Psychology at Lancaster University

PhD & Postgraduate Research

We offer the opportunity to undertake a PhD in Psychology in our state-of-the-art facilities, helping our aim of carrying out advanced postgraduate research.

Choosing where to study is an important decision. Here you will be part of a top ten UK university that has secured national and international recognition as a leader in inspiring teaching and excellent research.

Studying for a research degree is a highly rewarding and challenging process. You'll work to become a leading expert in your area with regular contact and individual supervision with your supervisor.

All our academic staff are active researchers, who are at the leading edge of their research field. We have an outstanding reputation for ongoing research in our specialist areas:

  • cognitive psychology
  • developmental psychology
  • social psychology
  • neuroscience

This makes for a world-class research environment for you to pursue your studies. To further your interest in PhD Research, we recommend that you contact a relevant member of staff to discuss topic areas. Staff can also help you to develop and scope an appropriate proposal. We particularly support applications to work with early-career staff.

How to Apply

Funded PhD Studentships

Each year the Psychology Department offers several fully-funded PhD scholarships (commencing the following October), as well as opportunities to apply for other studentships vis the ESRC's North West Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NWSSDTP).

This year, there are three Faculty of Science & Technology Studentships and two studentships associated with the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship Programme in Interdisciplinary Research on Infant Development. In all cases, we are looking for academically excellent students, who are passionate about doing research and have an exciting project they want to pursue.

Self-funded applications

To begin the process, you will need to find a PhD Supervisor whose research interests align with your own. You will need to contact them to discuss your application.

Industry-funded applications

Launch your career in research and development with an industry-focused, three-year funded PhD for graduates with a background in scientific disciplines. We tailor each PhD to both the subject and the requirements of a specific industry.

We will require a research proposal on the area/s you are interested in joining us to study. This proposal will be used to help us determine who will be the most suitable potential academic supervisor for your research. 

This step is the starting point to find a suitable supervisor who will then, if interested, contact you for a phone interview. In this interview, you will discuss the proposal and intended research, meaning your plan is not your permanent topic for your PhD studies and open to negotiation. Past guidelines have suggested the following:

  • a section that defines and characterises your selected research area
  • a section that briefly surveys and sums up state-of-the-art in this area
  • a section that identifies deficiencies in the state of the art which you would like to address in your PhD
  • a section that outlines some possible research directions that you might pursue
  • a list of references that you cite in the above sections

We recommend that you submit your research interests and the PhD Admissions Tutor can pass your application onto the most relevant and available supervisor. However, If you would like to search for a suitable academic supervisor (to quote in your application), then you can find a list of our academics here.

To apply, create an account on the My Applications website and then select ‘Create a new application’ from your homepage once you are logged in.

Here you can submit applications for the programme(s) which you wish to study, upload supporting documentation and provide us with information about referees. You may apply for all our postgraduate programmes using this method.

Current Lancaster Students

If you are a current Lancaster student or have recently graduated from Lancaster, we can reduce the amount of information that you will need to provide. You will need to offer only one reference and will not need to supply your Lancaster degree transcript. We will also pre-fill your details, ready for you to check.

If you use the My Applications website, then you will be advised which documentation you need to upload or send to us. We can automatically contact your referees once you have submitted your application if you ask us to.

The supporting documentation screen will provide you with a list of required documents. These will usually include:

  • Degree certificates and transcripts of previous higher education (college/university) degrees or other courses that you have completed/for which you are currently studying. We will require a certified English translation for transcripts in languages other than English
  • A personal statement to help us understand why you wish to study your chosen degree
  • You also need to complete a research proposal which should include the following:
    • the research area you are interested in
    • the research question(s) you are specifically interested in
    • who within Psychology appears best qualified to supervise you
    • the methods you envisage using in your studies
    • plus any other information which may be relevant
  • Two references
  • If English is not your first language, we require copies of English language test results

You can apply at any time of the year for PhD study, but we encourage you to start at one of the predefined start dates of October, January or April. We will consider the July start date in some circumstances. An MSc by Research will usually start in October. If you would like us to recognise you for funding, are applying from overseas or require on-campus accommodation, we recommend you apply as early as possible.

Research Areas

Our research is divided into four themes. Each theme is led by a team of research-active staff, at the forefront of their fields.

PhD Supervisors

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Research Projects

We are keen to support PhD applications to work with early-career staff. Below are staff that are interested in hearing from students looking to work in the areas they have highlighted. If the area is of interest to you, please contact the relevant staff member before submitting a PhD application.

  • Social Psychology and Language - Dr Tamara Rakić

    In today’s world, with increased mobility and heterogeneous societies, understanding how we form impressions of individuals is crucial for preventing discrimination. My previous research has looked separately (or in a pair) at different aspects of person perception, such as labels, accents, appearance, or stereotypes. One possible PhD project aims at providing a comprehensive investigation of how we evaluate unknown individuals. We base this evaluation on complex combinations of categories, including gender, occupation, appearance, ethnicity, accent, and nationality. We can expand this assessment to different social contexts (multicultural or not) and different age groups (younger vs older adults). This evaluation would allow a better understanding of how impression formation develops over time, as well as how they might be influenced by a social context (multicultural or not).

    The effects of standard-accent bias have been demonstrated in a variety of context. This context includes whether we perceive standard accent speakers as more competent and hireable than nonstandard accent speakers. Some evidence suggests that there might be possible to suppress this negative bias, at least in the short term. The proposed project would aim to investigate different interventions and determine which are more practical and long-lasting. This study could also include other types of information (e.g., appearance, occupation, etc.).

    If you are interested in these topics or if you have other ideas that are related to these topics, please contact Dr Tamara Rakic.

    Key references for this work include:

    • Hansen, K., Rakić, T., & Steffens, M. C., (in press). Competent and warm? How mismatching appearance and accent influence first impressions. Experimental Psychology.
    • Hansen, K., Rakić, T., & Steffens, M. C. (2014). When actions speak louder than words: preventing discrimination of nonstandard speakers. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33(1), 68-77.
    • Rakić, T., Steffens, M. C., & Mummendey, A. (2011). Blinded by the accent! The minor role of looks in ethnic categorisation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(1), 16-29.
    • Rakić, T., Steffens, M.C., & Mummendey, A. (2011). When it matters how you pronounce it: The influence of regional accents on job interview outcome. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 868-883.
  • Social Cognition and Cognitive Development - Dr Jess Wang

    I’m interested in how we understand other people’s minds, an ability which is often known as Theory of Mind. In the Cognition of Social Interaction (CoSI) lab, we employ a range of techniques to understand the cognitive basis for social interactions better. These techniques include tracking people’s eye movements during conversations, testing their memory for communicative content, and measuring their response times and response accuracy to social stimuli. I would be pleased to discuss ideas for PhD projects on social cognition across the lifespan. Please contact me to discuss your ideas for a PhD.

    Possible projects for 2019/20 entries include (but not limited to):

    1. The role of memory in communication
      We know that working memory supports referential communication (e.g., Wang, Ali, Frisson, Apperly, 2016; Zhao, Wang, Apperly, 2018). At present little is known about the types of memory representations interlocutors form, and whether the richness of the representation changes with age. This project will examine the episodic memory traces for social interactions (Burns, Russell, & Russell, 2015), combining measure from eye-tracking and EEG.
    2. Automatic mindreading: what, when, and how
      An increasing body of evidence suggests that complex mental states such as beliefs may be tracked automatically (e.g., Meert, Wang, & Samson, 2017). However, we do not fully understand the underlying cognitive mechanism. This project will examine whether we can flexibly control automatic mindreading by top-down mechanisms and be adaptive to different contexts (Furlanetto et al., 2016). There is scope to conduct this project as a developmental project or an ageing project.
  • Emotion, Language and the Brain - Dr Francesca Citron

    I am interested in how people process evolutionary or contextually salient stimuli. These stimuli include pictures of threatening or appetitive objects (bear, cake), emotional words (war, kiss), or idiomatic and metaphorical expressions (‘That was a kick in the teeth’, ‘I drank a heavenly coffee’). I am also interested in how these processes differ between second language and first language speakers, or between multilingual and monolinguals. Finally, I am developing a growing interest in beauty perception (aesthetics) in response to literary texts and poetry as well as to paintings, statues, and other artwork.

    I employ a range of methods, from self-reports (e.g., ratings) and reaction times, to electrical brain responses (EEG/ERPs) and neuroimaging (fMRI). I am also interested in using eye-tracking and physiological responses.

    I am interested in hearing from motivated and enthusiastic students on topics related the those above.

    You can find more information on what we do at the Emotion and Communication lab.

    If you are interested in discussing a project together, please contact Francesca.

  • Visual Perception - Dr Michelle To

    I am interested in how the sensory system processes complex natural stimuli, such as photographs, movies, music and language. More specifically, my research investigates how human observers perceive differences and how humans integrate different features from the sensory environment. I have also studied visual perception in the extreme peripheral field.

    The main topics I am interested in include:

    • Natural stimuli perception
    • Feature integration
    • Cross-modal integration
    • Visual perception in the far and extreme periphery

    If you are interested in doing a project in one of these, or a related one, please contact me.

  • Neuroplasticity in Health and Disease - Dr Helen Nuttall

    I am interested in the process of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change throughout an individual’s life. These neuroplastic changes can result from brain damage, such as after a stroke when the brain recovers, or in healthy brains, such as after learning a new skill. I am looking for a motivated student with a background in psychology, neuroscience, or natural sciences (or a related discipline) to join the Neuroscience of Speech and Action lab and work on a collaborative project between the Psychology department and Lancaster Medical School. A variety of methods will be employed to study the process of neuroplasticity, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a form of non-invasive brain stimulation; electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle signals; physiological techniques to assess strength, arousal, and heart rate; as well as techniques used to measure human behaviours, such as reaction times and accuracy. We are interested in identifying the scientific basis of neuroplasticity to better inform potential therapies in the future.

    Indicative projects areas are:

    1. Motor cortex plasticity in response to a physiological challenge

    Bed rest, extreme environments, and limb immobilisation from arm slings or casts all change the use and function of the motor system. We are interested in exploring how physiological challenges like these affect signalling throughout the motor pathway, and if we can improve motor signalling through brain stimulation, for example

    2. Exercise, cognition, and neuroplasticity

    Recent evidence indicates that sport and exercise can influence cognition, both positively, through improving memory, for example, or negatively, in the case of contact sports and the effect of associated sub-concussions. We are interested in exploring the brain-basis of these neuroplastic changes that are linked to cognitive ability and sport.

    I am very happy to hear from any interested students with their own project ideas as well. Please get in touch via h.nuttall1@lancaster.ac.uk to discuss possible ideas or either of the projects listed above.

Funded PhD Scholarships

  • 3 x Faculty of Science & Technology Scholarships

    The award is for 3.5 years for UK/EU applicants and provides full tuition fees, a generous stipend of approximately £14,500 and access to a grant towards research training support. There is the possibility of one award for an Overseas (non-EU) student, which will be for three years, and also provide full tuition fees and stipend.

    • We welcome applications from students in all areas of supervisory expertise. Before applying, you must contact individual staff members to discuss your specific interests and to develop a research proposal. Proposals that bring innovative ideas to match and complement the research agenda of the current staff are more likely to be successful. 
    • As a department, we particularly encourage applications to work with early-career staff, who have not previously taken primary supervision of PhD students. Applications to work with early-career staff are weighted preferentially during the evaluation of applications
    • In all cases, informal enquiries should be directed to a PhD Supervisor before application.
    • Please state that you are applying for the Faculty of Science & Technology Scholarships, and the application should also identify an appropriate supervisor(s).  We ask that you include a research proposal of up to 1,500 words.
  • 2 x Leverhulme DSP Scholarships

    The Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship Programme in Interdisciplinary Research on Infant Development has provided 15 PhD studentships starting between 2015 and 2017. Now, Lancaster University is offering seven more studentships during the three years after that. 

  • Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) Studentship

    Applications are invited for a 3.5-year EPSRC DTP PhD studentship in the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) at Lancaster University. Beginning October 2019, the student will be based in Psychology and supervised by Professor Paul Taylor, Drs Stacey Conchie and David Ellis.

    The PhD will examine how we can measure trust among individuals and small groups from ubiquitous behavioural data streams, such as email, social media and phone usage. By applying established and new measures at a larger scale than previously, the PhD will seek to understand how our day-to-day acts shape our social relations over time and across groups. The kinds of questions the PhD might address include: Is it possible to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships? How is trust gained rapidly? What are the roles of particular psychological factors (e.g., identity, emotions) that affect confidence? What is the impact of external events on trust, and when does it break down?

    The closing date is Thursday, March 28, 2019. If you wish to discuss the studentship informally or if you have any questions about the position, please contact Professor Paul Taylor.

  • Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnerships

    Lancaster is a member of the Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NWSSDTP), along with the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Keele. The NWSSDTP offers studentships as:

    • 1+3 - a one-year Masters and three years of PhD funding
    • +3 - three years of PhD funding
    • CASE awards - a 1+3, or +3, where a non-academic partner supports proposals