Soc-B Centre for Doctoral Training in Biosocial Research
The Soc-B Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) offers unique PhD training in biosocial research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to build capacity in this growing area of interdisciplinary scientific endeavour.
The purpose of Soc-B research is to identify social exposures and causal pathways that lead to sub-clinical biological change, the ultimate aim of which is to identify points for intervention with the potential to improve health and redress health inequalities. Soc-B takes a lifecourse perspective to biosocial research to investigate how social environments, biology and behaviours intersect to influence health and functioning. Soc-B combines theoretically derived social drivers of health with state-of-the-art biological information to provide insights into mediating pathways providing points of interventions to influence population health. Thus, the programme seeks to understand social contexts and how these might influence biological processes using a range of advanced quantitative approaches key to the interpretation of biosocial research findings.
As a graduate of the Soc-B programme it is expected that you will be one of a cadre of cutting-edge researchers with the theoretical knowledge, analytic capabilities and communication skills to make major advances in biosocial research in the future.
Soc-B’s overarching aim is to ensure the UK remains at the cutting edge of biosocial research. To this end, Soc B plays a critical role in developing the skills necessary to meet the challenge of understanding how social environments, biology and behaviours intersect to influence health and functioning and vice-versa within a lifecourse framework.
The programme equips students with an understanding of the interaction between social and biological processes by exploiting rapidly developing streams of biosocial data. This is achieved through a unique blend of experiences - bespoke learning modules from basic to advanced level in social science and biological theory, ‘taster’ project rotations, PhD proposal development, and internships with non-academic partners. Students with a willingness to embrace Soc-B’s unique offering to integrate approaches from social and bio sciences are recruited from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. This inherently interdisciplinary approach means that students utilise a variety of methods in their research studies spanning in-depth ethnographic research through single context large scale population studies and cross-country comparisons in an attempt to tease out causal processes. In their thesis research, students make use of a range of data resources, often combining data from large scale population-based studies with laboratory experiments and sometimes qualitative information to investigate a wide range of societal and economic challenges. For example: stress hormone production may be altered by adverse childhood experiences; genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease might manifest under certain early dietary environments; cognitive decline, and accompanying neuronal changes, could be accelerated by social isolation and loneliness; weight controlling behaviours might combine with body composition to influence mental health during adolescence; social support in childhood could influence the production of stress hormones and obesity risk in adult life. These are just some of the areas under investigation by students on the Soc-B programme. Research undertaken by Soc-B students will continue to improve understanding of the mechanisms underlying complex interactions between individuals and their environments in order to inform policies and practices aimed at improving the nation’s health and its social and economic capacity.
The Soc-B consortium comprises UCL, University of Manchester and University of Essex forming a UK hub for biosocial research and training activities across the consortium and beyond. An ever-changing landscape of the major biosocial investments, advancements in ways of using data, the integration of ‘omics, epigenetics, and brain imaging in large social surveys, and increased recognition of the value of interdisciplinary research mean that Soc-B is at the forefront in the development of biosocial science. In addition to engaging with a range of social- and bio-science investments, we adopt a critical perspective in our training and research.
Soc-B harnesses a unique combination of expertise in social-biological research to realise our vision - to produce global leaders in biosocial science who:
- are equipped with knowledge of the social and biological processes essential to fully exploit biosocial data
- have extensive practical experience of using advanced analytical techniques to interrogate large, longitudinal data sets and biodata
- can incorporate critical perspectives of the biosocial field in their research
- develop methodological innovations to biosocial research problems, by combining different disciplinary perspectives
- have contributed original research on a biosocial topic, demonstrated by their ability to define and test a clear research question and interpret findings within the wider context of current evidence
- understand the importance of research impact and engagement and are confident communicators of science to both academic and non-academic audiences, thus maximising opportunities for their work to have a wider societal and economic impact.
Soc-B produces highly employable PhD graduates with the capabilities and experience to lead and grow future research excellence, as well as shape and influence policy and practice. Benefiting the wider research community, Soc-B makes available unique training materials in biosocial sciences.
What current students are saying about their first module in the Soc-B CDT:
"I particularly liked the access to leading academics in multidisciplinary roles discussing their fields in a language we could all understand…The interactivity of it was great."
"I am extremely grateful to be part of this first cohort that allow researchers with my interests to be able to pursue them without being limited by regulations!"
"The discussion that took place and talks from guest speakers have sparked my interest in areas that I had not considered prior."
"I feel privileged to be part of the biosocial CDT. The sessions have been fascinating and really ignited certain areas of interest and gave me lots of research ideas and questions to take back and look at."