Four-year Wellcome Trust PhD studentships in Public Health, Economics and Decision Science

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About the programme

Closing date: Applications closed on 16 December 2016. We will be recruiting again later in 2017 for entry in September 2018.

We seek to train the next generation of researchers in conducting high-quality research into the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of complex multi-component public health interventions and policies to reduce non-communicable - or chronic diseases. Funding is available for 15 top-calibre PhD students to work on some of the most pressing public health challenges.

Each four-year studentship provides:
• A stipend of £19,919 pa increasing to £23,997 pa over the 4 years
• Tuition fees for 4 years
• A training and travel fund to support cohort events, internships, courses, data collection, conferences and research travel

This PhD programme is unique in its focus on interdisciplinary public health, health economics, mathematical modelling and statistics. To equip students with relevant skills, the first year combines multi-disciplinary methods training tailored to each student's background, cohort-based learning activities and exposure to public health decision making practice. This is followed by PhD research on a topic that is agreed between the student, our pool of expert supervisors and the programme directors.


Petra Meier Wellcome Trust ImageProfessor Petra Meier Health Psychology, Epidemiology

Effectiveness of alcohol interventions. Her alcohol minimum pricing work influences policy nationally and internationally (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Latvia, EU Commission).

Alan Brennan Wellcome Trust ImageProfessor Alan Brennan Health Economics and Decision Modelling

Innovative use of health economics and mathematical modelling techniques to inform public health decision-making, especially on cost-effectiveness of interventions and public health policies.

John Brazier Wellcome Trust ImageProfessor John Brazier Health Economics

Measuring and valuing health and well-being for economic evaluation, inter-sector impacts of public health interventions. Director of the Dept. of Health Policy Research Unit for Economic Evaluation. ScHARR Director of Research

Elizabeth Goyder Wellcome Trust ImageProfessor Elizabeth Goyder Public Health Medicine

Public health intervention evaluations; Inequality reduction. Directs the NIHR HS&RD Evidence Synthesis Centre, UK lead for the EU INTEGRATE project on evidence synthesis for complex interventions; Public Health and Inequalities Theme Lead for the CLAHRC Y&H. Deputy Dean of ScHARR.

Mike Campbell Wellcome Trust ImageProfessor Mike Campbell Statistics

Leading expert in the design and evaluation of complex interventions, including cluster randomised trials. ScHARR Director of Postgrad. Research

Mark Strong Wellcome Trust ImageDr Mark Strong Public Health Medicine/Statistics

Bayesian statistics and health economic modelling focusing on uncertainty analysis: “when is a decision model good enough?”

Why we have developed this programme

Helping to tackle major chronic diseases

Chronic disease accounts for the majority of the burden of disease in the developed world. Much of this burden is due to avoidable lifestyle behaviours – especially smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet and physical inactivity. This burden can be reduced through well-targeted and coordinated public health policies.

Public Health Decision Science explicitly seeks to identify which combinations of interventions to prioritise for action and to estimate their return on investment.

In a health resource–constrained environment, there is an urgent need for a highly skilled workforce with expertise in decision modelling to support resource allocation decisions, by providing estimates of the long-term impact of public health interventions for different population subgroups, including detailed analysis of costs and benefits.

Decision-makers in the UK and internationally require evidence on (a) which combinations of interventions would most effectively reduce chronic disease burden; (b) what trade-offs exist between the outcomes prioritised by different stakeholders; and (c) which resource allocations will deliver greatest return on investment. Development and synthesis of new scientific evidence is crucial to answering these challenging questions.

Novel multidisciplinary working

Public Health Decision Science is an exciting cross-disciplinary area of research that draws on skills from across traditional departmental boundaries, including:

  • mathematics, statistics, economics, psychology, sociology, health economics, systems engineering, business studies, politics, and geography.

Our mission is to enable the highest calibre postgraduate researchers to build on their existing discipline-specific knowledge, and to complement this with training in another field.

To develop a true multidisciplinary cohort of scientists, we will support excellent health and related disciplines graduates in developing advanced quantitative analytical skills; and equip top mathematics, economics, systems engineering and related disciplines graduates with public health training and methodological expertise.

Individually tailored training

Our programme is structured to allow students to define their own learning trajectory, in discussion with their programme tutors.

The first year of the programme offers a unique training opportunity. Students attend a bespoke selection of 4 taught masters modules which complement their previous background and interests, engage in cohort-based research training activities, engage with senior scientists and meet public health leaders in monthly 'meet a decision maker' sessions.

Rotations through three 'research attachments' chosen from a list of options will allow students to develop experience of working in different topic areas and with different potential supervisors before making a final decision about the direction of their own PhD thesis work, and appropriate supervisory panel, in years two to four of the programme.

Future careers in academia or decision making organisations

Our programme will prepare graduates to develop rewarding careers in academia or stakeholder organisations which will allow them to contribute to public health policy decisions to reduce the burden of disease in the UK and internationally.


We aim to:

  • Establish the world’s first Doctoral Training Centre in Public Health, Economics and Decision Science capitalising on existing infrastructure and research excellence
  • Make significant contributions to methodological development and scientific evidence on how to tackle chronic disease burden through well-evidenced, cost-effective public health strategies.
  • Create and sustain a cohort of multidisciplinary public health science leaders who develop excellent careers in academia and stakeholder organisations, fully engaged in public health policy making and reducing the burden of chronic disease in the UK and internationally.

Why Sheffield? - School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) and collaborating Departments

ScHARR provides an excellent research environment

The School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) has 180 academic and research staff, including 31 professors, attracting substantial research awards (£11.4m 2013/14). In the UK league tables for Health Research we recently ranked 4th for ‘power’ and 2nd for ‘impact’ for its (REF2014 UK UoA2). We were also particularly commended for the research environment.
ScHARR is distinctively and fundamentally multidisciplinary. It spans applied and methodological, primary and secondary, qualitative and quantitative health related research with an explicit focus and mission to support UK and international decision making.

We are renowned for the quality of our research and our staff. We have expertise in public health policy appraisal, health economics, cost-effectiveness modelling, health services research, trial design, evaluation of complex interventions and valuation of health and well-being.

Postgraduate teaching and research is priority

There are currently 100 doctoral and 250 masters students in the School, providing a vibrant postgraduate environment. As part of the University of Sheffield, we have a well-developed approach to PhD training.

The University of Sheffield's Doctoral Academy supports bespoke training needs analysis for all Postgraduate Research (PGR) students, including access to masters modules across faculties/disciplines and generic research and career skills training.

Excellent collaborations with key departments

We have strong and constant collaborations with other University departments and especially the 5 departments who provide supervisors for this PhD programme.

National and international research networks

Sheffield has joint research programmes and networks with leading Universities across the UK and globally.

NIHR SPHR WT ImageNIHR School for Public Health Research collaborating with University College London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Universities of Newcastle, Durham, Teesside, Northumbria and Sunderland, Bristol, Liverpool and Lancaster, and Cambridge

EEPRU WT ImageJoint lead of the Department of Health’s Economic Evaluation Policy Research Unit

NICE WT ImageLargest NICE evidence review group providing health technology assessment reports

NICE DSU WT ImageLead institution for the NICE Decision Support Unit

UKCTAS WT ImagePartner in the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies – with a particular focus on behaviours and health economics themes

CWiPP WT ImageThe Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Public Policy (CWiPP),

CLAHRCYH WT ImageNIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCYH).

NCSEM WT ImageMember of the National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine

Wellcome Trust DTC students will be fully embedded into this collaborative multidisciplinary culture from the start.

Commissioned work from policy and research bodies

Funding bodies currently supporting our research to address key policy questions in Public Health Economics and Decision Science:

  • Government departments in the UK
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
  • Public Health England (PHE)
  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
  • Medical Research Council
  • Economic and Social Research Council
  • Research charities e.g. Cancer Research UK
  • EU Framework Programme

We make a difference to policy and decisions

We have a track record of impactful evaluations and appraisals of public health policies whilst simultaneously driving forward methodological development.

The example of alcohol pricing
The Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (SAPM) has provided the key evidence on minimum unit pricing, drinking guidelines and other alcohol policies since 2008. It is used by the UK government, devolved administrations and international governments (e.g. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and in Canada) for policy impact assessment and decision making. Results and methodological articles have been published in world leading journals (e.g. Lancet, BMJ). Our researchers have fully engaged in policy development and analysis to inform government decisions e.g. through reports to governments, attending as witnesses at Parliamentary Select Committees, interviews on the TV, radio, news and media and engaging in public debate .

Use and develop existing policy models

ScHARR has developed and owns the Intellectual Property on a series of public health economic decision models like the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model. Students will be able to access, utilise and further develop this infrastructure.

Have a look what the referees judging the programme proposal said

  • “The proposed training is in public health economics and decision science (PHEDS) to assist complex decisions on interventions to reduce chronic disease, trade-offs between competing priorities and cost-effectiveness of resource allocations. These are important and difficult issues for which there is needed expertise, and the program would be unique.”

  • “The cadre of potential supervisors is excellent, with diverse, but interrelated, expertise distributed among the faculty. It is likely that all students at intake will be able to identify at least one, and probably more, supervisors who will align with their research interests.”

  • “I particularly like the proposed plans for supervisor and topic selection. Students will receive continual multidisciplinary mentorship and be encouraged to pursue research that addresses relevant and complex public health challenges. The long list of distinguished faculty advisors is both impressive and consistent with the overall aims of the program.”

  • “The institutional commitment is excellent.”


Please check the criteria carefully. Do not submit an application if you do not meet the criteria as it will be rejected before reaching academic assessors. 

You will need to provide evidence of the following

  • A first or upper second class honours (2:1) degree from a UK university or a non-UK equivalent in a relevant discipline (e.g. mathematics, statistics, epidemiology, public health, psychology, nutrition, quantitative sociology, politics, economics, systems engineering, business studies, geography). Medically qualified applicants should refer to the special rules set out below.
  • A completed master’s degree at merit or distinction or a non-UK equivalent in a relevant subject or more than one year of formal employment in either a relevant scientific environment or in public health decision making (by the application closing date).
  • Quantitative maths skills equivalent to A at A Level (can be evidenced through degree level courses)
  • Determination to make a significant scientific contribution to tackling chronic disease burden through well-evidenced, cost-effective public health strategies, assessed through written application and, if shortlisted, interview.
  • Ability and enthusiasm for collaborative work in an interdisciplinary environment, assessed through written application and, if shortlisted, interview.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills, and excellent problem solving skills assessed through written application and, if shortlisted, interview.

The programme is open to UK and international applicants. The Wellcome Trust provides tuition fees at UK/EU rates. ScHARR will provide up to two international fee waivers per year for exceptional candidates. Non-EU candidates must be able to comply with UK immigration regulations

English language requirements

All EU (except ROI) and overseas candidates who are non-native speakers of English must submit an IELTS Academic certificate or recognised equivalent as evidence of fluency in English.

Your IELTS certificate must show:

  • an overall score of 7.5 and a score of at least 7.0 in each testing area (speaking, listening, reading and writing)
  • all these scores were achieved in the same test
  • the original stamp and test report form (TRF) number. We use this to validate certificates.
  • that the test is no more than two years old.

If you are offering alternative English qualifications, email the Admissions Information Desk for advice about equivalence as the criteria for this are strict. Their online information may also be helpful.

Applicants with medical degrees

The scheme is not open to clinicians, or those who have recently completed medical training, as these candidates can apply to alternative Wellcome Trust funding schemes. Those who can demonstrate that they have already left clinical careers and have been working in academia, policy, or other areas for a significant period of time are eligible. Explain this carefully in your personal statement.

How to apply

Applications have closed for entry in September 2017. We will be recruiting again later in the year for entry in September 2018.

Contact our Doctoral Training Centre Manager if you have further questions.


Roberta Ara WT ImageDr Roberta ARA Mathematics.

Health related quality of life in arthritis, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and methodological challenges involved in populating models with utilities.

Sue Baxter WT ImageDr Sue BAXTER Public Health.

Systematic review methodologies for complex public health interventions, qualitative evidence synthesis, theoretical perspectives, logic models.

Paul Bissell Wellcome Trust ImageProf Paul BISSELL Medical Sociology.

Paul’s work concentrates on explaining the social gradient seen across public health-relevant behaviours and connecting this to discourses around social class, socio-economic position and distributional justice. ScHARR Director of Teaching.

Andrew Booth Wt ImageDr Andrew BOOTH Information Science.

Leading expert on evidence synthesis. Co-convenor for the Cochrane Collaboration Qualitative Research & Implementation Methods Group. Active member of Cochrane group for public health.

John Brazier Wellcome Trust ImageProf John BRAZIER (Dir) Health Economics.

Measuring and valuing health and well-being for economic evaluation, inter-sector impacts of public health interventions. Director of the Dept. of Health Policy Research Unit for Economic Evaluation. ScHARR Director of Research.

Penny Breeze WT ImageDr Penny BREEZE Health Economics.

Developed the Sheffield Type 2 Diabetes Model and decision model for the appraisal of multi-behaviour interventions in selected population groups. Complex natural history models with multiple dynamic risk factors.

Alan Brennan Wellcome Trust ImageProf Alan BRENNAN (Dir) Health Economics and Decision Modelling

Innovative use of health economics and mathematical modelling techniques to inform public health decision-making, especially on cost-effectiveness of interventions and public health policies.

Penny Buykx WT ImageDr Penny BUYKX Behavioural Science.

Mixed methods expertise with current projects in alcohol policy, public understanding of alcohol-related cancer risks, attitudes to public health policy, and improving access to treatment.

Mike Campbell Wellcome Trust ImageProf Mike CAMPBELL (Dir) Statistics.

Leading expert in the design and evaluation of complex interventions, including cluster randomised trials. 

Sam Caton WT Image (no photo)Dr Sam CATON Biopsychology.

Appetite regulation and nutrition, child health behaviours.

Jim Chilcott WT Image Prof Jim CHILCOTT Mathematics, Operational Research.

Agent based simulation of behavioural interventions in complex public health systems, cognitive mapping for systematic reviews, Bayesian analysis of joint disease natural history.

Andy Dickerson WT ImageProf Andy DICKERSON Labour Market Economics. 

Functioning of labour markets, analysis of micro and longitudinal data, including matched datasets. Member of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UK CES) Expert Panel.

Simon Dixon WT ImageProf Simon DIXON Health Economics.

Expertise in developing methods for economic evaluations alongside RCTs; measurement and valuation of health care benefits, measurement of public preferences and willingness to pay for public health.

Duncan Gillespie WT ImageDr Duncan GILLESPIE Biological Sciences.

Studies the interplay between health, social and demographic change using both mathematical and statistical methods.

Steve Goodacre WT ImageProf Steven GOODACRE Emergency Medicine

RCTs, economic analysis.

Elizabeth Goyder Wellcome Trust ImageProf Elizabeth GOYDER (Dir) Public Health Medicine.

Public health intervention evaluations; Inequality reduction. Directs the NIHR HS&RD Evidence Synthesis Centre, UK lead for the EU INTEGRATE project on evidence synthesis for complex interventions; Public Health and Inequalities Theme Lead for the CLAHRC Y&H. Deputy Dean of ScHARR.

Janet Harris WT ImageDr Janet HARRIS Management Sciences.

Mixed methods evaluations, realist evidence synthesis.

Monica Hernandez WT ImageDr Mónica HERNÁNDEZ ALAVA Economics.

Analysis of micro-level data on individuals’ economic behaviour, for example analysis of health state utility data, the dynamics of child developmental outcomes, and individuals’ decisions to participate in welfare programmes.

Michelle Holdsworth WT ImageProf Michelle HOLDSWORTH Human Nutrition.

Work programmes on determinants of diet and healthy body weight at individual and environmental levels, population-level interventions; linking research, policy, practice. 

John Holmes WT ImageDr John HOLMES S ocial Policy.

Modelling the temporal dynamics and clustering of health behaviours; e.g. investigating age-period-cohort and time lag effects

Petra Meier Wellcome Trust ImageProf Petra MEIER(Dir) Health Psychology, Epidemiology.

Effectiveness of alcohol interventions. Her alcohol minimum pricing work influences policy nationally and internationally (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Latvia, EU Commission). ScHARR Director of Postgraduate Research.

Jon Nicholl WT ImageProf Jonathan NICHOLL Medical Statistics.

Health care evaluations, particularly in emergency and urgent care. Expert in the evaluation of complex interventions. National Director of the NIHR School for Public Health Research and Dean of ScHARR.

Paul Norman WT ImageProf Paul NORMAN Health Psychology.

Application of social cognition models to the prediction of health behaviour.

Jeremy Oakley WT ImageProf Jeremy OAKLEY Mathematics.

Bayesian statistics, in particular analysing uncertainty in complex computer models, eliciting probability distributions, and applications in Health Economics.

Alicia OCathain WT ImageProf Alicia O’CATHAIN Health Services Research.

World leader in mixed methods research, combining quantitative and qualitative evaluation approaches for complex interventions.

Suzy Paisley WT ImageDr Suzy PAISLEY Information Sciences.

Methods for the systematic identification of evidence for decision-analytic models of complex public health problems and interventions.

Tessa Peasgood WT ImageDr Tessa PEASGOOD Health Economics.

Expertise in measuring and valuing well-being for public policy, and understanding the determinants of well-being and happiness.

Robin Purshouse WT ImageDr Robin PURSHOUSE Control Systems Engineering.

Research to improve how decision makers choose between possible solutions to a problem, with a particular focus on multi-criteria decision making in public health policy appraisal.

Jenny Roberts WT ImageProf Jenny ROBERTS Economics.

Director of the Institute for Economic Analysis of Decision-making. Expertise in applied microeconometrics, particularly the interaction of health and labour market outcomes, health-related behaviours, health valuation and the economics of well-being.

Sarah Salway WT ImageProf Sarah SALWAY Demography/Sociology.

Inequalities of race/ethnicity, gender and poverty & their relationship with chronic disease. Director of ScHARR’s NIHR School for Public Health Research programme.

Phil Shackley WT ImageDr Phil SHACKLEY Health Economics.

Willingness to pay techniques, applications of which include: estimating the social value of a quality adjusted life year (QALY); the use of willingness to pay to evaluate the benefits of public health interventions.

Hazel Squires WT ImageDr Hazel SQUIRES Operational Research.

Methodological frameworks for public health models.

John Stevens WT ImageDr John STEVENS Mathematics / Statistics.

Director of the Centre for Bayesian Statistics in Health Economics. Bayesian methods in health economics and related research.

Matt Stevenson WT ImageProf Matt STEVENSON Mathematics/Operational Research

Technical Director of the NIHR-funded ScHARR-TAG technology appraisal programme. Focus on methods research in discrete event simulation, individual patient modelling and mathematical modelling.

Mark Strong WT ImageDr Mark STRONG(Dir) Public Health Medicine/Statistics.

Bayesian statistics and health economic modelling focusing on uncertainty analysis: “when is a decision model good enough?”

Paul Tappenden WT ImageDr Paul TAPPENDEN Health Economics.

Role and value of Whole Disease Modelling.

Praveen Thokola WT ImageDr Praveen THOKOLA Engineering.

Multi-criteria decision analysis in public health.

Aki Tsuchiya WT ImageProf Aki TSUCHIYA Health Economics.

Measuring, valuing, and modelling health and well-being and health inequalities. Director of the Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Public Policy (CWiPP) which facilitates cross-faculty public health research.

Gill Valentine WT ImageProf Gill VALENTINE Geography.

Social identities and belonging; childhood and family life; and urban cultures and consumption. Pro-VC for Social Science.

Ben V Hout WT ImageProf Ben VAN HOUT Health Economics.

Extensive modelling expertise, contributed key methodological innovations in economic evaluation. Founding member of the EuroQol group and chair of the valuation task force within the EQ-5D group.

Allan Wailoo WT ImageProf Allan WAILOO Economics, Statistics.

Director of the NICE Decision Support Unit. Special interest in the relationship between social values, e.g. equity preferences, and decision making.

Stephen Walters WT ImageProf Stephen WALTERS Mathematics / Statistics.

Design, analysis and reporting of trials of complex interventions, Health Related Quality of Life (HRQoL) outcome measures.

Tracey Young WT ImageDr Tracey YOUNG Health Economics.

Developing methodology for deriving condition-specific preference based measures from existing quality of life instruments

Year one

Year one training will embed Wellcome Trust Scholars in ScHARR’s interdisciplinary, team-based research culture. The cohort will develop interdisciplinary grounding and methodological skills through taught masters modules. Students will receive generic research skills training, engage with public health decision-makers, and 'road-test' potential supervisors and topics during three research attachments. Finally, together with the programme directors they will select a supervisory panel and generate a detailed research proposal outlining the planned PhD work for years two to four.

Induction, mentors and training needs analysis (month one)
There will be an induction session at the start of the programme to ensure students are aware of the range of University services available to them. There will also be a social event so students can meet each other, Programme Directors and potential supervisors.

All students will be assigned two Programme Directors to support them in Year 1. With their tutors, students will discuss their aspirations and expectations, undertake a formal training needs analysis and devise a personal timetable of 4 taught masters modules, generic skills training, and research attachments. Training for students from mathematical disciplines will focus on public health, while students with health-related backgrounds will focus on economics and mathematical modelling.

To assist students in deciding with whom they would like to undertake their research attachments, a seminar will be held for potential supervisors to introduce their research area to students.

Research attachments
Students will undertake three eight-week research attachments with different potential supervisors, joining their teams/project groups when not in lectures and seminars. Students will explore a number of potential PhD research topics and plans in each attachment.

Research proposals
Towards the end of year one, students will develop a detailed research proposal in one of the topic areas they explored, and supervisors and tutors will be available to provide guidance in topic and supervisory panel choice.

Years two to four

Supervision years two to four
Quality supervision is crucial to the postgraduate experience. We are committed to ensuring excellent standards, incorporating best University practice. Training needs analyses will be revised and agreed with supervisors and a Programme Director each year. As students develop, supervisors will identify further training opportunities, assess progress, discuss career aspirations and identify ways to maximise potential.

Student progress will be carefully monitored with:

  • monthly student-led supervision meetings, with student-drafted agendas, meeting notes and next objectives
  • 6-monthly thesis planning meetings
  • examination on a 10,000-word confirmation report by viva.

Year two
From year 2, students and supervisors will plan academic research visits, external courses, conference attendances, and possible internships with research-relevant external organisations. Relevant national conferences include, for example, the Lancet public health conference, the Health Economics Study Group, and the UKCRC meetings. International meeting attendance relevant to PhD topic will be agreed with supervisors. Travel grant applications will be considered by Programme Directors.

Year three
During year 3, students are encouraged to organise their own internship (up to 3 months) at a stakeholder/research organisation (e.g. the NHS, NICE, Local Authorities, Public Health England, government departments, WHO, industry, and centres of recognised scientific excellence). Students will work collaboratively with these academics and decision-makers, enabling further research translation and impact.

Year four
Year 4 students will concentrate on thesis submission, viva and academic publications. Supervision support is particularly intense during this period. The draft thesis will be read and commented on by all supervisors in the supervisory panel. We also runmock examinations to support viva preparation.


Legacy for science and graduates’ career paths
The Wellcome Trust DTC programme will meet an identified training gap in interdisciplinary and quantitative skills in the biomedical postdoctoral work force. Equipped with 4 years of experience in interdisciplinary collaborative working environments and possessing strong quantitative skills, graduates of the programme will be well-placed to forge influential careers as leaders in academia and governmental and non-governmental organisations. Our graduates will be leaders in promoting evidence-based decisions about resource allocation in public health and tackling disease burden in the UK and beyond.