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Grant-linked Studentships - Department of Psychology

The Department is offering two full-time, three-year doctoral studentships for autumn 2020/21 entry. Successful applicants would join a team of researchers and members of the autism community to undertake research funded by Autistica to accelerate high quality research involving autistic individuals with complex needs.

Day-to-day supervision for the project will be provided by Dr Sebastian Gaigg (Autism Research Group; City, University of London) and Dr Anna Remington (Centre for Research in Autism and Education; IoE, UCL)

Project Overview

Autistic individuals with the most pressing need for evidence-based support are currently grossly underrepresented in research. For example, 50% of autistic people have learning disabilities and 30% remain minimally verbal until at least secondary school, but only 6% of autistic participants in research have learning disabilities and only 2% are described as minimally verbal. Similarly, individuals are underrepresented who experience barriers to participating in everyday activities due to, for example, severe sensory sensitivities or anxiety that may contribute to distress related behaviours such as self-injury.

There is therefore an urgent need for research that meaningfully addresses the concerns of this underrepresented group. To meet this need Autistica have funded a team of researchers and members of the autism community to establish a comprehensive online Complex Needs Research and Development hub (COMRAD) that will provide researchers and the wider community with resources to facilitate high-quality research involving autistic individuals with complex needs.

Successful applicants to the PhD bursaries will work with the research team to pull together the limited existing knowledge on how to include individuals with complex needs in research through systematic and extensive literature reviews. They will then supplement this information with additional resources that they will develop through their research.

Specifically, one PhD student will draw on a well-established participatory research method (Experience Based Co-Design) to bring researchers together with the autism community to co-develop best-practice guidelines on how to include all individuals with complex needs in research. In parallel the second PhD student will begin developing a set of feasibility studies involving innovative research tools to address key questions, such as how to effectively measure critical clinical outcomes (e.g., language skill; mental health) and identify the mechanisms that predict them (e.g., executive functions; sensory processing differences).

Both students will then collaborate in gathering data on these paradigms, implementing the research procedures that have been co-developed with the autism community. Throughout the project, resources and guidelines will be uploaded to COMRAD to give researchers the necessary tools to overcome the barriers that often arise in research involving individuals with complex needs.

Who we are looking for

Applications are invited from exceptional UK, EU, and international graduates wishing to pursue cutting-edge research that will accelerate our understanding of a group of autistic individuals who are currently underrepresented in research. We are particularly keen to receive applications from candidates who have experience with autistic individuals with complex needs and who are highly motivated to contribute to advancing our understanding of how best to support this community.

Successful candidates will also have an excellent academic track record, as evidenced through strong Undergraduate and MSc level degrees in relevant subject areas. Experience in relevant research methodologies and a strong desire to learn new skills is also desired.

How to apply

Closing date: 9th March, 2020

Complete the application for the MPhil/PhD in Psychology (full time). Please include the following in your application:

  • A short (maximum 1 page) cover letter explaining why you would like to pursue a PhD in the context of this specific research project.
  • A 2-page CV outlining your education and employment history and any additional skills or experience you have that are relevant to this project.
  • A 2-page research proposal that outlines how you would contribute to our understanding of how best to support autistic individuals with complex needs and their families in a PhD. The research proposal should include a brief summary of an aspect of the literature that you consider pertinent, and that you would build on, followed by an outline of the research methods you would use to contribute to this literature. You should also give consideration to any ethical issues that would arise and how you would address them.

If you would like to know more about the project, please contact Sebastian Gaigg (

Return to the PhD course page