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Dunhill Medical Trust: Medicines in an ageing society – an interdisciplinary research programme (MED-AGE)

Phase 1: An initial desk top review of institutional abuse investigation reports and sample of registration and inspection reports will be undertaken in order to identify levels and patterns of medication abuse in registered residential homes for older people in Northern Ireland. Additionally, a scoping review of the literature will be completed. In promoting co-production, a steering group made up of key stakeholders including older person advocates from the voluntary sector will be established to oversee the project.

Phase 2: These findings will be used to formulate interview schedules to explore the experiences and perceptions of older people, their family members and residential care staff through a series of individual and focus group interviews. Where possible, participants will be recruited from three residential facilities for older people: a private residential unit: a private nursing unit and a statutory residential unit.

Queen’s University Belfast in partnership with Forward South invites applications from qualified applicants for a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) studentship, funded by the Department for the Economy (Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDP) scheme), to conduct research leading to a PhD on the theme of: Responsible Artificial Intelligence to Develop Responsible Simulated Teacher Learning Environments towards educating teachers and coaches of linguistically and culturally diverse populations in and around Belfast.  

This project will be supervised by Dr. Sultan Turkan, Senior Lecturer of Bilingual Education (Director of TESOL/Applied Linguistics Programme). The student will be expected to spend time at both Queen’s University Belfast and at Forward South Partnership (FSP) doing field work with bilingual students and their parents across schools connected to FSP. Also, the student will be expected to be part of a wider cohort of CDP funded students across Northern Ireland.  

The studentship will be studied full time (3 years) commencing on October 1st 2024 to continue until 30 September 2027 

We encourage the widest range of potential students to study for this CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from minority ethnic backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area. 

Project Overview

This project aims to develop and evaluate a Virtual Teacher Learning Environment (VTLE), drawing on AI -powered technologies, for content pre-service teachers (PSTs) at QUB to observe and practice quality teaching of content to bilingual avatars at newcomer and intermediate English proficiency levels. The numbers of immigrant children (referred as bilinguals) in NI classrooms and across the UK increase, teachers report feeling unprepared to teach content (Murphy et al., 2007; Starbuck, 2018). Undoubtedly, student teaching and field experiences constitute a significant part of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programs (Ronfeldt, Schwartz, & Jacob, 2014). However, teacher educators face challenges in placing their PSTs in field experiences that mimics real classrooms inclusive of possible instructional scenarios, as well as vulnerable student groups such as immigrant children. In this Post-Pandemic era, the need to prepare educators for conditions outside of brick and mortar ITE environments is here to stay (Griffin et al., 2020; La Velle et al.,2020). Further, using VTLEs to supplement traditional methods such as field experiences, practicums, and internships has proven to be effective (Hixon & So, 2009; Monroe, Mendez, & Nutta, 2020), especially in providing sheltered access to bilinguals that the PSTs might not otherwise encounter in clinical training (Turkan & Kerr, Sloan, Maye, 2021). 


Queen’s University Belfast ‘Innovation Zones’ (School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work), in partnership with National Museums NI, invites applications from suitably qualified applicants for a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) studentship, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDP) scheme), to conduct research leading to a PhD on the theme of: Conflict and Creativity – Evaluating the potential of the Ulster Museum’s Troubles and Beyond collection in fostering creative thinking skills in young people.

This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Liam O’Hare (Director Innovation Zones, Queen’s University Belfast) and Louise Rice (Education Manager, National Museums NI) and the student will be expected to spend time at both Queen’s University Belfast and at National Museums NI, and be part of a wider cohort of CDP funded students across the UK.

The studentship can be studied either full time (4 years) or part time.

We encourage the widest range of potential students to study for this CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from minority ethnic backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area.

The studentship is open to both home and international applicants.


Project overview 

The project aims to investigate ways in which museums operating in divided societies can use their collections to support the development of creativity and open-mindedness in young people. The research will focus on ways in which young people aged 11-14 from across different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds from non-integrated schools engage with the Ulster Museum’s Troubles and Beyond and Troubles Art collections. It seeks to address the gap in understanding around how museum education can be designed to influence the development of the skills that are likely to lead to greater levels of social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Research activity will include the implementation of a pilot study in communities linked to the ‘Innovation Zones’, which will be evaluated to assess its effectiveness in developing creative skills and open-mindedness in the young participants from disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings of the research will contribute to the development of the Ulster Museum’s Troubles-related education programmes, and have a direct impact on how National Museums NI measures the success of their wider schools programme. Ultimately, the theoretical and practical learning from this research could have an international impact on how museums in areas of conflict, or post-conflict can harness the potential of their collections to have a positive impact on children and young people.


Some Examples of Research Questions:

  1. Can a research-informed museum learning programme be implemented well, i.e., with fidelity, engagement, and quality of delivery to young people from disadvantaged circumstances and ethnic minority status?
  2. Does the emergent museum learning programme improve creativity and open-mindedness in participants and is this influenced by disadvantage and ethnic minority status?
  3. Are there any unforeseen positive or negative effects of the programme for the museum, pupils and teachers?


Research with National Museums NI

This research studentship is one allocated to Queen’s University Belfast by the AHRC to support the work of National Museums NI. Given the site-specific nature of the PhD, the successful student will be expected to spend a significant proportion of their time carrying out research and gaining relevant experience at National Museums NI as part of the studentship.

Supervisors: Prof Daniel Muijs (SSESW) and Dr Gavin Duffy (SSESW).

CAST (Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology) PhD Studentship in Place-based Education with Queen’s Communities and Place (QCAP), funded by Department for the Economy (DfE).

Context: Education in Northern Ireland (NI) is marked by inequalities of outcome. Certain groups of young people are more at risk than others of leaving school without adequate qualifications, experiences, and opportunities. Research suggests that these disparities mirror socio-economic factors—particularly wealth, class, ethnicity, gender, and parental qualifications (Early et al, 2022). However, studies across the UK show that there is an additional spatial dimension to this phenomenon in which less favourable education outcomes tend to be concentrated in urban, working-class communities (Kerr & Dyson, 2017). It is clear that to fully understand education inequalities, it is essential to look beyond individual factors and consider the wider socio-spatial contexts in which children are raised and where educational processes occur (Kerr et al, 2014). This has been recognised in policy, with the preference for addressing unfavourable conditions ostensibly shifting towards place-based approaches. The Levelling Up programme, for example, claims to deliver improved outcomes for places through ‘education investment areas’, but is at risk of disregarding the varied needs of local landscapes (Lybeck, 2022). In NI the Fair Start report advocates for a whole-community approach and the development of a place-based ‘reducing educational disadvantage’ programme (Purdy et al, 2021), but has since been scaled back by cuts. In many cases, these types of interventions have been top-down and ‘place-blind’, with limited success (Kerr et al, 2014). Consequently, community organisations have assumed responsibility for improving the local education environment, despite the complexity and scale of the task.

This project will add depth to our understanding of this spatial phenomenon, with a focus on the transformative potential of Critical Educational Landscapes (CELs)—a place-based model of education currently being developed by Queen’s Communities And Places (QCAP) (Robinson, 2023). CELs emphasise community-centred education, actively involving communities in shaping and delivering education that is relevant, inclusive, and empowering. The model encompasses four programmatic areas of intervention: education networks, diverse learning spaces, pathways to employment, and an innovation ecosystem. A key aspect of this involves closer collaboration and co-creation between schools and communities. The student will be embedded within QCAP’s partner organisations—the Market Development Association (MDA) and Greater Shankill Partnership Board (GSPB), with whom they will co-design the project—and their nascent CELs. Using Yin’s case study approach of replication rather than representation, the student’s initial focus will be on the Market, to draw out a range of variables and perspectives that can then be tested with the Shankill. The student will extract much needed data on place-based factors and insights into how communities, through the framework of CELs, can influence educational outcomes beyond traditional school settings.

About QCAP

Serving as a key delivery mechanism for Queen’s University Belfast’s (UK) strategic commitment to social and civic responsibility and economic prosperity, Queen’s Communities and Place (QCAP) is a research initiative based on engagement and partnership between communities, policy makers and academics. Combining academic expertise and experiential knowledge from the community, Queen’s Communities and Place uses a ‘place-based’ approach to co-create new solutions to address persistent physical, economic and social challenges, as well as to strengthen the engagement between Queen’s University and its surrounding communities. QCAP launched in November 2021 with our anchor partner in the Market community in inner south Belfast. We are also working collaboratively with projects and communities in the north, west and east of Belfast across a range of sectors and academic disciplines. We have sought to challenge existing frameworks, with evidence-led, data-driven approaches to build interventions and practices together to identify what might work better here for communities to thrive (Higgins et al, 2023). For further information visit



Supervisors: Dr Paul Best, Dr John D’Arcy and Dr Yang Hua

Northern Ireland has one of the highest levels of PTSD in Europe (Ferry et al. 2015). It is estimated that as much as 20.7% of the population aged 50+ meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. This has contributed to a public health crisis in the most deprived areas with record levels of antidepressant prescribing, growing alcohol and substance misuse and lower life expectancy.

Current treatments for PTSD, while largely successful, routinely include some form of exposure to the feared event (imaginal or in-vivo). As such, drop out remains high (78% in some cases) and many of those who would benefit most, fail to complete treatment. Immersive technology, such as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), has shown clinical utility in regards to ET, by increasing its acceptability and enhancing traditional (imaginal based) exposure exercises (Botella et al., 1998; Aiken and Berry, 2015; Freeman et al. 2017). It has been particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD - a disorder characterised by persistent “avoidance of reminders of the trauma” (Rizzo et al. 2006). However, despite the strong evidence regarding VRET, we are yet to see the widespread adoption of VRET and other immersive technologies within clinical settings. This appears due to the high production values (cost) associated with VRET and a dearth of available data regarding its acceptability and feasibility within clinical (real-world) settings. Moreover, PTSD treatment (by nature) is idiosyncratic and as such, individuals exposed to the same event will often have different interpretations and appraisals that contributed to the development of their condition (Grey, 2009).

Immersive 360 video is a low-cost alternative to VR, yet one that has shown the same potential to achieve ‘spatial presence’ (i.e. the extent to which the immersive environment feels real) (Bailey and Bailenson, 2017). Therefore, the use of immersive 360 video may enable the generation of tailored images, to assist and enhance traditional imaginal based exposure exercises on a case by case basis. If this lower-cost alternative can be shown to be acceptable to clinicians as well as enhance current PTSD treatment, this may lead to greater adoption within clinical settings. As such, this project will use an experimental research design to explore the feasibility and benefit of trauma-focused therapy enhanced with immersive 360 video technology to treat PTSD.

Dunhill Medical Trust PhD Studentship: Medicines in Ageing Societies

Title: Taking Medicines at Home: Exploring medication use as a socially embedded phenomenon

Supervisors: Dr Gemma Carney (School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work) and Dr Neil Heron (School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science).


This project is part of a doctoral training programme (MED-AGE) which will fund four studentships supported by the Dunhill Medical Trust. The interdisciplinary research conducted under this programme will further understanding of the importance of medicines in the lives of older people. The successful candidate will be a member of the cohort of Dunhill students funded under this programme and will be exposed to outstanding training and development opportunities.

Medication usage does not occur in isolation. Conversely, older adults navigate a complex set of social networks and relationships with doctors, pharmacists, spouses and carers as well as friends and adult offspring in the practice of maintaining good health. As such, medication use has been described as a socially embedded phenomenon which, in most cases, happens in private, at home (Ross and Gillett, 2021).

This PhD project will contribute to an important growing body of qualitative research which examines how older adults negotiate their use of prescription drugs (Hawkins, Nickman and Ross, 2017). The ethos of this PhD project emerges from Estes (1979) classic sociology of ageing which argued that older adults’ lives are shaped by the medical industrial complex - a system which prioritises pharmaceutical over social interventions. Nevertheless, medicines are in large part responsible for extended life expectancy. We need to gain a better understanding of medicine use as a daily aspect of the social structure of later life. So, the project has two key objectives.

  1. To focus on the home as socially networked site of kinship and family dynamics which frames medication usage, and
  2. To employ emancipatory research methods to investigate the potential for older adults to use medication in ways that optimise their health.

The student who takes on this project will have a strong interest in working with older people in a manner which helps participants to articulate their own views. They will have knowledge of social science research methods and a willingness to work across disciplines. They will use qualitative research methods including in-depth interviews in a way which will empower and inform older people about their medication use. Part of this approach will involve finding out how the views of older people can be better communicated to doctors and pharmacists.

There is a wealth of research demonstrating that patients who feel supported and empowered in their healthcare decision-making have better health outcomes. So, understanding and communicating older adult’s lived experience of taking medicine at home could be a significant step forward for doctors and their patients navigation of complex pharmaceutical regimes.

The studentship: The successful student will be based at QUB.

Given the importance of this project, we are seeking an outstanding applicant who can not only demonstrate knowledge and skills but also a strong passion and commitment to work in this area.