Summer Studentships 2021 - Application Process Now Open
The CPH Summer Studentship Application Process is Now Open
The Centre for Public Health (CPH) Summer Research Programme provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in office and/or laboratory-based research during the summer months. Each participant will be assigned to the research project of a Principal Investigator within CPH and will be part of an enthusiastic research team comprising academic staff, postdoctoral fellows, research assistants, PhD students, clerical and technical staff. The projects will run for an eight-week period between June and September 2021. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions, students will be expected to be in attendance Monday to Friday on a full-time basis, or be in a position to work remotely from home.
Students currently enrolled for Biomedical Sciences, Medicine, Dentistry or a related discipline who have completed at least one year of full-time study from any UK Higher Education Institution are eligible to apply. Each summer studentship pays a student stipend of £150 per week. Graduates of UK universities who successfully complete the programme will be eligible for Degree Plus status upon graduation
The application process is now open. Please submit a current CV including your full academic profile (or transcript), your student number if you are a QUB student and a covering letter stating your reasons for applying to the Programme with the Centre for Public Health and the names and contact details of two referees. Please email your application to the Centre Manager, Niamh McElherron – N.McElherron@qub.ac.uk by 5.00pm on 17th March 2021 and feel free to state which project(s) you are interested in.
Our 11 projects are listed below:
Interventions to improve dietary intake: focus on school-based and older adults
Supervised by Professor Jayne Woodside
Dietary intake has been associated with better health and reduced risk of chronic disease. Interventions to change dietary behaviour in the long-term are challenging. This project will involve the secondary analysis of data relating to interventions to improve diet quality at two life stages: primary school age and then in older adulthood. The project will involve analysis of quantitative data, and consideration of the elements of behaviour change interventions likely to lead to dietary behaviour change in the longer term. The student involved will have the opportunity to be named on any arising publications.
Exploring Preconception Health
Supervised by Dr Laura McGowan
The preconception period has been identified as a crucial time for influencing not only pregnancy outcomes, but also future maternal and child health, and prevention of long-term medical conditions. This project will involve secondary analysis of data relating to the topic of preconception healthcare and involve analysis (including systematic reviewing methods, statistical methods (using SPSS)) and write-up in order to prepare impactful papers for publication. The student involved may be named on any arising publications.
Evaluation of ‘Ferry Fit’: a community-led physical activity and weight loss initiative
Supervised by Professor Helen Coleman
Ferry Fit is a community-based weight loss and physical activity intervention, co-ordinated on behalf of Portaferry GAC, that has taken place annually in Portaferry, County Down between 2016-2019. Approximately 250 participants take part in this 9-week intervention each year. Participants are divided into teams that are led by two peer-motivators. Team and individual prizes are awarded at the end of the intervention, which includes weekly 'challenges' that award points, in addition to points for weight loss. Participants of Ferry Fit have weekly weigh-ins to assess their weight and body mass index, in addition to waist circumference measurements at Weeks 1, 4 and 9.
This summer studentship will bring together the 4 years of Ferry Fit data so far, and summarise previous results and analysis undertaken by BSc dissertation students, to generate a publication suitable for submission to a scientific journal, and to produce user-friendly summary reports that will be used in the promotion of future Ferry Fit interventions.
Is oral health associated with the risk of cancers of the digestive tract?
Supervised by Professor Helen Coleman
There is growing recognition that oral health, and particularly the oral microbiome, may influence the risk of chronic systemic diseases, including some cancers. However, controversy remains as to whether poor oral health is independently associated with the risk of cancers of the digestive tract, due to potential confounding by smoking, alcohol and poor nutrition.
Our working group has recently published data from the large, prospective UK Biobank cohort, which includes n = 475,766 participants (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31700637/). Overall, there was no association between self-reported poor oral health (defined as painful gums, bleeding gums and/or having loose teeth) and risk of gastrointestinal cancer detected. However, there was a suggestion of an increased risk of hepatobiliary cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma.
The aim of this project is to conduct epidemiological analysis to validate this finding in other cohorts with similar data collected on oral health measures. The student will gain experience in analysing data to investigate the association between oral health and cancers of the digestive tract, and contribute to the writing of a paper for submission to a scientific journal. Full guidance will be provided for statistical analysis.
Exploring the attitudes of General Dentist Practitioners on providing dietary advice alongside oral rehabiliation to older adults
Supervised by Dr Gerry McKenna
As natural teeth are lost, many older adults choose softer, more manageable foods often lacking in essential micronutrients and fibre. Yet replacing missing teeth alone does not positively influence their diet, demonstrating the need for dietary intervention alongside tooth restoration in later life. Those within the oral health profession may be in a position to deliver dietary advice to this population group. Currently, there is a lack of information on General Dentist Practitioners’ (GDPs) attitudes and barriers experienced in the delivery of dietary advice in practice.
The aim of this study is to undertake telephone interviews with GDPs to explore their attitudes towards providing dietary advice alongside oral rehabilitation to older adults.
The successful student will gain experience in qualitative data collection and analysis. Furthermore, this project will allow the student to gain experience writing scientific abstracts and presenting their research findings.
Inclusion Health: Mapping Homeless Services in Northern Ireland
Supervised by Professor Diamuid O'Donovan and Professor Nigel Hart
The Inclusion Health Research group was established in CPH in September 2020 and is focussing on homelessness, prison health and primary healthcare in areas of blanket deprivation within the context of Homeless and Inclusion Health Services in NI. We hope to recruit a medical student to contribute to a mapping exercise of health and related services for people experiencing homelessness in NI. The student will work with doctoral students, and an academic GP trainee to identify existing statutory, community and voluntary services across Northern Ireland and to describe the reach and scope of these services.
This project will involve identifying service providers and contacting them to find out the precise nature of the services available. Depending on the public health restrictions there may be opportunities to meet with some service providers. This work will contribute to informing future research questions and important service developments.
Validation of a questionnaire for identifying RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport) in male road cyclists
Supervised by Dr Neil Heron
RED-S is a syndrome which occurs due to a mismatch between energy expenditure and energy intake, resulting in a net calorific deficiency (3)(4). The syndrome of RED-S (4) “refers to impaired physiological function including, but not limited to, metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, cardiovascular health caused by relative energy deficiency.” Psychological consequences can either precede RED-S or be the result of RED-S. RED-S can potentially effect performance (5) through:
- increased susceptibility to viral illnesses;
- increased injury rates;
- reduced responsivessness to training stimuli, resulting in decreased performance.
Indeed previous authors have highlighted that athletes with low energy availability (i.e.RED-S) have a greater prevalence of decreased training response, impaired judgement, decreased coordination, decreased concentration, irritability, depression and decreased endurance performance compared with the adequate energy availability group (6). Previous authors (7) have produced a RED-S clinical assessment tool (RED-S CAT) as well as a LEAF questionnaire (8) to identify low energy availability in female athletes but both these questionnaires would not be appropriate to use for screening the male road cyclists, particularly elite riders. A Low Energy in Males Questionnaire is in development (9). Road cyclists are at particular risk from RED-S as they are often ‘making-weight’ in preparation for the competition as well as optimising/increasing their training programmes and training loads in preparation for the increased demands of their targeted competitions. If riders develop signs and symptoms of RED-S then this will negatively impact their ability to perform on the bike during competitions as well as causing injuries and illness, causing them to take time off from competitions. We therefore want to try to identify this condition as early as possible and put in place management options to combat this syndrome and ensure that road cyclists compete optimally on the bike. RED-S can also potentially negatively impact the athletes’ future long term health, particularly in terms of their bone health and increasing their risk of osteopenia/osteoporosis and future fracture risk.
What the project involves:
One component of identifying RED-S in male road cyclists could be a questionnaire and we have developed a questionnaire for this purpose. We would now like to validate the questionnaire in this cohort of athletes, male road cyclists, and this summer studentship will focus on this validation work. The project will involve comparing our questionnaire with other questionnaires used for RED-S and receiving qualitative feedback about its use from service users. The project will also involve partnership working with our sport science and physiotherapy colleagues in Ulster University (UU) as this questionnaire is being developed through a Masters research project at UU. This project will be written up as a scientific paper and published in a peer-reviewed journal as well as presented at appropriate scientific conferences.
Further development of Canstaging+
Supervised by Dr Anna Gavin
The Northern Ireland Cancer Registry has been working with the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to develop an electronic cancer staging tool to increase and harmonise cancer staging internationally. The launch for the tool is planned for Spring 2021. It already covers the main sites, lung, breast, colorectal, melanoma, oesophagus, stomach, ovary, and childhood cancers are currently being added using the Toronto Staging Guidelines. There is a need to develop the rules for the electronic system for new sites e.g., Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia using the BINET system.
This project would suit a student interested in very basic coding, anatomy, and cancer progression. Will also give a student experience in taking part in a virtual international meeting. Support and teaching will be provided by our clinical advisor who is in the project team.
Epidemiology of retinal hyper reflective foci in age-related eye disease in the NICOLA study
Supervised by Dr Ruth Hogg and Professor Tunde Peto
The NICOLA study is a large population-based epidemiological study investigating the basis of successful aging in Northern Ireland. The eye component has collected various types of retinal images and other ocular data, as well as questions about vision-related quality of life. Hyper-reflective foci on Optical Coherence Tomography are an interesting retinal phenotype yet to be explored in a population-based cohort such as NICOLA. There is intense interest in the ophthalmic community as to their significance as they have been identified in many conditions including age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal dystrophy, Mactel and Central Cerous Choioretinopathy. This project would involve learning how to identify the foci on optical coherence tomography images and then assessing their presence or absence on the NICOLA images. This project would especially suit students with an interest in Ophthalmology, retinal image analysis, epidemiology or applied data analysis. For more information about the study and some of the ongoing ophthalmic projects see: https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/NICOLA/
Health Needs Assessment for hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) in Northern Ireland
Supervised by Dr Noleen McCorry
Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS) are a group of rare inherited connective tissue disorders. The syndromes are generally characterised by joint hypermobility, skin hyperextensibility and tissue fragility. Hypermobile EDS (hEDS) is the most common type of EDS. The true prevalence of hypermobile EDS and HSD in the UK is not known but the conditions are thought to affect a minimum of 1 in 5,000 people and could affect up to 1 in 500.
We are working with our partners in the NI Rare Disease Partnership and Ehlers-Danlos Society to design a survey to assess the health needs and burden of disease for people living with hEDS in Northern Ireland. The summer student will assist with: the distribution of the survey via various social media platforms and other media; compilation and analysis of the survey data; interpretation of findings; and reporting. The student will gain valuable experience in applied research, survey methodology, and working within a multi-disciplinary team.
Working together to reduce global cancer burden
Supervised by Dr Charlene McShane
Non-communicable diseases, including cancer, are a leading global health and socioeconomic challenge; by 2030 they will be the leading cause of premature deaths, particularly within low-and middle income countries (LMICs). Researchers within the Cancer Epidemiology Research Group are collaborating with colleagues in Angola, Mongolia, Vietnam and Uganda on a wide range of early detection and cancer prevention initiatives. The successful student will work with Dr McShane, to analyse data collected as part of recent projects to identify areas for further investigation. The student will also assist with a systematic review that is being led by a Masters student.
This studentship will be of particular interest to students who are interested in gaining insight into global health research or who are interested in cancer epidemiology. The student will receive full training before undertaking any tasks, and is expected to gain skills in research design, data management, analysis, scientific writing and communication. The student will also have an opportunity to be named on any arising publications.