PhD Studentship – How do Peers Influence Adolescent Health Behaviour?

Supervisor: Dr. Emily Long

Peers can have a large impact on health behaviour during adolescence. Social network interventions in schools, which involve using influential, or well-connected, students to help change behaviour, are increasingly common and show great potential. However, we still don’t know the best method for choosing ‘peer leaders’ in these social network interventions, especially across different types of behaviour, social structure, and contexts.

This PhD will employ methods from social network analysis and agent-based modelling to compare the effectiveness of a range of strategies for selecting peer leaders in network-based interventions. The project will use data from two large social network interventions with young people aged 13-16 who participated in the A Stop Smoking in Schools Trial (ASSIST) and the Sexually Transmitted Infections and Sexual Health trial (STASH). Advanced computational models, such as stochastic actor-oriented models, will use the empirical data to simulate a wide range of intervention scenarios (e.g., differences in peer leader selection, school size, network structure), assessing how the effectiveness of each strategy differs according to context.

The project findings will help design new social network interventions to improve health and well-being in schools, including addressing issues related to smoking, alcohol use, sexual health, and mental health. The student will receive training in social network analysis methods and agent-based modelling, and will work with the Relationships and Health team in the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU).

The student will be hosted at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU), a leading MRC/CSO funded public health research unit. At SPHSU, we are looking to develop the next generation of highly skilled researchers in social science-led population health research. Our Unit has a particular focus on developing and using cutting-edge methods to understand how social, behavioural, economic, political, and environmental factors influence health. Our dynamic and interactive research environment is made up of almost 130 researchers, clinical fellows, administrative and technical staff, postgraduate research students and visiting fellows. It is an ideal environment for anyone looking to work with, and learn from, colleagues from a range of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, epidemiology, public health medicine, nutrition, and mathematics.

To support our students’ development, we provide training in all aspects of research, including specialised training in methods. The student will benefit from the University’s wider training environment, such as a doctoral training programme that covers research skills, professional development, and postgraduate seminar series. The Unit regularly hosts research seminars and internal conferences, and the student would be encouraged to attend all unit events, meetings, and activities.

The Unit has a strong commitment to student wellbeing and pastoral support, with a mentoring scheme and two postgraduate student convenors.


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Applicants will have a first degree (undergraduate) at 2:1 in a social science discipline (e.g., sociology, psychology) or in social statistics, or computational social science.
  • Applicants can have a Masters degree, however, this is not a requirement.
  • Applicants must meet the University of Glasgow entry criteria for a PhD in Public Health found here and ESRC eligibility criteria found here.
  • Applicants can study part-time or full-time.
  • Demonstrate an interest in social network analysis, advanced statistical modelling for network data, and developing health improvement interventions.
  • Have a good grounding in quantitative social science methods. Prior knowledge of social network analysis and agent-based modelling would be desirable.
  • Solid introductory level knowledge of quantitative data management, and experience of using programming languages such as R.
  • Excellent communication skills (oral and written) in English and experience of scientific writing, such as evidenced by completing an undergraduate dissertation to a high standard. For formal English language requirements please see here.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills including team working and a collegiate approach and a willingness and aptitude to work in a multidisciplinary environment.
  • Excellent workload and time management skills.
  • Self-motivation, initiative and independent thought/working.
  • Problem solving skills including a flexible and pragmatic approach.

The desirable criteria include:

  • Knowledge of wider subject area, such as social and public health sciences, adolescent health, social network influences on health, and social network interventions.
  • Experience of social network modelling for sociocentric data, such as exponential random graph models or stochastic actor-oriented models.
  • Experience with basic agent-based modelling techniques, such as those with NetLogo.
  • Experience of presenting research findings, such as at student conferences or in course settings.

Please note that all applicants must also meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

This SGSSS studentship will be co-funded by the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit to create an ESRC-MRC studentship. It is available as a +3 (3-year PhD) or a 1+3 (Masters year and 3 year PhD) studentship depending on prior research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process, however you can access guidance here to help you decide on which to apply for. The programme will commence in October 2023. The full ESRC studentship package includes, as advised by ESRC:

  • An annual maintenance grant (stipend) of approximately £18,000 in 2023/24.
  • Fees at the standard institutional home rate

Students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £750 per year.

How to apply

  1. Applicants must register on SGSSS Apply, completing their Equal Opportunities data.
  2. Applicants must apply via SGSSS Apply, uploading the following documentation:
  • Microsoft Word application form
  • Academic transcripts
  • Academic prizes
  • Referee information
  • CV

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by an internal institutional selection panel, and you will be notified if you have been shortlisted for interview on or around 21 April 2023. Interviews will take place online on 9 May 2023. This studentship award is subject to the successful candidate securing admission to a PhD programme within the University of Glasgow. The successful candidate will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme.

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