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(MRC DTP) Allostatic overload of precarious workers: Ambulatory assessment and intervention

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  • Full or part time
    Prof C Armitage
    Prof Martie van Tongeren
    Dr K Dienes
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Allostasis in humans refers to the return to homeostasis following a response to an environmental stressor (McEwen, 2012). Allostatic load occurs when the adaptive stress response is triggered too frequently, or over too long a period of time, resulting in an imbalance of the primary mediators needed to maintain allostasis, such as glucocorticoid hormones (cortisol). Examples of the allostatic state include hypertension or a perturbed cortisol rhythm in major depression (McEwen & Wingfield, 2003).

“Precarious employment” is a term used to describe non-standard employment forms characterized by low security that may have negative effects on mental health (Ronnblad et al 2019) and The Gig Economy has resulted in increasing numbers of workers working for online platforms (eg UBER, Deliveroo) or otherwise work on zero hour contracts. The precarious nature of the work may have an impact on the mental health of the workers. However, evidence is not consistent. Ronnblad et al (2019) recently published a systematic review on precarious employment and mental health and found evidence for an adverse association between job insecurity and mental health in longitudinal studies. However, others have identified a benefit of temporary work on mental health ( Within this PhD we propose to study allostatic overload response in a group of precarious workers that would benefit from intervention to reduce the perceived stress of the environment and therefore reduce negative health and clinical impacts of allostatic overload.

For the first time, we will be conducting ambulatory assessment of biomarkers of allostatic load in precarious workers, a growing, but under-researched population, both during work and non-work hours, to determine the momentary physiological impact of high stress job environments for this population.

This PhD would therefore aim to: 1) systematically review the literature on allostatic overload in occupations involving a high level of chronic stress or burnout, 2) use cutting edge methodology in the form of ambulatory assessment techniques and diurnal cortisol collection to assess the allostatic state of precarious workers both inside and outside of work time, and 3) trial an intervention that may improve workers’ abilities to cope with the stressors found in their work environment.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC DTP website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


McEwen, B.S. (2012). The Brain on Stress: how the social environment gets under the skin. PNAS, 17180-17185, 109(2), doi: 0.1073/pnas.1121254109

McEwen, B. & Wingfield, J. (2003) The concept of allostasis in biology and biomedicine. Hormones and Behavior, 2-15, 43(1). doi: 10.1016/S0018-506X(02)00024-7

Rönnblad, T., Grönholm., E, Jonsson., J, Koranyi., I, Orellana., C, Kreshpaj., B., … Bodin, T. (2019). Precarious employment and mental health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health.

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