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Project 6: Flower, flora, fauna: can novel metrics of verbal fluency performance help detect individuals at risk of future cognitive decline?


   School of Psychology

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  Dr Claire Lancaster, Prof Naji Tabet, Prof J Rusted  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Over 850,000 people are living with a dementia diagnosis in the UK. Whilst treatments to halt or reverse dementia-causing neurodegenerative disease are limited, the ability to detect individuals at risk of future cognitive impairment will help advance preventative strategies.

This studentship asks if the patterns of words produced on a simple verbal fluency task (i.e., name as many animals as you can in 60-seconds…) can identify individuals vulnerable to future cognitive decline. You will use natural language processing techniques to characterise subtle differences in the semantic, language and executive strategies to produce words. You will complete research with healthy adults differentiated by whether they carry a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease or not, and with adults referred to NHS memory assessment services with cognitive complaints. 

This studentship will be jointly supported by the School of Psychology, University of Sussex, and the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. You will be supervised by Dr Claire Lancaster and Professor Jennifer Rusted (University of Sussex) – both of whom have expertise in neuropsychology, ageing & dementia, and Dr Naji Tabet – a practising old-age psychiatrist and director of the Centre for Dementia Studies at Brighton & Sussex Medical School.

Collaborative Partner: Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Project aims and objectives

You will develop an innovative, theoretically driven collection of outcomes for characterising verbal fluency task performance using easy-to-automate, computational techniques. You will subsequently test if these measures are sensitive to the effects of carrying an APOE e4 genetic risk variant for dementia, and if this sensitivity changes with age. You will complete research within an NHS memory assessment service to explore if the verbal fluency measures you have established can help aid diagnosis and 1-year prognosis in a real-world healthcare setting. 

Training Opportunities

This studentship provides training in quantitative research methods, programming, data science and statistics. You will be given the opportunity to attend advanced research methods workshops, both externally and at the University of Sussex.

In addition, you will observe and complete research in an NHS setting. You will gain experience completing research with healthy adults of all ages, plus work with individuals living with a dementia diagnosis.

Applicants: essential and/or desirable attributes/skills

You’re normally expected to have a Merit (an average of 60% overall) in a Masters degree OR an upper second-class (2.1) undergraduate honours degree in a relevant subject area (e.g., Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science). You may also be considered for the studentship if you have other professional qualifications or experience of equivalent standing.

This studentship is ideally suited to individuals with a passion for neuropsychology, especially those considering a clinical academic career.

Studentship Details:

  • This studentship may be taken as either a 1+3 year award (a one-year MSc followed by a three-year PhD), a +3 award (a three-year PhD)
  • It may be taken full-time or part-time
  • The studentship award covers your university fees and provides you with a stipend of £15,609 per year. You will also be able to apply for small amounts of additional funding via the SeNSS Research Training Support Grant.

Residential eligibility

  • To be eligible for a full award you must be a Home or International student who satisfies the criteria below:

To be a home student, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK national (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status, or
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If you do not meet any of the criteria above, you are classed as an international student.

How to apply for this studentship

In order to be considered for this SeNSS studentship, you must first apply for a place to study University of Sussex, noting that you are applying for the collaborative studentship. Please go to University of Sussex, How to apply for a PhD for information on how to make your application.

The deadline applying to University of Sussex for a place is 23:59 GMT on 9 February 2022. 

You will then need to make a separate application to SeNSS for this collaborative studentship. Please read the SeNSS Collaborative Studentship Application Guidance Notes before completing our online application form. The Guidance Notes are available at the bottom of the following webpage: Applying for a SeNSS collaborative studentship

Starting date: On or about 1 October 2022.

For further enquiries:

For enquiries related to the studentship topic, please email Dr Claire Lancaster ([Email Address Removed])

For enquiries related to your eligibility for this studentship, and the application process, please email: [Email Address Removed]


Funding Notes

This competition is open to Home and International students, subject to certain conditions.
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