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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Building translational models of effects of exercise on social development

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 PhD student will work in the groups of Dr Beyer and Prof Brennan. Dr Beyer's work is focused on studying the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying social cognition and the development of social skills. Prof Brennan's work focuses on using zebrafish as an animal model for studying the neurobiological basis of cognition and mental health.

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.

Through this project, the student will develop translational research skills, including both physiological and behavioural testing in human participants, and working with zebrafish as an animal model. The student will develop skills in experimental design, programming, data collection in humans and zebrafish, data analysis, and working with physiological measures.

Project description

While strong social relationships are crucial for both physical and mental health, we lack sufficient understanding of the causal factors underlying adaptive social development. Utilizing a translational approach, this project will combine research in humans and zebrafish, to study the impact of physical exercise on social behaviour and social development.

This project will include experimental studies in humans, studying the impact of acute physical exercise on cognitive and behavioural avoidance in social laboratory tasks. We will collect self-report measures of anxiety, and physiological markers (heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol) of stress reactivity.

In zebrafish, the project will establish long-term consequences of high vs. low exercise throughout development, measuring social behaviour in adulthood. Combined, these work packages will help us understand whether exercise impacts social development. The PhD student will develop a unique portfolio of translational research skills.


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 such as Psychology, Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience, Biology. 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.

Informal enquiries can be sent to Dr Frederike Beyer (

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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