Doctoral Bursaries - Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS)

Bursary topics in the Centre for Applied Social Sciences as part the of the 2023 PhD Bursary at QMU, Edinburgh.

Well Played! An investigation into play and learning in adolescence [BUR 23-01]

Well Played! An investigation into play and learning in adolescence [BUR 23-01]

Play is “what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas, in their own way and for their own reasons” (GSAP, 2004). Play experiences in adolescence can enhance self-awareness, decision-making and self-expression; helping to navigate extensive physical and psychological changes. There is mounting concern about the worsening mental health of young people and increasing numbers of adolescents disengaged from education in the UK. The occupation of play during secondary education could promote well-being and agency whilst learning, however little is known about the topic.   

This PhD project seeks to increase understanding of adolescent play and learning. The student will review the literature on adolescent play and then use participatory approaches involving young researchers to design and complete a series of studies. The research methods will be guided by the student and young researchers to; 1) Define the occupation of adolescent play and what play means for adolescents, 2) Understand the current role of play during secondary school education and the impact of play during learning for adolescents, 3) Investigate ways of supporting play in secondary education.  

Queen Margaret University is an established leader in play-related research. The student will work with supervisors with expertise in Psychology (Dr Rosie Arthur, lead supervisor), Occupational Science (Dr Sarah Kantartzis) and Education (Professor John McKendrick) alongside a supportive network of students researching play. The project is in partnership with ScrapAntics, a social enterprise pioneering the delivery of play-based education in Dundee Secondary schools. Play Scotland and Inspiring Scotland are also supporting the project to promote its impact on policy and practice.  

The successful candidate will have a 1st/ 2.1 Honours Undergraduate degree, and/or a Master’s degree in a relevant discipline (e.g. Psychology, Childhood Studies, Education, Sport Science, Health) and/or equivalent research experience.   

What sorts of knowledge and skills are we looking for in an applicant?

  • Innovative ideas and critical thinking about play and play-related research.   
  • Interest in the education, psychology and occupations of adolescents.  
  • Ability to build relationships and communicate effectively to work with young researchers, liaise with key stakeholders (e.g., parents, teachers and youth workers) and collect data with young people in different settings.  
  • Some research skills in qualitative and/or quantitative research and a willingness to learn and apply skills from both approaches.  
  • Dynamism and enthusiasm to drive ideas forward, set goals and work to deadlines.  

Your proposal should detail relevant interdisciplinary literature you might draw upon as well as outlining your proposed research design for the studies outlined above.

Please contact Dr Rosie Arthur ( should you wish to discuss your application and proposal.  

Preterm infants and cognitive outcomes: using longitudinal data to identify early markers for risk of adverse outcomes [BUR 23-02]

Preterm infants and cognitive outcomes: using longitudinal data to identify early markers for risk of adverse outcomes. [BUR 23-02]

Research Centre: Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS)

Preterm birth affects 10.6% of births worldwide, and while survival rates for preterm infants have increased significantly over the last two decades, the prevalence of developmental disabilities have not decreased. Given the effects of prematurity on development, it is essential to identify the earliest emerging markers for risk of adverse cognitive outcomes. Interventions may then be targeted to the right child during pre-school years, when they are likely to be most effective. 

The aims of this PhD are to:

  1. Identify some of the earliest cognitive and neuropsychological markers of difference in preterm infants
  2. Understand the extent to which these differences have developmental effects on different areas of cognition

Subject to governance arrangements, the candidate will analyse a range of social and cognitive data from Their world Edinburgh Birth Cohort - a world leading longitudinal research project based in Edinburgh that focuses on preterm child development. This innovative project examines participants from birth, at nine months, two years, and every five years until they are 25 years old. The candidate will also have the opportunity to design and run their own studies with older children who were born preterm using behavioural and neurophysiological methods.

This project would suit students interested in social, cognitive, and developmental psychology. Possible methods include video coding, eye-tracking, experimental tasks, surveys, and interviews. Prior experience with quantitative psychology research is essential.

The student will gain a wealth of research and technical skills in their chosen methods. They will be offered the chance to visit external lab groups and receive training in running public engagement and science communication activities.

Please contact Dr Rachael Davis ( should you wish to discuss your application and proposal.


Playing For the Planet: A Longitudinal Study of the Efficacy of Pro-Environmental Content in Video Games [BUR 23-03]

Playing For the Planet: A Longitudinal Study of the Efficacy of Pro-Environmental Content in Video Games [BUR 23-03]

Research Centre: Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS)

QMU are offering an exciting opportunity at the intersection of psychology and gaming in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme and some of the world’s biggest game studios.

QMU and the UNEP recognise games as a powerful media platform for educating and inspiring young people about environmental causes. The UNEP’s Playing for the Planet Alliance run a Green Game Jam each year, with the goal to inspire a global audience of players to take environmental action.

QMU’s Dr Kristen Knowles (Psychology) has contributed to evaluations of Green Game Jam efficacy since 2021, where she has advocated for a longitudinal and evidence-based evaluative approach grounded in psychological and behavioural science. This will allow for more robust conclusions to be drawn regarding the real-world impact of gaming experiences on the environmental attitudes of players. This PhD project will focus on the development of this approach in collaboration with the UNEP and other external partners in the gaming industry.

The researcher will employ quantitative, empirical methodologies in psychology and behavioural science. Candidates should have prior experience of research methods in psychology or gaming, data collection/handling and statistics.

The research proposal should outline the significance of the academic topic within psychology and gaming (suggested literature here) and reflect how the candidate aims to address the following components of this three-year project: 

  1. A longitudinal study of the efficacy of the Green Game Jam’s pro-environmental content in inspiring actions and changing attitudes. Datasets will be from gaming environments built with games industry collaboration;
  2. Novel psychology research which investigates how best to measure and assess movement in implicit and explicit environmental attitudes and behaviours, comparing game-based data with survey techniques, and
  3. The influence of game genres and game content, and of player typologies, in explaining any variance in efficacy (point 1) or attitudes (point 2).

Please contact Dr Kristen Knowles ( should you wish to discuss your application and proposal.


Critically Exploring Madness Through Creativity: A Practice-Based, Phenomenological Enquiry [BUR 23-04]

Critically Exploring Madness Through Creativity: A Practice-Based, Phenomenological Enquiry [BUR 23-04]

Research Centre: Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS)

Critical Mad Studies is an academic discipline that explores the knowledge that has emerged from the mad movement. This body of knowledge includes the exploration of the dominant understandings of madness, offering a critique of the mental health service landscape and the cultural and socio-political responses experienced by the mad community. Central to its philosophy is the importance of the mad community critiquing dominant thinking of madness by creating its own discourses, spaces, partnerships, alternatives, and organisations.

In the past two decades the exploration of mental states through artistic media has proliferated. People with lived experience of madness have started to undertake creative explorations of madness through a joint arts and academic endeavour, resulting in some exciting PhD by practice journeys. Practices include work in the visual, sound and performing arts and also through creative writing.

Creative practice research values the ways in which creativity can provide affective insights which make new solutions possible, giving insights into the individualised, unique and connected world in which we live. As such, it provides a unique framework for developing new doctoral research to address question(s) of the phenomenology of madness and its interface with creative pursuit.

This PhD opportunity is open to candidates with lived experience of mental health difficulty, awareness of the Mad Studies genre and with appropriate arts/creative background to pursue a long term creative and academic project. You may be an arts practitioner who will centre their own work, an art activist focussed on art as part of a social movement, or wishing to research and critique an existing body of creative work by other maker(s). We will be looking for a clear proposal for a three-year programme of study and practice. This will include evidence of relevant critical literature reviewing; a proposed methodological journey; details of the creative endeavour or analysis of such and a considered theoretical approach.

Please contact Professor Olivia Sagan ( should you wish to discuss your application and proposal

Access to Environmental Justice [BUR 22-05]

Access to Environmental Justice [BUR 22-05]

Research Centre: Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS)

QMU is seeking applications from suitably qualified and committed candidates with a relevant research proposal for a bursary-supported PhD into access to environmental justice. The successful doctoral candidate will work with Dr Eurig Scandrett and Dr Stan Nwankpa in the Public Sociology Research Group of the Centre for Applied Social Sciences.

Environmental justice (or ‘environmentalism of the poor’) has emerged as a major focus for sections of the environmental movement concerned with subaltern social groups experiencing exclusion, oppression and exploitation and disproportionate levels of local environmental damage. Globally, environmental justice movements have emerged from indigenous and colonised peoples, racialised minorities, working class and low-income communities directly affected by local pollution, land contamination and unwanted development, whereas mainstream environmental NGOs have attempted to facilitate socially excluded groups’ access to environmental justice (Bullard, 2000; 2005; Harley and Scandrett, 2019; Martinez Alier, 2002; Walker, 2012).

The purpose of the PhD research will be to improve understanding of, address barriers to, and facilitate access to environmental justice. Research should include, but need not be restricted to, access to environmental justice in Scotland, where the Government has committed to incorporating the right to a healthy environment in the Human Rights (Scotland) Bill. The Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) has agreed to collaborate with QMU to provide access to communities and is particularly interested in identifying barriers to accessing justice on the environment and how they can be overcome, particularly for low income and minority groups.

Research proposals which involve participatory and action-orientated research methodologies are encouraged in order to facilitate working with a community or communities facing locally unwanted land uses, especially those facing barriers to accessing environmental justice. 

Please contact Professor Dr Eurig Scandrett ( should you wish to discuss your application and proposal

Bullard, R.D. (2000) Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. 3rd ed., Boulder:  Westview Press

Bullard, R.D. (2005) The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights, and the Politics of Pollution. San Francisco:  Sierra Club Books

Harley, A. and Scandrett, E. (2019) (eds) Environmental Justice, Popular Struggle and Community Development. Bristol: Policy Press

Martinez Alier, J. (2002) Environmentalism of the Poor: a study of ecological conflicts and valuation. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Walker, G. (2012) Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics. London: Routledge