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Title Linguistic performance in objective structured clinical examinations: A comparative study of performance and responses in standard entry and widening participation students

  • Full or part time
    Dr S Curtis
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, June 04, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Lead Institute / Faculty: Medicine

Main Supervisor: Prof Sally Curtis

Other members of the supervisory team: Dr Sarah Rule, Dr Sophie Holmes-Elliott

Duration of the award: 3 years, full time

Project description:

Diversifying and enriching the medical profession by reducing social exclusivity and making it more representative of the population is an aim high on the agenda of the Government, Medical Schools Council and the General Medical Council. With the increasing number of widening participation (WP) courses available in UK Universities it is crucial that disadvantages faced by underrepresented groups studying medicine are addressed to achieve this aim. Appropriate support must be provided, enabling a positive student experience through maximising integration, progression and success.

WP medical students come from a diverse range of ethnic, regional and socioeconomic backgrounds; they bring with them a diverse range of linguistic varieties. Some are non-native Speakers of English, some Heritage speakers of English, and some use non-standard varieties of spoken English. One area of potential support that needs examining is around the use of language and reactions to it in consultations and oral examinations.

Work in linguistics indicates that language background can act as an obstacle to educational attainment. More recently, experimental work has shown that accent and dialect can also act as barrier to professional attainment where naïve listeners showed implicit bias against expert medical testimony delivered in Korean accented American English compared to General American accented English. Current research is focussing on how this phenomena can create barriers in professional attainment within a legal setting for young lawyers at the early stages of their careers.

This project seeks to build on this work and investigate whether there is evidence of linguistic prejudice and if this could impact on the achievements of medical students from underrepresented backgrounds compared to their peers from more traditional backgrounds. The study aims to investigate linguistic performance and attitudes towards these nonstandard linguistic varieties in the context of objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs). WP and traditional entry students from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton will be recorded in their OSCEs to assess language use and also the responses and reactions from interlocutors: both simulated patients and clinicians. The transcripts and recordings will be analysed within a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) framework in order to gain an understanding of the attitudes towards nonstandard language use, and whether student achievement is impacted in any way.

Team & working environment
The supervisory team spans Medicine and Linguistics (within the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics).
Lead (Medicine): Professor Sally Curtis:
Co-supervisors (Linguistics): Dr Sarah Rule: ; Dr Sophie Holmes-Elliott:
Please contact: Prof Sally Curtis

Within the Faculty of Medicine the candidate will join the Department of Medical Education. In this department, experienced staff from a wide range of specialisms work in partnership with internal and external stakeholders to develop an engaging, student-centred learning and research environment. Staff foster a learning culture that empowers individuals and encourages innovation and we are continually exploring opportunities in education and research.

Person Specification: See below
The successful candidate is likely to have the following qualifications:
• A 1st or 2:1 degree in a relevant discipline and/or second degree with a related Masters

Administrative contact and how to apply:
Please complete the University’s online application form, which you can find at

You should enter Sally Curtis as your proposed supervisor. To support your application provide an academic CV (including contact details of two referees), official academic transcripts and a personal statement (outlining your suitability for the studentship, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date).

Informal enquiries relating to the project or candidate suitability should be directed to Sally Curtis ().

Closing date: 4th June 2019
Interview date: 24th June 2019

Funding Notes

This full studentship is funded by the Leonard Thomas Fund and The University of Southampton. This studentship includes UK/EU tuition fees, student stipend, plus additional financial support for student professional development and training. The Leonard Thomas Fund supports a variety of activities that positively support undergraduate students studying medicine through a variety of activities including postgraduate research.

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