PhD Projects: Social Biobehavioural Research Group

Exploring the relationship between social factors and health.

Our team includes several funded PhD students who are exploring the relationship between social factors and health.

If you would like to join the team as a PhD student, please send a copy of your CV, a 1-2 page summary of your PhD research ideas and a covering letter to Dr Daisy Fancourt.

We also accept students through three of UCL’s Doctoral Training programmes:

Current projects are listed below.


Impact of psychological distress and socioeconomic position on systemic inflammation: Martin Danka

This research employs causal inference approaches to understand the joint impacts of psychological distress and socioeconomic position on biomarkers of systemic inflammation across the life course.

Leisure activities and healthy ageing for meaningful mid-later years: Jihee Kim

The project aims to measure the evolution of diverse health dimensions for monitoring changes in healthy ageing (HA), to elucidate the dynamic interactions between HA and its determinants, such as leisure activities, and antecedents, and to identify the impact of the pandemic on HA with the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

Social factors, mental health and genetic propensity: Saoirse Finn

This research aims to understand the interplay between people’s genetic propensity for mental health traits, social connections, leisure engagement, and mental health, using polygenic scores (PGSs) and data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

Social deprivation, loneliness and personality: Thamara Tapia

Chronic loneliness is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases, mental health disorders, and early mortality. Using data from English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the English Indices of Deprivation, this research explores the role of social deprivation in the relationship between personality traits and loneliness among older adults, while also considering genetic and environmental factors.

Social assets and biological pathways to multimorbidity: Robyn Jones

This study aims to understand the relationship between multi-level social factors, biology and multimorbidity in adults. The prevalence of multimorbidity (people having more than one illness) is growing rapidly across the globe, yet little is known about the role of social assets in helping to address multimorbidity. This project explores how social assets impact those living with multiple long-term conditions, and how assets can be used by policymakers to further better outcomes for people and society.

Early life social connections and body composition: Katie Taylor

Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and Add Health, this research aims to investigate how early life social connections, such as social support and loneliness, influence body composition (weight, body mass index, waist measurement) across adolescence and young adulthood. Potential underlying biological mechanisms, including stress and inflammatory responses, will also be explored.

Social capital, mortality, and health: Stergiani (Stella) Tsoli

Making use of the National Child Development Study (NCDS) and the British Cohort Study (BCS) datasets and using advanced statistical methods, this project examines the long-term impact of social capital on mortality and physical and mental health outcomes using health biomarkers.



Cultural capital and health outcomes: Dr Emma Walker

Using data from the UK representative longitudinal survey, Understanding Society, this study examined the associations between socioeconomic status, cultural engagement and biological health outcomes, such as stress hormone levels and immune function, as well as self-reported physical and mental health.

Reducing children’s anxiety before surgery: Dr Chris Evans

This research investigated the impact of a novel behaviour change intervention on children’s anxiety before surgery. The ‘Little Journey’ app was designed to help prepare and support children and their parents in their own home before and after an operation. It provides age-tailored, immersive and interactive information through animations, a virtual reality tour, therapeutic games and coping strategy teaching.

Social prescribing for mental health and well-being: Dr Henry Aughterson

This research contained two aims: first, to explore and understand the mechanisms of action underlying the mental health impacts of social prescribing activities on individuals and build a new ‘theory of change’ framework for social prescribing; and second, to identify the barriers and enablers to effective social prescribing amongst (i) GPs, (ii) link workers, and (iii) patients.

Digital delivery and assessment of holistic interventions for breathlessness: Dr Keir Philip

A range of research projects exploring the delivery and assessment of holistic interventions for people with breathlessness. This included investigating the impact of Singing for Lung Health on peoples’ heart rates, how much oxygen they used, and other ‘physiological’ measures, and a large clinical trial of the English National Opera’s ‘ENO Breathe’ programme, for people with breathlessness due to long COVID. This research also included two qualitative studies to understand the experience of people with breathlessness in the UK and Uganda participating in singing/dance interventions.