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Using genetics to understand the complex relationships between obesity and depression in diverse global settings

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The principal research aim of this project is to use human genetic approaches to understand the complex relationships between obesity and depression in diverse global settings. There are three broad stages to the project, each providing the student with a different but complementary set of research skills: In stage 1 the student will use will use the genetic approach of Mendelian Randomization (MR) to test the causal role of obesity (and obesity-related factors) on depression in multiple large studies, including the UK Biobank and Chinese Kadoorie Biobank. In stage 2 the student will utilise genetic techniques to explore the role of excess adiposity with and without its adverse metabolic effects in depression. The student will use genetic variants identified by the team in Exeter that make an individual fatter but metabolically healthier. This approach is a novel way to disentangle the psychological component of body image in obesity from potential physiological aspects (i.e. poorer overall health). In stage 3 the student will investigate if depression accentuates and individual’s genetic risk of obesity. This will address the following question: if high risk genetics increases a person’s BMI by 1 kg/m2, and depression increases a person’s BMI by 1 kg/m2, are people who have high-risk genetics and depression 2 kg/m2 larger, or more than 2 kg/m2 larger? The student will use data from some of the most powerful population-based cohort studies available globally, including data from 500,000 individuals in the UK Biobank and 500,000 individuals in the Chinese Kadoorie Biobank.

The student will be part of the larger interdisciplinary Complex Genetics Team at the College of Medicine and Health. This team regularly publish high impact papers in the BMJ, Nature Genetics, JAMA and Nature. This studentship offers internationally-excellent training in bioinformatics, statistics and statistical genetics. The student will have hands-on experience of several world-leading datasets and will be part of a supportive, dynamic and successful team of researchers. At the end of the PhD they will have an excellent basis for a career combining statistics and data skills with clinically relevant research.

The student will develop a unique set of skills. Genetics and genomics, and skills in large-scale data analysis are becoming more and more relevant to clinical research, yet there are still few people who can bridge the gap between the data analysis and the clinical applications. This studentship will equip the successful applicant with exactly those skills, and plenty of experience with world-leading datasets.

Please contact Dr Tyrrell informally for more details on +44 1392 408262 or

Funding: This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,777 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

Entry requirements:
Applicants for this studentship 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, in relevant subject, such as maths, physics, biology and computer science.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 7.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project. Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply
In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents:
Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
Research proposal
Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.
The closing date for applications is midnight on 10th May 2019. Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter St Luke’s Campus the week commencing 3rd June 2019.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150. Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor ().

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