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Large-scale capability of smartphone app technology for breakthrough science in infant development

Angelica Ronald and Mindwave

Project Description

This PhD studentship offers the exciting opportunity to be trained in academic research while gaining parallel experience in industry through a non-academic industrial partnership.

The student will work with their academic and industry-based supervisors to develop a state of the art smartphone app research tool for use in large-scale research with families of young children. The project will also allow the student to conduct their own independent research project on infants utilising their newly developed app. As such, this studentship offers a truly interdisciplinary PhD training in both programming and app development within the technology sector, with novel ground-breaking basic research into infant brain development, captured at a large scale through app technology. It is therefore suitable for someone with a keen interest in both developmental psychology and programming/ data sciences.

Academic Environment

The student will be based at the Genes Environment Lifespan (GEL) laboratory ( at Birkbeck, which conducts award-winning research in the fields of developmental psychology and behaviour genetics. The GEL lab is based in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck, currently rated as the 5th equal leading Psychology department in the UK by the last Research Excellence Framework ( It is home to the world-leading Birkbeck Babylab, which conducts a wide range of neuroscientific research into infant brain development. The student will conduct their research project through the Babylab, thus benefitting from the lab’s wide range of resources, the large participant database and expertise on offer. The second academic supervisor, Professor Pasco Fearon directs the UCL-Anna Freud Centre Development Neuroscience Unit and the PhD student will also benefit from this active research environment and the wide range of training available through UCL.

Industry Partner

This studentship is a joint enterprise between academic supervisors Prof Ronald (Birkbeck) and Prof Fearon (UCL) and non-academic partner Mindwave Ventures. Mindwave Ventures is an SME that delivers technology-based solutions in healthcare and research through design and development of digital products. It has existing and past collaborations with academics, and past experience in joint PhD supervision with academics. Mindwave are an ideal partner for this academic-industry PhD studentship; they are at the forefront of their field while also being committed to working within research and healthcare. The student will be based at Birkbeck with a fixed amount of time spent working at the industrial partner as part of the studentship.

The Project

Smartphone usage has exploded throughout the last decade, with roughly 95% of parents of young children in the UK now owning a smartphone. The project will combine smartphone app technology with the demands of infant research in order to expand measurement opportunities. A major challenge for infancy research is the rapid pace of infant development. Yet a typical study might only observe an infant once or twice in the first year. An app will allow frequent assessments, “big data” and linkage studies to become possible for this age group.


There will be excellent opportunities for research and training. The student will be part of the Medical Research Council-funded doctoral training programme (, which offers a wide range of general and specific training opportunities and training funds for its students.

The successful applicant will be a member of the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development within Birkbeck (, an internationally-recognised research centre with an equal focus on theoretical, methodological, and empirical advances in understanding infant psychological development. The student will be encouraged to attend training courses and conferences.
Mindwave will provide a broad overview of the design, development and project management of the digital product. It will ensure that the student obtains an insight into the end to end process of digital product development.

As such, the student will gain highly sought after interdisciplinary training in both developmental psychology and programming and gain experience of working in both academic research and industry.

Candidate requirements

Candidates must have a First class or Upper Second undergraduate degree in a relevant scientific discipline, including but not limited to psychology, data sciences, computer sciences, life sciences, or mathematics/physics with a strong interest in psychology and computing.

Candidates must in addition have at least one of the following:
• A Masters degree in a relevant scientific discipline
• Experience working in a research assistant post
• Other experience of working in a professional environment, ideally in a relevant discipline such as in a psychology-related role, or in programming or the technology sector.

Experience in programming is highly desirable