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PhD Scholarship in Systems Thinking and Complexity

   The York Management School

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  Dr Philip Garnett  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are excited to offer the opportunity of a 3 year full-time funded PhD scholarship in systems thinking and complex systems theory to start in October 2021. This project will be part of the ActEarly City Collaboratory and will be based in the University of York Management School. 

We are looking for a PhD candidate who is interested in the application of systems thinking and complex systems methodologies as part of a mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) approach to real world research problems. The candidate will support the activities of the ActEarly project by working with theme research fellows to embed systems thinking and complex thinking into research activities. This could be through the embedding of systems methods, such as participatory systems mapping and network analysis, with a view to evaluate systematic interventions in systems of interest. The candidate will therefore be broadly involved in a systems led meta-evaluation of ActEarly interventions with the exact direction of the research developed during the PhD with the supervisors. 

Through this work, the candidate will contribute to the theory and practice of systems thinking and complexity theory, with a particular focus on how we develop an understanding of the impact of research interventions in real-world (community) systems. Which is often made more difficult by there being only one system, and interventions need to be evaluated during and shortly after interventions are being implemented.

The award will cover a three-year annual stipend based on Research Council UK rates. For 2021/2022 the rate is currently £15,609 per annum, which will increase with inflation.

The award will also fund annual PhD tuition fees for three years. These will be funded at the University of York home fee rate which will increase annually. Overseas students who apply for the award will have to fund the difference themselves.

Apply online here. The closing date for applications is the 20th of August 2021 and candidates should be available for interviews the week of the 23rd of August.

Include with your application a CV, degree transcripts and certificates, and as the proposal include a statement of how your research interests, ideas, and experience align with the project’s aims and objectives and what aspects of the project interest you the most.

Background on ActEarly

ActEarly focuses on early life changes to improve the health and opportunities for children living in two contrasting areas with high levels of child poverty; Bradford, West Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets, London.

In each of these areas, we are working with local communities, local authorities and other national organisations to understand how we can help families live healthier and more active lives. More information on the ActEarly programme can be found on our website.

Research Environment

Although the PhD is based in the Management School the candidate will be supervised by a multidisciplinary team (see below), and they will also join the York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis. The candidate will therefore be part of an interesting and active research environment, with colleagues with a range of expertise.


Maria Bryant - Maria is a Reader in Public Health Nutrition at the University of York and the Director of Diet Nutrition and Obesity research at the Bradford Institute of Health Research. She is a NIHR fellow and a nutritionist with almost 20 years’ experience in methodological research, predominantly in pregnancy, early years and childhood. In addition to being the strategic lead of a portfolio of research focused on public health nutrition and food systems within the Department of Health Sciences and the Hull York Medical School within the University of York, Dr Bryant is theme lead for ActEarly Evaluation and for the Food and Health Weight theme.  She is also Chair of the UK Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO).

Philip Garnett - Philip is a Senior Lecturer in Systems and Organisation in the University of York Management School and a Co-I on the ActEarly project. Philip’s research uses systems thinking and complexity theory to analyse organisations, with a focus on how organisations’ behaviours are emergent properties of the people, processes, and policies within them. He also researches groups of interacting organisations as systems of systems, and is interested in the systemic vulnerability of community systems.

Bridget Lockyer  - Bridget is a Senior Research Fellow, working within the ActEarly Evaluation Group to ensure the successful development and evaluation of ActEarly projects across the themes. She is using qualitative methods to map and understand overall system change as a result of the ActEarly interventions in Bradford and Tower Hamlets. She is based within Born in Bradford at the Bradford Institute for Health Research.

Funding Notes

Three-year annual stipend based on Research Council UK rates
Annual PhD tuition fees for three years funded at the University of York home fee rate