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  Gender-inclusive online learning spaces in higher education for improved health and wellbeing

   School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society

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  Dr Sacha Hasan  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The United Nations have identified ‘gender equality’ and ‘good health and wellbeing’ as sustainable development goals (SDGs). These are interrelated SDGs as social inclusion and non-discrimination are recognised by the World Health Organisation as social determinants of health (SDH). This PhD studentship will explore gender inequalities in higher education, and its relationship with student health and wellbeing. With an increasing number of students using online learning spaces, evidence shows unequal levels of satisfaction with these between students with different gender identities. For example, a small number of empirical studies show that trans student engagement with online learning spaces is constrained by using pronouns and names in these that may differ from those preferred by these students, as well as the demand to use a webcam to evidence participation in the online learning space. This suggests that there is a need for more research on how gender identities influence engagement with online learning spaces, and on the relationship with student wellbeing. The studentship provides an opportunity for using a wide range of methodological approaches, including participatory, narrative, and visual methods. The candidate should engage with representatives of student communities, and individual students with different gender identities, to generate a rich evidence base for analysis. To deliver upon The Urban Institute’s ambitions for ‘impact and social change’ and ‘excellence in learning and teaching’, the studentship should result in a set of recommendations to guide the reduction of gender inequalities in the design and function of synchronous and/or asynchronous online learning spaces used in HE, e.g. webinar platforms (MTeams or Zoom) and/or Canvas. These need to be developed in partnership with a range of higher education stakeholders, varying from policy makers to technology developers, online learning designers, Heriot-Watt University academics, and practitioners.

Relevant subject areas: Human Geography; Social Geography; Digital geography; Psychology; Education; Identity; Gender inequality; Health and wellbeing; Inclusion; Non-discrimination; Justice by design; Online learning.


This project is open to all students, whether home, EU or overseas.

The successful candidate will have at least an upper second-class (2:1) undergraduate honours degree in the relevant subject area and ideally a Masters Degree. We may also consider candidates who can demonstrate appropriate alternative learning such as experience gained in the workplace or professional qualifications.

We recognise that not every talented researcher will have had the same opportunities to advance their careers. We therefore will account for any particular circumstances that applicants disclose (e.g. parental leave, caring duties, part-time jobs to support studies, disabilities etc.) to ensure an inclusive and fair recruitment process.  

How to Apply

To apply you must complete our online application form.

Please select PhD Urban Studies as the programme and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor name on your application form. Ensure that all fields marked as ‘required’ are complete.

Once have entered your personal details, click submit. You will be asked to upload your supporting documents. You must complete the section marked project proposal; provide a supporting statement (1-2 A4 pages) documenting your reasons for applying to this particular project, outlining your suitability and how you would approach the project. You must also upload your CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and an academic reference in the relevant section of the application form.

You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0, or a TOEFL certificate with an overall score of at least 85, including reading 20, listening 19, speaking 20 and writing 21. Alternatively, if you have received an English-taught Bachelors or Masters degree from one of the countries listed on the UK Government Guidance under ‘Who does not need to prove their knowledge of English’, and it was obtained less than two years from your intended start date, you should provide evidence of your award that clearly states it was delivered and assessed in English language.

The primary supervisor for this project is Sacha Hasan. please contact [Email Address Removed] for further information or an informal discussion.

Please contact [Email Address Removed] for technical support with your application.


The closing date for applications is 22 March 2024 and applicants must be available to start in September 2024.

Geography (17) Psychology (31) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

James Watt Scholarship
This is a full scholarship which will cover tuition fees (Home and Overseas) and provide an annual stipend (£19,237 in 2024-25) for 42 months. Thereafter, candidates will be expected to pay a continuing affiliation fee (currently £130) whilst they complete writing up their thesis.