Aims and Objectives:
There are currently different but related research evidence bases in the disciplines of social science and public health/epidemiology which support the concept that social engagement and physical activity are crucial to healthy ageing, and both directly contribute to reducing morbidity and mortality and increasing wellbeing throughout the life course. This project aims to to understand the links between multimorbidity (the presence of two or more chronic health conditions) and social connections, and to generate evidence to support the development of strategies and interventions that can reduce or prevent multimorbidity through enhancing social connections. We are offering a study based in Sheffield using a mixed methods approach to be designed by the successful candidate. Methods are expected to include: synthesis of existing evidence: analysis of existing large scale datasets; a survey of older people; follow up focus groups with a selection of survey respondents, and qualitative interviews with key stakeholders and service providers in the city region.

Objective 1: To synthesis existing evidence for i) causal associations between community activities post retirement and changes in social connections ii) causal associations between changes in social connections and health related behaviours (physical activity, diet, alcohol consumption etc.)

Objective 2: To use existing large scale datasets e.g. English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) to explore associations between social connections and health related behaviours.

Objective 3: To identify community interventions with significant potential to both enhance social connections and support health related behaviours (e.g. community dance; lunch clubs, walking groups; walking football) and conduct a survey of older people post retirement (both participants and non-participants).

Objective 4: Explore with intervention providers and intervention participants/non-participants the contextual factors, mechanisms/pathways and potential changes in both social connections and health behaviours.

Objective 5: With a range of relevant stakeholders, develop evidence-based recommendations for maximizing the value of community activities for individuals post-retirement.

Methodology: The project will potentially require the use of both systematic review methods for evidence synthesis of both quantitative and qualitative research (Objectives 1), quantitative data collection and analysis (Objectives 2 & 3) and qualitative primary data collection and analysis methods (Objectives 4 & 5). It will also require collaboration with community organisations, older people and other stakeholders throughout the project.

Proposed Timelines:
Months 1 -12: Completion of evidence review and preliminary analysis of existing data sets to inform development of protocol for primary data collection and analysis.
Months 13-24: Completion of data collection (survey and focus groups/interviews as appropriate) and preliminary analysis.
Months 25-30: Writing up of study findings.
Months 31-36: Development of recommendations and completion/submission of thesis.

Supervision and Mentorship:
To reflect the complex challenges of addressing multimorbidity the Healthy Lifespan Institute seeks to create highly interdisciplinary collaborations across the different faculties of the University of Sheffield and with external partners. This studentship will be jointly supervised by senior academics Prof. Elizabeth Goyder (School of Health and Related Research, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health) and Dr. Andrea Wignfield (Department of Sociological Studies, Faculty of Social Science). There will be additional mentorship from Dr. Sarah Hothman (Centre for Health Services Studies, University of Kent) and Steve Chu (Chief Executive, Age UK Sheffield & Director of Age England Association).

Funding Notes

Funding details and salary/stipend rate:

Each studentship will be supported for 3.5 years with the student handing in their thesis at the end of this funding period.

Students will be provided with:
A full award paying fees and maintenance at the standard Research Council rates (stipend & fees).
Research Training Support Grant of £1,500 per year, for each student

Proposed start date: October 2020


Entry Requirements:
Candidates must have a first or upper second class honors degree, and a Merit at masters or significant research experience. The project is appropriate for applicants from a range of disciplinary backgrounds who are interested in working at the interface between public health and social sciences and have some experience in both qualitative and quantitative research methods. This studentship is open to home/EU students only.

How to apply:
Please complete a University Postgraduate Research Application form available here:

Please clearly state the title of the studentship, the prospective main supervisor and select ScHARR as the department.

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