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Funded PhD Scholarship: Mitigating the placebo effect in psychiatric clinical trials

Project Description

By providing crucial evidence on effectiveness and side-effects, clinical trials are an all-important step in getting new, helpful medical treatments into actual use. But what happens if aspects of this trial process make it hard for researchers to measure a beneficial effect?

Clinical trials, particularly in psychiatry, have been hindered by a rise in the placebo response, in which people receiving a placebo control (rather than active treatment) still improve because of the concerted attention of staff during a clinical trial – masking the effects of an otherwise beneficial treatment. The problem is that the placebo itself cannot be prescribed as an ongoing therapeutic tool: the effect wanes once a trial is completed; and in the real world, it is unfortunately neither feasible nor affordable to recreate the same level of personal attention.

So are we missing out on promising compounds because trial data cannot demonstrate their benefits?

This project addresses an important need across diverse diseases and diverse medications: exploring ways to reduce the placebo effect within randomised placebo controlled trials.

Working closely with Assoc. Prof. Olivia Dean, a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher (2019), with co-supervisors including Assoc. Prof. Linda Byrne, Deputy Head of the School of Psychology, the successful applicant will sit within supportive broader groups including CREDIT, The Centre of Research Excellence for the Development of Innovative Therapies for Psychiatric Disorders: Spanning psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology, and more, the Centre sits within Deakin University’s School of Medicine.

Project Aim

This project aims to test an intervention that could reduce the placebo effect in randomised control trials that rely on a placebo to reveal the effect of an active medication. The incoming PhD candidate will be integral to recruiting a cohort of participants to take part in focus groups and individual interviews explaining the placebo effect and the proposed intervention. The results of the project will be used to inform clinical trial designs in future and is likely to influence research and treatment development for a broad range of diseases.

Deadline for applications: 5 pm, Monday 13 April, 2020.


Due to required starting dates, this competitive scholarship is available to:
• Domestic students
• Applicants who can begin their candidature by 1 July 2020 or earlier
• Full-time candidates only.

Applicants will need to meet Deakin’s PhD eligibility criteria. Typically, successful candidates will hold an Honours degree (First Class) or equivalent standard Master's degree with a substantial research component.

About Deakin University

Deakin University is ranked in the top 2% of universities worldwide, and consistently ranks number one on student satisfaction and employment. In Geelong, Australia’s only UNESCO City of Design, local Deakin staff and students have the benefits of capital city living without the congestion and overcrowding. The group in which you will sit is uniquely situated within the flow of hospital and clinical life. Our students and staff work alongside clinical settings and amongst the increasingly vibrant arts, health, business, and community landscape of Geelong.

To discuss the project or application requirements, we welcome you to contact Assoc. Prof. Olivia Dean using the below enquiry form.

Funding Notes

• Fully funded scholarship: 3 years.
• Stipend of $28,092 annually (2020 rate), tax-free for full-time students.

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