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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Psychiatric disorders and cognitive decline in diverse UK cohorts

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The Department of Psychology, SBBS, and Queen Mary, provide a environment for high quality training. Within Psychology, knowledge exchange and collaboration is supported via initiatives for all students and staff. Psychology organises weekly Departmental seminars where external speakers, staff, and students present their work to undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff.

Supervisors hold regular lab meeting with PhD students and postdocs as formal space for mentoring (e.g., students learn to design, execute, and troubleshoot projects) and to encourage informal mentoring between students.

PhD students are given the opportunity to co-supervise undergraduate projects aligned with their own research to develop management skills. Within SBBS, there is a 100% 4-year completion rate for PhD students, reflecting the emphasis on milestones and training support for students. 

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

Project description

Psychiatric disorders are associated with impaired cognition: people with depression, anxiety and ADHD may exhibit poorer attention, memory, and executive functioning. However, nearly all research in this area has been done in early and mid-life. Much less is understood about how these disorders affect cognitive functioning and decline among older people. Given an increasing aging population, cognitive decline/impairment is a significant public health problem, and insight into risk and protective factors is critical. This studentship investigates whether psychiatric disorders are associated with cognitive functioning and decline across three older age cohorts (East London Genes & Health (ELGH), PROTECT, and UK Biobank). Specifically, it examines (1) whether psychiatric diagnoses, identified via linkages with NHS data, influence cognitive decline/impairment in late life, (2) if genetic risk for psychiatric disorders (assessed with polygenic risk scores) predicts cognitive decline, and (3) possible mediation of these associations by cardiometabolic risk factors for dementia.

This project has potential to identify biological pathways relevant for cognitive decline/dementia. Findings will clarify whether the same biological processes that link cognitive impairment and psychiatric problems in younger years also operate in old age and may accelerate cognitive decline.Findings from these projects could have clinical impact. If disorders like depression/anxiety increase risk for cognitive decline/dementia, individuals diagnosed with— or at high genetic risk for— these disorders may benefit from screening and early intervention. Clinical relevance also comes from including ELGH, a QMUL-affiliated cohort of Bangladeshi and Pakistani participants. Nearly all genetic research on mental health uses white populations, and whether findings are similar across cohorts with different genetic and cultural make-ups is a critical question.


This studentship is open to students applying for China Scholarship Council funding. Queen Mary University of London has partnered with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to offer a joint scholarship programme to enable Chinese students to study for a PhD programme at Queen Mary. Under the scheme, Queen Mary will provide scholarships to cover all tuition fees, whilst the CSC will provide living expenses for 4 years and one return flight ticket to successful applicants. 

Eligibility and applying

Applicants must:

  • Be Chinese students with a strong academic background.
  • Students must hold a PR Chinese passport.
  • Applicants can either be resident in China at the time of application or studying overseas. 
  • Students with prior experience of studying overseas (including in the UK) are eligible to apply. Chinese QMUL graduates/Masters’ students are therefore eligible for the scheme.

Please refer to the CSC website for full details on eligibility and conditions on the scholarship.

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project including Psychology, Statistics, Psychiatry or Epidemiology. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential.

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

The deadline for applications to Queen Mary is 30th January 2022. Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CSC scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CSC for the scholarship by the advertised deadline with the support of the project supervisor. For September 2022 entry, applicants must complete the CSC application on the CSC website between 10th March - 31st March 2022.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CSC can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online

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