Doctoral Bursaries - Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Research Centre

Bursary topics in the Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Research Centre as part the of the 2023 PhD Bursary at QMU, Edinburgh.

Applications are invited for a research training bursary (i.e. A PhD plus Doctoral Certificate in Researcher Enhancement and Development). CASL Research Centre sits within the School of Health Sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Applications are invited on any topic related to CASL’s current research, but our topics for 2023’s bursary competition are:

Details of the centre’s strategic goals are available on our CASL website, along with links to current projects, publications, students and staff. Applications from qualified Speech and Language Therapists or non-clinicians are both welcome. The successful applicant will be working within a highly skilled team of subject experts in a world-class laboratory and will receive:

  • full waiver of tuition fees.
  • an annual stipend of £17,668 lasting 3 years for full-time study.
  • a research budget of £2000 to cover project expenses and travel.

The deadline for applications is Friday 10 March 2023. 

In addition to this bursary opportunity, CASL welcomes applications for co-supervision of students registered at other institutions or with external funding at any time. Self-funded and externally registered students would have more flexibility in the topic of their research and should contact relevant potential supervisors, or Professor James M Scobbie, to discuss an application.  

Speech, Language and Communication Needs: their Relationship to Adverse Childhood Experiences [BUR 23-07]

Speech, Language and Communication Needs: their Relationship to Adverse Childhood Experiences

Contact Dr Ann Hodson (Speech and Hearing Sciences)

[BUR 23-07]

“Speech, language and communication needs” (SLCN) is the broadest term encapsulating the various difficulties an individual may experience when trying to communicate with others.  The presentation of such needs can affect all areas of speech, language and communication, are widely heterogeneous and may be minor and temporary, or complex and long term.

Around 7-9% of children and young people in the general population have SLCN (Norbury et al, 2016). Numerous studies have found strong correlations between Adverse Childhood Experiences and receptive, expressive and pragmatic SLCN (Giving Voice & RCSLT, 2021a; McDonald et al., 2013; Sylvestre et al., 2015; Zimmer & Panko, 2006). In areas of social disadvantage this figure increases with an estimated 55% of children from areas of social disadvantage beginning school with SLCN (Locke et al. 2002)

Individuals with such compromised communication are at increased risk of social exclusion, mental health disorders and leaving formal education prematurely.  They may struggle with employment and developing meaningful relationships (Conti-Ramsden 2016).

This research project would focus on the relationship between adverse childhood experiences such as neglect and abuse, mental health of family members, experience of domestic violence and children’s speech, language and communication development. A particular focus which may be of interest is how to best support these vulnerable children and their families.

References to some relevant CASL research

Clark, A., & Fitzsimons, D. (2018). Awareness of and Support for Speech, Language and Communication Needs in Children’s Hearings. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 17, 4.  

 Clark, A., & Fitzsimons, D. (2016). Unidentified and unmet: Hidden speech, language and communication needs of looked-after children and young people in Scotland. Royal College of Speech and Language Therapist’s Bulletin, May 2016, pp 16-17.

Fitzsimons, D., & Clark, A. (2021). Pausing Mid-Sentence: An Ecological Model Approach to Language Disorder and Lived Experience of Young Male Offenders. International Journal of  Environmental Research and Public Health 2021, 18(3), 1225. 

General References

Conti-Ramsden, G., Durkin, K., Mok, P. L., Toseeb, U., & Botting, N. (2016). Health, employment and relationships: correlates of personal wellbeing in young adults with and without a history of childhood language impairment. Social science & medicine, 160, 20- 28.

Giving Voice, & Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT). (2021a). Supporting children and young people who have experienced adversity and trauma.

McDonald, J. L., Milne, S., Knight, J., & Webster, V. (2013). Developmental and behavioural characteristics of children enrolled in a child protection pre-school. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 49(2), E142-E146.

Norbury, C. F., Gooch, D., Wray, C., Baird, G., Charman, T., Simonoff, E., Vamvakas, G., & Pickles, A. (2016). The impact of nonverbal ability on prevalence and clinical presentation of language disorder: evidence from a population study. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 57(11), 1247–1257. 

Sylvestre, A., Bussières, È.-L., & Bouchard, C. (2015). Language Problems Among Abused and Neglected Children: A Meta-Analytic Review. Child Maltreatment, 21(1), 47-58.

Zimmer, M. H., & Panko, L. M. (2006). Developmental Status and Service Use Among Children in the Child Welfare System: A National Survey. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160(2), 183-188.

Aptitude in Accent Switching [BUR 23-08]

Aptitude in Accent Switching

Contact: Dr Sonja Schaeffler (Speech and Hearing Sciences)

[BUR 23-08]

Anyone living in Scotland is regularly exposed, to some degree, to Scottish as well as English accents. Yet very few can convincingly switch between a Scottish and an English accent when asked to do so. The reasons for this are likely to be complex and to include psychological and linguistic factors including motivation, empathy, knowledge and ability. The aim of this PhD project is to explore these interactions affecting speech experimentally and quantitatively, drawing also on parallel research in bilingualism and sociolinguistics.

The study design should be determined by the successful applicant and will depend on their experience and the skills they wish to develop as part of their PhD. The PhD student could, for example, focus on oro-motor skills and develop or adapt assessments that can make a connection between a speaker’s ability to acquire and apply new sounds or sound sequences and a speaker’s ability to use a regional accent different to their ‘usual’ one. The PhD student could also focus on a speaker’s ability to discriminate and mimic unfamiliar speech sounds. Candidates with a background or interest in clinical research could potentially utilise a rich inventory of assessments (e.g. to gauge phonological awareness) that have been originally developed to test children who face challenges during their development of speech. Irrespective of the route the PhD student decides to take, an important outcome of this project will be the development of new methodologies appropriate for uncovering the mechanisms that facilitate or hinder accent acquisition and use.

The proposed PhD project ties in with a larger programme of research at CASL. CASL’s speech and language research focusses on three threads: the development and refinement of methodology, the advancement of theory, and the applicability to clinical practice. The proposed project ties in with all three threads. The project will expand CASL’s repertoire of methodology used to capture and quantify speech variation, it will enhance the theoretical understanding of how variation is acquired, and it will allow important insights into what might prevent speakers (including those receiving speech therapy) from adapting or modifying the way they speak.


References to some relevant CASL research


Hall-Lew, L., Friskney, R., & Scobbie, J. M. (2017). Accommodation or political identity: Scottish members of the UK Parliament. Language Variation and Change 29(3): 341-363.

Lawson E., Scobbie J. M., Stuart-Smith J. (2014) A socio-articulatory study of Scottish rhoticity. In: Lawson, R. (ed.) Sociolinguistics in Scotland. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 53-78.

Mennen, I., Scobbie, J., deLeeuw, E., Schaeffler, S., Schaeffler, F. (2010). Measuring Language-Specific Phonetic Settings. Second Language Research 26 (1): 13-41.

Schaeffler, S., Scobbie, J., Drummond, C. (2020). Sounding out the Extremes of Bi-dialectal Edinburgh Adolescents.  BAAP 2020, York.

Schaeffler, S. (2006). Are Affective Speakers Effective Speakers? Exploring the Link Between the Vocal Expression of Positive Emotions and Communicative Effectiveness. PhD thesis.

Scobbie, J., Cleland, J. Lawson, E. Schaeffler, S. (IN PRESS). English (Scottish) Speech Development. In: McLeod, S. (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Speech Development in Languages of the World. Oxford University Press

Stuart-Smith, J., Lawson, E., & Scobbie, J. M. (2014). Derhoticisation in Scottish English: a sociophonetic journey. In Celata, C. and Calamai, S. (Eds.) Advances in Sociophonetics. Amsterdam: John Benjamin, pp. 57-94.

Thomas, S., & Scobbie, J. M. (2015). Mixed accents: Scottish children with English parents. In Mompean, J. A. & Fouz-González, J. (Eds.) Investigating English. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 83-104.

Ultrasound in Phonetics and Phonology [BUR 23-09]

Ultrasound in Phonetics and Phonology

Contact: Prof James M. Scobbie (Speech and Hearing Sciences)

[BUR 23-09]

Since the invention of sound recording, the study of speech has focussed on its auditory and acoustic aspects. Phonetic and phonological theory have reflected this bias in research, because in recent decades, cheap computing and storage plus free software like PRAAT have led to advanced acoustic analysis becoming widely available. The study of speech production (despite the importance of articulatory aspects of phonetics) has become, in comparison, a niche specialisation. Advances in understanding have required highly complex and expensive instrumentation, housed in a small number of specialist laboratories. Despite the theoretical influence of approaches like Articulatory Phonology, the practical articulatory experience of speech researchers is limited and often merely informal.

However, Ultrasound Tongue Imaging (UTI) has begun to revolutionise accessibility to speech production. UTI is a safe, cheap and non-invasive technique that provides an image of the tongue as it changes shape and position during naturalistic speech. Usually the tongue’s profile is displayed, and it is observed in real time, and recorded, even in fieldwork outside the laboratory. Highly reliable and stable recordings of UTI images can also be made at a research-appropriate sampling rate, tightly synchronised with the acoustic signal. Data can be interpreted impressionistically or subjected to detailed kinematic analysis, as appropriate. For the research community, articulatory analysis can provide insights which were previously inaccessible, yet which are relatively easy to obtain. There is therefore a growing demand for UTI, and training, in phonetics and phonology. However, undergraduate training in phonetics and phonology still tends to lacks a firm articulatory basis, so it is not uncommon for doctoral level research in articulation to be undertaken by people with little prior training or experience. Progress in specialisation is rapid and the skills acquired are desirable in the job market.

QMU is a word-leader in ultrasound tongue imaging for the analysis of speech. Prior work has looked at child language acquisition, motor control, the acquisition of new speech sounds in clinical and non-clinical populations, sociophonetics, and laboratory phonology. Current work is using ultrasound to examine issues in gendered speech, performed speech, speech disorders, billingualism, swallowing, and phonological typology. This topic lets applicants pursue their own research agenda in phonetics and/or phonology. Topics highlighting issues on the phonetics-phonology interface would be given highest priority.

References to some relevant CASL research

Scobbie, J.M. (2007). Interface and overlap in phonetics and phonology. In G. Ramchand & C. Reiss (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of linguistic interfaces (pp. 17-52). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scobbie, J.M., & Stuart-Smith, J. (2008). Quasi-phonemic contrast and the fuzzy inventory: Examples from Scottish English. In P. Avery, E.B. Dresher & K. Rice (Eds.), Contrast in phonology: Theory, perception, acquisition (pp.87-114). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Scobbie J.M., & Stuart-Smith, J. (2012). Socially stratified sampling in laboratory-based phonological experimentation. In A.C. Cohn, C. Fougeron & M.K. Huffman (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Laboratory Phonology (pp. 607-621). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lawson, E., Stuart-Smith, J. & Scobbie, J. M. (2018) The role of gesture delay in coda /r/ weakening: An articulatory, auditory and acoustic study. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 143 (3), pp. 1646-1657.

Mousikou, P., Strycharczuk, P., Turk, A. & Scobbie, J. M. (2021) Coarticulation across morpheme boundaries: An ultrasound study of past-tense inflection in Scottish English. Journal of Phonetics, 88:101101.