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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Gene-environment interplay in the development of cognitive and academic abilities

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.

You will join the Cognition, Development and Education (CoDE) research laboratory, led by Dr. Malanchini, becoming part of a vibrant community of PhD students and researchers with national and international collaborations ( You will also join the QMUL resilience lab, directed by Prof. Pluess, an interdiciplinary and highly collaborative research group.

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 your project supervisors and their international network of collaborations you will receive advanced research training, you will benefit from working with prestigious longitudinal datasets in the UK, Europe and the USA, and you will be encouraged to build a track record of high-impact publications as well as to set the foundations for a successful independent research career.

Project description

Inequalities in adult wealth, health and mortality are rooted in childhood experiences. A major challenge hindering the success of early interventions on cognitive deficits and academic skills has been the sole focus on environmental factors, overlooking the possibility that environments might operate in combination with genetic predisposition.

This project will systematically examine how genetic and environmental factors combine over development to result in the differential expression of cognitive and academic skills. The outcomes of the proposed research will inform the development of successful interventions to foster healthy cognitive and academic development and its social, medical, and psychiatric ramifications. Genetic differences between people have been found to contribute substantially (~50%) to observed interindividual variability in cognitive and academic abilities. However, these genetic influences on cognitive and academic skills are not independent of environmental processes.

Identifying the environmental pathways of genetic effects, which to date remain unknown, will result in unique advances in our understanding of children’s learning and cognitive development. This proposed project aims to systematically investigate and identify key environmental and experiential factors that mediate the pathway from genetic effects to the expression of cognitive and academic skills over development, from age 7 to 21. 


This studentship is open to Mexican students applying for CONACyT funding. CONACyT will provide a contribution towards your tuition fees each year and Queen Mary will waive the remaining fee. CONACyT will pay a stipend towards living costs to its scholars.

Eligibility and applying

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent qualification) in an area relevant to the project, including but not limited to psychology, human genetics, psychiatry, neuroscience, biostatistics, and bioengineering. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential. Candidates with prior experience analyzing genetic data or structural equation modelling are particularly enouraged to apply.

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

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 CONACyT 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 CONACyT for the scholarship as per their requirements and deadlines, with the support of the project supervisor.

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

Apply Online

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