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PhD in Public Health - Conceptualising “intervention participation” to model, understand, and maximise effectiveness of complex public health trials

Cardiff School of Medicine

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Dr D Gillespie , Dr J Segrott , Dr Emily Holmes No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

There has been an increased interest in the evaluation of complex public health interventions, with the past decade in particular showing a popularity of randomised controlled trials as the evidence base of choice for these evaluations. Adequately powered trials which fail to demonstrate an intervention’s effectiveness often leave a conundrum in the minds of those with an interest in implementing interventions – would the intervention work if it was received as intended (i.e. is this an efficacious intervention whose evaluation was impinged by sub-optimal participation?)

Intervention evaluations are often accompanied by process evaluations. However, how to measure intervention participation and relate this to outcomes remains poorly understood. There is a substantial body of work focussing on the conceptualisation and measurement of adherence to medication in clinical research, and to date the transportability of this work to the field of complex public health interventions has not taken place.

The aims of this studentship are to develop methodological approaches to:
a) conceptualise ‘adherence’ or intervention participation / receipt in complex public health intervention trials;
b) to develop recommendations regarding approaches to measuring adherence in these trials;
c) re-analyse trials of complex public health interventions to elicit efficacy information (i.e. to understand whether an intervention may be effective if received as intended).

The student will have access to four large trials of complex public health interventions co-ordinated by the Centre for Trials Research. These studies span a range of areas and cover several designs (including individual and cluster randomised trials and 1-to-1 and group-based interventions).

The student will begin by systematically reviewing the literature to understand how adherence to public health improvement interventions are conceptualised, measured and analysed. Following this they will develop a conceptual framework and taxonomy for adherence in PHI trials through stakeholder engagement and the use of consensus methods.

Using data from the four trials co-ordinated by the Centre for Trials Research, the student will explore determinants of adherence to PHI trials and extend statistical methods for analysis of outcomes adjusting for adherence from those utilised in drug trials to PHI trials (with the four example trials).

Finally, they will develop and disseminate guidance for practice.

As part of the PhD, the student will be aligned with the Statistical Analysis Working Group of the MRC NIHR Trial Methodology Research Partnership.

Funding Notes

This is a competitive process, with four projects advertised and only one studentship will be funded. The studentship is generously funded by the School of Medicine as part of the MRC NIHR Trials Methodology Research Partnership (TMRP).

Open to all UK/EU students without further restrictions

Full UK/EU tuition fees

Doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum.

Additional funding is available over the course of the programme and will cover costs such as research consumables and training.

Applications from International candidates are welcomed if they can cover the difference in home/Eu fees (£4,407) and Overseas fees (£21,950).


The TMRP brings together a number of national and international networks, institutions and partners undertaking clinical trials and trials methodology research. Our overall aim being to improve patient care by improving the way in which the healthcare evidence base is developed.

Our PhD programme presents a unique opportunity to undertake training and research in major areas where clinical trials need to be improved to help increase the health of society. Projects are available at locations across the UK for candidates with qualifications in a variety of subject areas including statistics, mathematics, health economics, epidemiology, psychology, social science, computer science, informatics and health services research.

What is included?

• Funding is available to support PhD study, tuition fees and student stipend.

• A broad range of trials methodology research training and internship opportunities across the Partnership, overseen by a Student Training Group chaired by Professor Catrin Tudur Smith (University of Liverpool)

• Membership of a student cohort, embedded within an international network of health researchers and clinical trialists

• Opportunity to join one or more of the TMRP Working Groups

• Exposure to a wide range of relevant research initiatives


Applicants should possess a minimum of an upper second class Honours degree or master's degree, or equivalent in Statistics or with a substantial statistical component.

Applicants whose first language is not English are normally expected to meet the minimum University requirements (e.g. 6.5 IELTS)


This studentship has a start date of October 2020. In order to be considered you must submit a formal application via Cardiff University’s online application service. (To access the system click 'Apply Online' at the bottom of this advert)

There is a box at the top right of the page labelled ‘Apply’, please ensure you select the correct ‘Qualification’ (Doctor of Philosophy), the correct ‘Mode of Study’ (Full Time) and the correct ‘Start Date’ (October 2020). This will take you to the application portal.

In order to be considered candidates must submit the following information:

• Supporting statement
• CV
• Qualification certificates
• References x 2
• Proof of English language (if applicable)

In the 'Research proposal and Funding' section of your application, please specify the project titles and supervisors of the project/s.
Please Note* the supervisor reserves the right to close the advert early if sufficient applications are received.
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