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  Higher education and employment journeys for young adults and the impact on their mental health

   MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit

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  Dr Annie Herbert, Dr L Howe, Prof Frances Rice, Dr Matt Dickinson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Research Theme:

Population Health Sciences


Young adulthood is a period characterised by profound life transitions, and the peak period for emerging mental health problems. Difficulties at this stage can potentially set in motion chains of events adversely impacting the ability of young people to meet their potential. One important transition during this time is leaving school and either going into further education or employment, potentially involving positive experiences and opportunities, such as increased independence. However, some may not do either – being Not in Education, Employment, or Training (‘NEET’) at all, losing a job, or leaving university before graduating, have previously been linked to poor mental health via cross-sectional studies. However, the extent to which poor mental health drives these events, or these events drive poor mental health, is not well understood. A better understanding can inform where policymakers may be able to intervene to improve later outcomes. This is a key policy priority, evidenced by recent UK government enquiries into NEET and mental health among young people, respectively. In this exciting project, the student will use two large cohorts linked to other data sources, to research the interplay between education/employment patterns and mental health trajectories among young adults.

The project’s aim is to better understand education/employment journeys in young adults and pathways to mental health. The student will answer the following research questions:

1.      What are the typical patterns of education/employment during young adulthood?

2.      To what extent does adolescent mental health cause different employment/education patterns during young adulthood?

3.      Is there a bi-directional causal relationship between education/employment patterns and mental health during young adulthood?

4.      Are there modifiable factors on the causal pathway between education/employment patterns and mental health, that could help mitigate against poor mental health?

A key hypothesis is that adverse education/employment is more likely for those with poor mental health trajectories, and that adverse education/employment steepens these trajectories.

The student will use two UK cohorts (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children [ALSPAC]; Next Steps) on >30,000 people,(8, 9) including rich genetic, questionnaire, and clinical data, and linked administrative data. They will employ cutting-edge statistical/epidemiological methods (including genetic and longitudinal modelling, e.g. Mendelian Randomisation, difference-in-difference, mediation and multiple imputation analyses); given the volume of these data, this will often be within high-performance computing environments. They will be encouraged to get the full experience of enriching their research and ensuring its relevance, by engaging with relevant academics and policymakers (with which the supervisory team have strong links), and public engagement activities (the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit [MRC IEU] has a dedicated public engagement officer organising a range of opportunities). That is, the student will become expert in a range of skills adaptable for a future career in academia, public health, or industry. Given the context of the research in a time of economic and mental health crisis, the student will be carrying out research in an exciting area where national policy focus and funds are being prioritised.

How to apply  

This project is part of the GW4 BioMed2 MRC DTP projects.

Please complete an application to the GW4 BioMed2 MRC DTP for an ‘offer of funding’. If successful, you will also need to make an application for an 'offer to study' to your chosen institution.  

Please complete the online application form linked from our website by 5.00pm on Wednesday, 1st November 2023. If you are shortlisted for interview, you will be notified from Tuesday 19th December 2023. Interviews will be held virtually on 24th and 25th January 2024. Studentships will start on 1st October 2024.  


For enquiries regarding the application procedures please contact [Email Address Removed]  

Interested candidates should contact Annie Herbert [Email Address Removed]  for informal discussions about the project.

Anthropology (2) Education (11) Mathematics (25) Nursing & Health (27) Psychology (31) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded through GW4BioMed2 MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. It consists of UK and international tuition fees, as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24, updated each year).  
Additional research training and support funding of up to £5,000 per annum is also available.