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Personal tracking technology for managing mental health via physical activity (Advert Reference: RDF19/EE/CIS/ROOKSBY)

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  • Full or part time
    Prof J Rooksby
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Apps and wearables for promoting walking, running and cycling are now commonplace but their designs do not typically focus on the mental health benefits of engaging in physical activity. Most of these technologies are designed to persuade users to hit goals or follow routines that are relevant to reducing the risks associated with obesity and/or for making physical improvements. If mental health is considered, it is typically in a secondary and sometimes reductive way.

There is a growing body of evidence in the health literature on the benefits of physical activity for mental health. For example, there is strong evidence that walking can reduce depression and anxiety. Physical activity is consistently associated with positive mood, and there is some evidence it can help improve self-esteem, reduce social isolation and prevent and reduce stress. Yet current technologies do not promote or directly support physical activity for these ends.

In this research you will design, create and evaluate technology for managing and improving mental health and wellbeing via physical activity. Challenges to address include:

• Conducting user research among people that would benefit from or already do physical activity to manage their mental health.
• Designing novel interfaces that combine the quantification of physical activity with mental health data in meaningful and compelling ways.
• Creating acceptable and usable approaches for tracking mental health via automated data collection as well as self-report.
• Addressing whether social features and other functionality are desirable and helpful.
• Identifying and operationalising appropriate evaluation methods such as n-of-1 designs for supporting self-experimentation and individualised feedback.
• Developing novel mobile applications or other relevant technology and trialling these in the wild with relevant users.
The work should be approached from the perspective of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and may suit someone with a background in computing, design or psychology.

The principal supervisor for this project is John Rooksby.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF19/EE/CIS/ROOKSBY) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 25 January 2019
Start Date: 1 October 2019

Northumbria University is an equal opportunities provider and in welcoming applications for studentships from all sectors of the community we strongly encourage applications from women and under-represented groups.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Students Worldwide, and covers full fees and a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2018/19, this is £14,777 pa).


J Rooksby, M Rost, A Morrison, M Chalmers (2014) Personal Tracking as Lived Informatics. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2014): 1163-1172

C McCallum, J Rooksby, CM Gray (2018) Evaluating the impact of physical activity apps and wearables: Interdisciplinary review. JMIR mHealth and uHealth 6 (3)

J Rooksby, P Asadzadeh, M Rost, A Morrison, and M Chalmers (2016) Personal Tracking of Screen Time on Digital Devices Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Pages 284-296. doi: 10.1145/2858036.2858055

Get A Move On Network (2018) Active Minds: Physical Activity, Mental Health and Digital Technology (Video Recording)

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