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  1. Research degrees
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PhD Psychology and Social Neuroscience

The Department of Psychology, City, University of London and the Department of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome established and developed a scientific co-operation between Italian and UK teams of researchers through a formal Inter-institutional Agreement, to provide a Joint PhD Programme in ‘Psychology and Social Neuroscience’. The agreement establishes the mobility of doctoral students from and to the partners institution for a minimum of one year in order to obtain the double Doctoral Diploma.

Key information

Start date

Applications will be considered September 2019.


Full time: 3 years



Full-time: TBC


Full-time: TBC


The Department of Psychology at City has a long history of excellence in research that builds upon the traditions of the discipline whilst advancing new approaches. Over 30 members of faculty carry out cutting edge research in purpose built facilities that include three state-of the-art Electroencephalography (EEG) labs, a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) lab, a baby lab and about a dozen behavioural labs with access to eye-trackers, psychophysiological recording suits and a comprehensive psychometrics test library.

Our research students form an integral part of the department’s research culture. We currently support a vibrant community of approximately 40 students and can offer supervision on a variety of topics.

Find more information about City research in our Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit.

Find more about research in Cognitive Social and Affective Neuroscience in La Sapienza.

The Joint PhD in Psychology and Social Neuroscience is a 3 year, multi-centre, international Ph.D. program that aims to investigate, within the framework of cognitive, social and affective neuroscience different topics spanning from embodied cognition, the neural correlates of cognitive, social and affective functions including empathy, intention, action, and emotion understanding. These topics are studied in healthy subjects, along development and in subclinical, clinical and neuropsychological patients (i.e. autism, patients with brain lesions affecting cognitive affective and social functions). All the activities of the curriculum (from students’ selection, research activities, writing and discussion of the thesis) are performed in English in both institutions.


Entry requirements

Applicants should demonstrate the following:

  • A track record of high academic achievement, demonstrated by a good undergraduate degree with at least a second class (upper division) pass or equivalent.
  • Good research methodological skills as demonstrated through relevant research experience and/or a good Masters level degree with at least a pass with merit (or equivalent).
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and oral (see also the section on English language Requirements).
  • Excellent planning and time-management skills.

English requirements

For students whose first language is not English, the following qualifications will meet the English language requirement for entry to a postgraduate course of study:

  • A first degree from a UK university or from the CNAA.
  • A first degree from an overseas institution recognised by City as providing adequate evidence of proficiency in the English language, for example, from institutions in Australia, Canada or the USA.
  • GCE O-level/GCSE English language or English literature, grade C minimum.
  • Cambridge ESOL CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) at grade C or above.
  • An overall score of 6.5 in the English Language Testing System (IELTS) with a minimum of 6.0 for each subtest.
  • Satisfactory standard in the verbal section of the Princeton Test (GMAT).
  • US SAT with 500 in verbal performance.
  • Warwick English Language Test (WELT) with pass grades of BBC minimum.
  • Other evidence of proficiency in the English language which satisfies the Board of Studies concerned.

Visa requirements

International Students (EEA and Non EEA) coming to study in the UK, may need to apply for a visa or entry clearance to come to the UK to study. The way that you apply may vary depending on the length of your course. There are different rules for:

  • EEA nationals joining the programme in 2020 and EEA nationals joining from January 2021
  • Students on courses of more than six months
  • Students on courses of less than six months
  • Students on a pre-sessional English language course.

For more information see our main Visa page.


About the programme

The Joint PhD in programme in Psychology and Social Neuroscience is designed to develop your skills as an independent scholar and give you transferable skills for the years after you finish. With these aims in mind the PhD programme is structured as follows:

Year 1

In year one students will be assigned a tutor in each institution (City, Sapienza), who will supervise the work and support the student’s growth along the three years. A research topic will be chosen in accordance with the training program, and it will constitute the subject of the Joint PhD thesis. Research topic and technique are chosen by considering student's interests, resources and lab's priorities at City and Sapienza. Students are trained in responsible conduct of research with human participants.

When at City, may take a number of MSc level modules to furnish their core research methodological skills (see our Research Methods MSc) and subject-specific knowledge (see our MScs in Clinical, Social and Cognitive Neuroscience). They will also develop a systematic review of the literature in their field of study and begin to implement the first stages of their empirical and analytic work.

Year 2

In year two students will finalise their literature review, develop an outline of the overall shape of their thesis and carry out the bulk of their empirical and analytic work. Students will have the opportunity to take advantage of several advanced level training courses to build expertise in subject-specific research methodologies such as Electroencephalography, Eye-tracking, and Psychophysiology (please see the next section for further details of available advanced level training courses).

Year 3

In year three students will conclude their empirical work and focus on writing up their thesis. They will also seek to disseminate their work in the form of peer-reviewed publications and/or conference presentations and identify opportunities for the next stage of their career. At the end of this year they should be ready for the final preparation and submission of the thesis.

MPhil award

It is important to note that all students on graduate research programmes are initially registered for an MPhil award.  Promotion to registration to PhD is not automatic, but contingent on the satisfactory outcome of a review process, which normally involves an oral presentation in May and the submission of a formal progress report at the end of the first year of registration (or the second year in case of part-time students). An academic panel comprising the candidate’s supervisors and the Senior Tutor for Research will evaluate progress against the expected milestones of Year 1 outlined above. If the outcome is satisfactory, students will be upgraded to PhD. Progress in subsequent years will continue to be monitored through the annual review process and any failures to meet expected target milestones may lead to the withdrawal of candidates.

The Award

For the award of a PhD candidates are required to demonstrate the following:

  • a full understanding of previous research literature and current academic and professional thinking;
  • the ability to undertake sustained, high level research and master the theoretical (and where appropriate, practical) aspects of the subject areas relevant to the research field;
  • the ability to communicate the subject matter of the research field, and the conclusions of the particular research project, in the accepted academic form of a research thesis.

The research thesis/dissertation must contribute to the advancement of knowledge and the understanding of the subject, either through the communication of substantial new information as a result of the research, or through a significant and novel reinterpretation of previous research and/or knowledge.
For full details about the City PhD programme structure, please see the Guide for Research Students.

Funding options

Fees for doctoral candidates are charged annually and cover registration, supervision and examination. Fees are subject to review each year and may vary during your period of registration.

The School of Arts and Social Sciences is offering 1 fully funded doctoral scholarships for 2019 entry (UK/EU only).

Find out more about eligibility and apply today.

Application Deadline form 30th Sept 2019

Postgraduate Doctoral Loans

The Government has introduced a new Postgraduate Doctoral Loans scheme which can provide a loan of up to £25,000 over three years to support study for a doctoral degree. A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study and can be used alongside any other forms of support you may be able to receive, for example from industry or business or through your PhD supervisor.

Find out more about Postgraduate Doctoral Loans



All research students will have a supervisory team of at least two members of faculty (one based at City, one based at Sapienza). The supervisory team at City is led by Dr Beatriz Calvo-Merino and Sebastian Gaigg and includes members of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit. The supervisor team at La Sapienza is led by Prof Salvatore Aglioti and Prof Matteo Candidi. At least one of the two supervisors will have experience in seeing research students through to successful completion and both will be actively engaged in an area of research relevant to the student’s field of inquiry. Normally supervisors’ role and involvement will increase when performing research in their correspondent institution. Every year, one of the supervisors will take primary responsibility of mentoring the student when in their own institution, with the second supervisor lending subsidiary support although it is not uncommon for both supervisors to share equal responsibility because of their complementary areas of expertise.


Besides our MSc level courses the department also offers a number of advanced level training workshops for specific research methodological skills. Moreover, wider transferable skills are developed through provisions within the department and through City’s Graduate School.

Transferable Skills

To foster our students’ broader academic and communication skills, students at City are required to attend a fortnightly research student seminar at which they are expected to present on their work at least once a year. The seminar is chaired by the Senior Tutor for Research (the PhD programme director) and takes the format of an oral conference session in which two students typically present for 20 minutes, with 10 minutes allowed for questions and discussion. Students are also expected to be immersed in the wider research culture of the department and attend laboratory and departmental research seminars including an external speakers programme that runs throughout the academic term. Students are also offered opportunities to acquire experience in teaching. Depending on their level of experience, they may help run small-group seminars or contribute to lectures on our undergraduate programme, or they may host stats clinics and run laboratory sessions on statistical analyses. All teaching activities are supervised by a senior member of academic staff who provides guidance and feedback and students wishing to obtain formal qualifications can take advantage of the MA in academic practice offered centrally by City.

Outside the department, students are also encouraged to avail of opportunities to learn a foreign language through City’s Centre for Language Studies and to engage with the Researcher Skills Development programme offered by the Graduate school, which hosts events to foster communication skills to a wider audience (e.g., Research Development Days, Research Symposium). Students wishing to hone their programming skills can also take advantage of a University wide MatLab club.

When based at La Sapienza students are also required to attend regular seminar, lab meetings and courses planned within the programme.

Find out more about these meetings at La Sapienza.

How to apply

Applications are now open.

PhD Psychology and Social Neuroscience (full time)

To apply, you should submit the following documents:

  • One copy of the Online Research Degree Application Form (full-time)
  • Testimonials from at least two academic referees sent by email from an official work (not private) email account
  • Copies of your degree transcripts and certificates (originals or certified copies). If your application is successful we will need to verify the original hard copies before a final offer is made
  • Proof of your English language proficiency (if English is not your first language)
  • A non-technical summary of the proposed research of no more than 400 words.
  • Your research proposal concerning one of the Joint PhD research topics. Research topics suitable for this programme in Psychology and Social Neuroscience include:
  • Sensorimotor encoding and expertise (mainly interested in visual and motor expertise -i.e. dancers)
  • Neurocognitive mechanism of action and body processing in healthy, autism spectrum disorder and brain damage individuals.
  • Neuroaesthetics (embodied aesthetics, decision making in aesthetics)
  • Intention, action and emotion understanding
  • Embodiment and agency in Immersive virtual reality
  • Other topics in affective and social neuroscience can be discussed with the Joint PhD programme Directors Beatriz Calvo-Merino and Sebastian Gaigg (City) and Salvatore Aglioti and Matteo Candidi (Sapienza)

Find out more about how to prepare your research proposal.

Please note that we will not consider incomplete applications.

Instructions to referees

Thank you for your contribution to our admissions process; reports from academic referees are a vital part of our information gathering about applicants for Research Degrees. In your testimonial, please focus your report on the following issues:

  • Give evidence of the applicant's capacity to undertake high quality research in psychology
  • Explain any particular features of the applicant's prior training that you consider to be of particular importance
  • Comment on the applicant's determination and motivation for studying for a research degree
  • Indicate whether or not the applicant has discussed their research interests with you prior to applying to City
  • Comment on the applicant's honesty and integrity.