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University of Kent School of Psychology PhD Scholarships, UK


April 27, 2015


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The School of Psychology is currently inviting applications for a Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology to commence in October 2015. The recipient of a scholarship will be registered as a PhD student and as an employee of the University. In this case, the holder of the advertised Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology will be registered as a PhD student and will assist in the management of the Kent Child Development Unit.

The Scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home/EU rate plus a combined maintenance grant and salary, equivalent to the maintenance grant offered by the ESRC. The Scholarship will be offered for one year in the first instance, renewable to a maximum of three years subject to satisfactory academic performance.


Candidates must hold an Honours BSc or MSc in Psychology, or expect to finish coursework for such a degree, by September 2015. A standard of a first or 2(i) for undergraduate degrees, or merit/distinction for postgraduate degrees, is expected; this will be assessed on the basis of existing work for degrees not yet completed. Non-British qualifications will be judged individually; we will generally require an overall result in the top two grading categories.

The Scholarship competition is open to all postgraduate research applicants. UK, EU and overseas fee paying students are invited to apply. Overseas students would have to make up the difference between the Home and Overseas tuition fees.

Please note that current Kent PhD students are not eligible to apply.

Possible PhD Projects

Listed below are possible PhD projects/project topics that our developmental psychologists within the School of Psychology would be particularly interested to supervise. In particular, we welcome applications to conduct a project in the areas of pragmatic language (project 1, supervised by Dr Abbot-Smith), early social interaction (project 5, supervised by Dr Kelly), and understanding of knowledge (project 6, supervised by Dr Nurmsoo). However, please note that the list of possible projects below is not exhaustive and is intended to illustrate the kinds of project that members of staff are keen to supervise. There will be flexibility in the choice of project topic, and the recipient of the Scholarship will have the opportunity to develop a project with their supervisor. However, as part of the selection process, candidates will be asked to discuss their preference for one of the projects listed.

1) Teaching children to understand the informational needs of the listener: Typically-developing vs. children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Kirsten Abbot-Smith

Children have to learn to use language in interaction in a pragmatically appropriate manner, taking their listener's informational needs into account. Typically-developing two- and three-year-olds often make pragmatic errors of under-informativeness, for example asking a parent to give them 'that one' or 'the sheep' when there are two toy sheep present, thus failing to recognise their parent's current knowledge state. Failing to take a listener's perspective in this manner is also a classic pragmatic deficit associated with individuals with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The proposed project will explore the particular cognitive skills which are associated with development in this area in typically-developing pre-schoolers, using elicited production and possibly also eye-tracking techniques. It will also investigate which individual differences predict the ability to train these children to be better able to produce requests with appropriate levels of informativeness. A related project would examine individual differences in this ability in a sample of school-age children with ASD.

2) Can children generalise rules about prejudice?
Dominic Abrams

Although there is a lot of research on children's prejudices, there is relatively little research that considers how they transfer a lesson or rule (e.g. that they should not be prejudiced) from one situation to another. As part of my work with the Anne Frank Trust, I and my current postgraduate, Kiran Purewal, are exploring ways that different messages or activities can have this 'general' effect of challenging prejudice. The project will involve designing and testing an intervention in a school or public (e.g. library) setting to distinguish how different types of message are received and interpreted by young adolescents between the ages of 11 and 14. This is part of a larger international programme of work that is finding ways to reduce social exclusion during childhood (see Abrams & Killen, 2014, Journal of Social Issues, 70, 1-11. doi: josi12043 – available at

3) The development of gender stereotypes in young children
Lindsey Cameron

I am interested in projects examining the development of gender stereotypes in young children, the medium through which these stereotypes are transmitted, and impact of exposure to these stereotypes on children's performance, self-concept, and beliefs about gender. The project will look at the role of social context as well as children's emerging cognitive abilities. This project would also examine how we can avoid or counteract the negative impact of gender stereotypes.

4) Children's conversational skills during the pre-school years
Michael Forrester

Learning how to talk and acquire the skills necessary for engaging in everyday conversation is possibly the most important thing a young child has to do. A small but growing emerging body of work best described as child-focused CA (conversation analysis) conducts research into all aspects of children's conversation (e.g., repair skills; how to answer questions; tell stories; introduce topics; argue – see, Forrester & Cherrington, 2009; Forrester, 2013). This research project will encourage exploration, description, and explanation of any aspect of children's conversation during the pre-school years.

5) Measuring social interaction during the first year of life
David Kelly

In order to study cognitive and social development during the first year of life, we must find ways to ask questions without using language. Although infant motor coordination is limited, eye movement control matures early. Consequently, measuring eye-movements via eye-tracking allows us to accurately assess how infants respond to their sensory environment. The proposed project will use newly developed gaze-contingent paradigms that enable infants to "interact" with stimuli. These paradigms will be used to help understand how infants learn about and engage with their environment. The project will have two mains strands: 1, the development of gaze-driven visual-preference; 2, interaction with social stimuli (i.e. people) by contrasting responses to unimodal (e.g., a face) and multimodal (e.g., face-voice) stimuli. Strand 1 will use methods that build upon those of Wang and colleagues (See Wang et al. (2012). PLoS ONE 7(2): e30884. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030884), while strand 2 will use methods I have recently developed here that will greatly extend my earlier infant research (e.g., Kelly et al., 2005. Developmental Science, 8, F31-F36; Kelly et al., 2007. Psychological Science, 18, 1084-1089).

6) Children's understanding of knowledge (and questions)
Erika Nurmsoo

When learning from others, children run the risk of learning inaccurate information, as a speaker might be incorrect for many reasons. Importantly, children have strategies that decrease their chances of learning bad information, including rejecting speakers who do not have the relevant information (Nurmsoo & Robinson 2009). For example, we may be less likely to believe someone who tells us what happened at a meeting if they were not themselves present at that meeting. Children apply similar strategies when deciding who to believe.
Although children are good at judging when to believe a speaker who offers unsolicited information, they suffer difficulty when asking questions (Robinson, Butterfill & Nurmsoo, 2011). In these studies, one puppet looks inside the box, and one puppet does not. Although children as young as 3 are easily able to identify 'who knows what's in the box', they perform at chance when they must choose 'if we want to know what's in the box, who should we ask?'. This project aims to determine where children's difficulty lies, in order to get a better idea of how children's understanding of knowledge develops, how they guide their own learning through asking questions, and what they consider when deciding whether – or when – to believe a source (see Robinson et al., 2011, doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2011.02036.x; Nurmsoo et al., 2010, doi: 10.1007/s13164-010-0043-y)

7) Metacognition in autism spectrum disorder
David Williams

Metacognitive monitoring refers to awareness of one's own mental states/cognitive activity. Accurate metacognitive monitoring is considered highly important for day-to-day behavioral functioning, because it allows one to regulate those states successfully and, thus, control one's behaviour. For example, if one is aware of feeling nervous before giving a presentation, then one can put in place strategies to deal with one's anxiety. We know that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a diminished ability to understand others' mental states (a "theory of mind"/"mindreading" impairment), but we know relatively little about the extent to which people with ASD are aware of and can control their own mental states. Some have suggested that people with ASD have as great a difficulty with metacognition as they do with mindreading, and that this might explain some of the diagnostic behavioural features of this disorder (see Grainger et al., 2014, DOI: 10.1037/a0036531; Williams, 2010, DOI: 10.1177/1362361310366314). The proposed project will explore the neuro-cognitive bases of metacognition in ASD, using standard cognitive-experimental techniques and possibly neuroscientific techniques (e.g., eye-tracking; EEG).

How to Apply

All completed applications must be received by 5pm UK time on Monday 27th April 2015. Completed applications will comprise the following:
• Submission of an online application for a PhD place in the School of Psychology at the University of Kent including:
o The name of the preferred supervisor
o A transcript of degree marks to date and certificate, if completed
o The names and email addresses of two academic referees. References should also be received by 27th April 2015
o Upload a CV and covering letter. The covering letter should state why you should be awarded a Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology 2015, briefly describing relevant research and laboratory management experience. The cover letter should also state your preference for one of the projects listed above and make clear your reasons for this preference.
• Send an email to with the subject line 'Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology 2015' that confirms your interest in applying for the funding award

Please note that interviews are likely to be held on Monday 11th May 2015. We are unable to cover travel costs for shortlisted candidates, but we will arrange telephone/Skype interviews where appropriate.

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