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  • ESRC Studentship Family Complexity and Children’s Outcomes in the UK: A Longitudinal Approach

    University of St Andrews

    Health, Families, Relationships and Demographic Change

    Full time / Part time

    Application deadline: 

    06 April 2020, midday

    Project details

    This project investigates the consequences of family complexity for children’s outcomes (e.g., health, behaviour, and wellbeing) in the UK applying advanced longitudinal methods to data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

    The first novelty is the project’s substantive focus on longitudinal linkages between children’s outcomes and the complex structure of their families. Families have become increasingly complex due to the dramatic rise in cohabitation, separation, non-marital childbearing, and multi-partner fertility. Existing evidence suggests that aspects of family complexity such as parental separation have a negative impact on child outcomes. However, there is a paucity of longitudinal evidence, which takes into account parallel changes in parents’ and children’s lives. Furthermore, these processes might vary between children from different socio-economic and ethnic minority backgrounds.

    The second novelty is methodological and lies in modelling the interrelationship between the lives of children and their parents. Previous studies have not analysed whether and how parents’ and children’s lives are longitudinally interdependent. To do this, we will use advanced longitudinal methods, which are not only suitable to study changes in children’s lives over time but can also model these linkages. We will model parents’ family life transitions and children’s outcomes simultaneously over time taking into account changes in family structure and circumstance alongside changes in children’s outcomes. First, we will use multi-process models, which allow us to model and account for the interdependence between children’s outcomes and their parents’ family transitions as interdependent processes. Second, we will use multi-channel sequence analysis, a data mining approach where each individuals’ life is represented as a sequence of events and it is possible to jointly model several dimensions such as health status and family structure as two interrelated channels. We will compare the results across different socio-economic and ethnic groups.

    About the institution

    The successful applicant will become a member of the Population and Health Research Group (PHRG) at the School of Geography and Sustainable Development. The PHRG covers a wide range of population topics including the analysis of health and mortality; family and fertility dynamics; life course choices; internal and international migration; ethnicity and minority populations; and population inequalities. The group combines expertise in advanced techniques of demographic, longitudinal, and spatial analysis. For further details about the research group, please see: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/geography-sustainable-development/research/groups/population-and-health/. The group is part of the ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC) (http://www.cpc.ac.uk/). The School of Geography and Sustainable Development (SGSD) occupies the Irvine Building which is located in the historic town centre near the University Library and overlooks St Andrews Bay. The School is well-known for world-leading research in a number of areas and has three research groups: Environmental Change, Population and Health, and Geographies of Sustainability, Society and Possibility. According to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, 83% of research conducted in the SGSD was classified as world-leading or internationally excellent; 88% of research environment was world-leading. The School also has a well-established reputation for high teaching quality (listed 1st in the UK in the Geography subject area in the Guardian Good University Guide 2019). The School has 30 academic staff, 14 postdoctoral fellows and 42 PhD students, supported by 2 technicians, a cartographer and 6 administrative staff. Further information on the University is available at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/, and on the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/geography-sustainable-development/. Details of academic staff and their supervisory interests can be found at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/geography-sustainable-development/people/. SGSD has 42 research postgraduates (PGRs) who are a vital part of the School’s research culture. PGRs are engaged across the research interests of the School and all PGRs are members of Research Group(s). PGRs are provided with deskspace, and are co-located with staff in the Irvine Building. All incoming PGRs are provided with a laptop. PGRs have access to all the facilities of the University including social, sporting and library facilities. PGRs also have opportunity to undertake skills training provided by the Centre for Academic, Professional, and Organisational Development (CAPOD) at St Andrews including their GradSkills Programme. Progress through the PhD is monitored via the Annual PGR Conference and Review Meeting which take place in April. Through this process, together with supervision and training, the School achieves outstanding rates of PhD completion. Our PGR graduates have gone on to jobs in academia, industry, government and consultancy in the UK and elsewhere.


    Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:  
    • A first class or an upper secondary undergraduate or master’s degree in any area of social science (including statistics and applied mathematics)
    • Have a good grounding and/or interest in quantitative methods
    • Have an interest in studying complex family trajectories and their consequences
      The scholarship is open to UK and EU students. EU students who do not fulfil the ESRC’s residence eligibility criteria will be entitled to a Fees Only award (please check the ESRC’s residential guidelines which can be accessed at https://www.sgsss.ac.uk/studentships/eligibility/). However, the University of St Andrews provides, on a competitive basis, maintenance stipends at the Research Council rate for EU PhD students who have been awarded a Research Council fees-only scholarship (and who start their degree in the academic year 2020-21).

    Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

    Award details

    The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process. The programme will commence in October 2020.  It includes:
    • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2020/21 rate £15,285 full-time)
    • fees at the standard Home/EU rate
    • students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

    Other information

    The PhD student will be supervised by Dr Julia Mikolai and Dr Nissa Finney (see https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/geography-sustainable-development/people/).

    How to apply


    1. Applicants register on GradHub and fill out EO data (this is a requirement of the application process)
    2. Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
    • Application form
    • Academic transcripts
    • References
    • CV
    • Academic writing sample
    • Please specify in the personal statement section of the application form your interest in studying family complexity and its implications for children’s outcomes and in applying advanced quantitative methods in social science research.
    1. Applicants submit application through GradHub via the button below


    Selection process

    Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by the end of April 2020. Interviews will take place during the week of 4th May 2020. Skype interviews are possible. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within the University of St Andrews.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

    Supervisor/Contact details

    Dr Julia Mikolai