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3-Year Moorfields Eye Charity PhD Studentship

We are welcoming applications for a 3-Year PhD studentship funded by Moorfields Eye Charity. Closes 25 April

UCL Department / Division: UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
Duration of Studentship: 3 years, available to start from 25th September 2023
PhD Title: Exploring mental health in teenagers and young adults with vision impairment
Supervisor(s): Dr Michael Crossland, Dr Marc Tibber and Dr Tessa Dekker 

We are offering a full- time, three-year PhD studentship to investigate mental health and wellbeing in teenagers and young adults with vision impairment.

The impact of visual impairment on wellbeing is enormous, with more than 40% of adults with low vision showing signs of clinical depression. Adults with vision impairment also have an elevated prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), linked to traumatic events caused by having poor sight (falls, accidents and an increased risk of sexual assault for women with vision loss).

To reduce pervasive poor mental health outcomes in the visually impaired population, identifying problems and developing adequate support as early as possible are crucial. However, little is known about the wellbeing and mental health of young adults with vision impairment, especially in the first months following diagnosis, although qualitative research has identified reduced quality of life, anxiety, frustration and anger in children with inherited macular disease. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have increased these difficulties.

This project will identify and categorise mental health conditions in a large cohort of teenagers (age 13-19) and young adults (age 20-30 years) with vision impairment. We will also investigate associations between the characteristics of vision loss (severity, age of onset, impact on task ability), demographic and socioeconomic factors (age, gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity), wellbeing, and the presence of depression, anxiety and PTSD, with a view to identifying risk and resilience factors that ultimately might be targets for intervention.  

The project will also use qualitative research techniques to develop a service user-designed package of supportive interventions for people with vision impairment, structured around the needs of people with lived experience of vision impairment and mental health conditions. 

The student will gain skills in clinical research, qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques and research project design and will be working alongside an internationally recognised team of researchers.

The student will be based at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology (the best place in the world to study ophthalmology (CWUR Rankings by Subject 2017)) and will work closely with the low vision and genetic eye disease clinics at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The student will be co-supervised by academics from UCL’s department of Psychology and Language Sciences and will also be affiliated with the UCL Institute of Mental Health. 

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a minimum upper-second degree or equivalent in an associated subject such as optometry, psychology, or medicine. Experience of working with people with vision impairment or young people with mental health conditions is desirable.

Duties and Responsibilities 
The successful candidate will, with appropriate training and support from expert supervisors, be expected to: 

  • Recruit participants with vision impairment from suitable clinics at Moorfields Eye Hospital, explain the study to them and to seek informed consent for them to participate in the study.
  • Perform telephone-, online- and/or face-to-face interviews with these participants, using standardised instruments to assess their wellbeing and mental health
  • Lead focus groups with people with vision impairment and with clinical experts, to determine the best methods of support to maximise mental health and wellbeing outcomes
  • Analyse these data using appropriate qualitative and quantitative methods
  • Work in collaboration with other researchers
  • Prepare progress reports
  • Prepare presentations
  • Travel nationally and internationally for collaboration and other meetings or conferences
  • Prepare manuscripts for submission to international peer-reviewed journals
  • Contribute to the overall activities of the research team, department and be aware of UCL policies. 

Person Specification 

  • An undergraduate degree (2:1 or above, or equivalent EU/overseas degree) and/or a MSc or professional qualification in Optometry, Psychology, Vision Science or a related field, or related experience
  • Demonstrable interest in working with people with vision impairment and mental health conditions is required
  • Experience of performing research studies with human participants is required. Research experience with people with eye disease or mental health conditions would be highly advantageous
  • Excellent communication skills and a high proficiency in written and spoken English are required
  • Strong organisational and analytical skills are required
  • A strong work ethic, with the ability to think creatively and work both individually and within a team is required

Informal enquiries should be made to Dr Michael Crossland (m.crossland@ucl.ac.uk).

How to apply
Applicants should submit an application to the Research Degrees Manager ioo.pgr@ucl.ac.uk. You will be required to submit a CV, a covering letter outlining motivation, interest, and suitability for this project, and contact details for two academic referees.

Enquiries relating to the application process should be sent to the Research Degrees Manager at ioo.pgr@ucl.ac.uk.

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted directly for interview. 

The successful candidate is expected to start 25 September 2023, but flexibility with respect to the start date is possible.

Funding Notes
This studentship is funded for three years by the Moorfields Eye Charity and includes UK UCL PhD tuition fees, laboratory costs and an annual salary stipend starting at annual stipend starting at £22,000 per year. 

Eligibility
The full studentship (tuition fees and salary stipend) is eligible to all UK nationals and some EU nationals depending on their settlement status.
Applicants who will incur international fees are welcome to apply but they must show that they can supplement the difference between UK and international fees (£32, 100 for 2023-24) in their application.

Application deadline: 25 April 2023
Proposed interview date: Week beginning 8 May 2023