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The importance of the nature-nurture interplay for individual health and well-being

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, November 25, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The University of Bristol is offering a 3.5-year full time PhD in research around Population Health to start in 2020. This studentship is funded through the GW4BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. It consists of full UK/EU tuition fees, as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£15,009 p.a. for 2019/20, updated each year).

Additional research and training funding are available over the course of the programme. This will cover costs such as research consumables, courses, conferences and travel. Additional competitive funds are available for high-cost training/research.

The studentship is based at the School of Economics, which provides a stimulating and supportive environment for PhD students in which to undertake world-class research. The student will also work with Dr Freathy in the Medical School, University of Exeter, and Professor Lawlor in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (MRC IEU), Bristol Medical School.

Project description:

This project will explore the importance of Gene-Environment interactions (GxE) in shaping later life outcomes in health and disease. It will focus on early life health, economic, and policy environments and investigate the extent to which they interact with an individual’s genetic predisposition in determining health and disease around middle-age, including obesity, mental health, smoking and drinking.

Although GxE analysis is not new, only few studies have attempted to take into account the possible endogeneity (i.e. unobserved confounding) of the environment. Since this area is still in its infancy, a Bristol-Exeter studentship that explores such interactions is very timely. One of the problems with using endogenous environments is that it hampers causal inference, leading to misinformed policy. This project focuses on socioeconomic and policy environments faced by individuals. To take into account the endogeneity of the environment, it will exploit ‘exogenous shocks’ or ‘natural experiments’, allowing for causal inference.

The main data source to be exploited is the UK Biobank, allowing the student to link sudden, unanticipated changes in the early life environment to their current (i.e. age 40+) health and disease outcomes. For example, the student may explore the effects of unanticipated recessions in the prenatal period on individuals’ later life health (i.e. the fetal origins hypothesis). The student will then explore whether such effects differ by an individual’s genetic predisposition. This will investigate whether e.g. individuals' genetic predisposition can protect them against adverse circumstances in early life.

The PhD student will engage in genetic, epidemiological, economics, as well as econometrics training, ensuring (s)he is aware of the latest developments and best practice in each field. This will allow the student to work and collaborate across disciplines, as well as maximize knowledge transfer and research impact. In terms of academic impact, the project will provide a general framework to analyse GxE for health outcomes, based on solid empirical identification. In terms of policy impact, quantifying GxE for different environmental exposures and for different outcomes of interest allows one to potentially identify interventions that are most promising in ameliorating inequalities in health in the population.

Candidate requirements:

Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. For this project, we are looking for someone with strong quantitative skills, ideally in economics or a related discipline, though we are happy to consider applicants with other quantitative backgrounds.

How to apply:

You can apply for the studentship through the MRC GW4 BioMed DTP web site ( until 5pm on Monday 25th November 2019.

Contact: Prof. Stephanie von Hinke; email:

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