A three year PhD position is available starting in October 2017 at Queen Mary University of London under the supervision of myself (Dr Michael Pluess) in the field of developmental psychology. Although the research is based on data from Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, the PhD will be based in London, United Kingdom.

Research: The PhD project aims at the investigation of psychosocial and biological predictors of refugee children’s psychological response to war-related traumatic experiences and displacement involving a large sample of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. It is well established that children exposed to war are at increased risk for the development of mental health problems. However, in spite of the extreme adversity associated with the experience of war and displacement, there is substantial variation in how refugee children respond, with some developing severe psychological problems while others show remarkable resilience. Such individual differences in risk and resilience have been associated with a variety of protective factors including psychological (e.g., locus of control; Kuterovac-Jagodic, 2003), social (e.g., social support; Betancourt, 2005), and biological (e.g., genetic polymorphism on the COMT gene; Kolassa, Kolassa, Ertl, Papassotiropoulos, & De Quervain, 2010) ones. However, not much is known regarding the psychosocial and biological predictors of resilience in Syrian refugee children as well as the dynamic interplay between these factors, particularly how environmental factors interact with biological ones (i.e., genes) in the prediction of risk and resilience.

Aims: The aim of the current research project is to investigate psychosocial and biological factors in the prediction of resilience in Syrian refugee children based in Lebanon. Data will be collected as part of an ongoing NIH-funded study lead by the principal supervisor Dr Pluess.
1. Examine psychosocial and biological differences between resilient and vulnerable Syrian refugee children
2. Investigate the effects of protective factors on the development of psychological and biological outcomes in refugee children.
3. Examine the development of refugee children’s psychological resilience over time.

Methods: Data will be available from the BIOPATH project, a new NICHD-funded research study aimed at investigating the biological underpinnings of individual differences in refugee children’s response to acute war-related trauma exposure. Applying a modern multilevel perspective, the study explores the intricate interplay between psychosocial, neuroendocrine, epigenetic, and genetic factors in the prediction of risk and resilience related to the experience of war in 1,500 Syrian refugee children based in Lebanon. Overcoming limitations of existing work the study takes into account both maladaptive and adaptive outcomes in response to both risk and protective factors and investigate the development of resilience over time in a large longitudinal subsample of 1,000 children (baseline and 1 year follow-up). The project will elucidate more generally how environmental influences get under the skin, particularly, how risk and protective factors exert their effects on psychological outcomes through biological processes. The biological component of the study includes the collection of saliva (Genetics, Epigenetics, Immune Markers) and hair (cortisol) samples.

Timeline: Data of the first wave will be available at the start of this PhD project. The follow-up data will have been collected by the end of the first year. Hence, the student will have access to the data from the first day in post.

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL): As a member of the prestigious Russell group, QMUL is one of UK’s leading research-focused higher education institutions, where multidisciplinary research is carried out at the highest level. The university is unique in London by providing a completely integrated residential campus.

Eligibility: Applications are invited from candidates of any nationality with, or expecting to obtain, at least an upper second degree in psychology or related discipline.

Given the large size of the data, this PhD project requires advanced skills in data management, computer based data analysis and statistics, and pronounced ability and motivation to acquire new analysis skills. Furthermore, this project requires excellent scientific writing skills and the ability to work independently.
Informal enquires to with cover letter and CV are strongly encouraged. The deadline for formal applications is April 10th 2017; please use the ’apply online’ button below.

See http://www.michaelpluess for further related information and publications.

Funding Notes

This 3 year studentship is available from the 1st October 2017. The award covers Home/EU tuition fees and a tax free annual stipend at Research Councils UK rates (£16,553 in 2017/18).


[1] Pluess, M. (2015). Vantage Sensitivity: Environmental Sensitivity to Positive Experiences as a Function of Genetic Differences. Journal of Personality. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12218
[2] Pluess, M. (2015). Individual Differences in Environmental Sensitivity. Child Development Perspectives, 9(3), 138-143. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12120
[3] Belsky, J., & Pluess, M. (2013). Beyond risk, resilience, and dysregulation: Phenotypic plasticity and human development. Development and Psychopathology, 25(25th Anniversary Special Issue 4pt2), 1243-1261.
[4] Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2013). Vantage Sensitivity: Individual Differences in Response to Positive Experiences. Psychological Bulletin, 139(4), 901-916.

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