PhD study

Study a PhD with the SMI and you’ll discover what it means to be multidisciplinary.

student sat in library studying

The SMI offers you the opportunity to do a PhD in interdisciplinary social science subjects that don’t fit neatly into a single departmental ‘box’. 

How we rank

  • A world top-100 university (QS World University Rankings)
  • A member of the Russell Group of 24 research-intensive universities
  • Top 10 per cent for research excellence of all UK universities (Research Excellence Framework 2014)
  • 99% of research at Sheffield was assessed as internationally recognised or better

Our research

Our work can be summarised by the five themes that you can see below. If you are interested in doing a PhD based around one of these themes, or the research mentioned in one of the academic staff profiles, do not hesitate to get in touch with us to discuss it further. 

Whatever stage of your research career, we would be interested to discuss with you how the SMI can help you achieve your future social science research goals.


Professor Andy Dickerson
Andy’s research in this area has primarily focused on the impact of growing up in poverty on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development, and on child obesity. This research has also examined what it means to be in poverty, and whether our conventional income-based measures can adequately capture the experience of being poor.

Dr Andrew Bell
Much of Andy’s work focuses on inequalities broadly defined: that is, why do individuals have different levels of mental health, or income, or education. What multi-dimensional factors cause these differences to occur? This can be both at the individual or higher spatial levels (eg inequalities between neighbourhoods)

Dr Elisabeth Garratt
Beth’s work generally falls within the theme of inequality: her PhD explored income-based mental health inequalities in UK children and their parents. Before this she contributed to research projects on multiple deprivation and worklessness.  She has also undertaken work into the childhood precursors of adult success for the Social Mobility Commission as well as also undertaking quantitative and mixed-methods research on UK food poverty.

Dr Todd Hartman
Much of Todd’s research investigates inequality in society, mostly in terms of prejudice and discrimination toward racial, ethnic, and members of other stigmatized outgroups. He has written extensively on the psychological determinants of prejudice toward Hispanic immigrants in the US, as well as examined racial and ethnic disparities in criminal justice in the US and UK.

Dr Lucy Jackson
Lucy’s research is inherently intertwined with issues of inequality and social justice using a feminist geo-political lens. Lucy’s research includes discussions of citizenship rights and the inequalities faced by those ‘without status’, as well as on sex and gender (in)equality. Here, Lucy’s work includes discussions of sexism and sex discrimination, with a specific focus on reproductive rights and justice.

Dr Will Mason
Will’s research interests focus on the production and experience of inequality in contemporary society. His studies address a range of themes including community, youth, race, consumption, identities, crime and deviance. Much of his work has been rooted in community settings, though he also has experience of organisational research, within youth work and social work settings.

Dr Mark Taylor
Mark’s work on the sociology of culture includes a strong focus on inequality, aiming to understand both attendance and participation in culture, and cultural work, with reference to contemporary social inequalities. He also works on attitudes investigating how people account for and explain social inequalities.

Dr Abigail Tazzyman

Much of Abigail’s research investigates inequality and uses a feminist theoretical perspective. Her PhD considered gendered, classed and racial inequalities in appearance expectations and the implications for education and work experience across the life course. She has also investigated the representation of women on the UK school curriculum as PI for an outreach programme. Her most recent work has focused on inequality and identity within workforces, organisations and professions.

Social justice and inclusion

Professor Andy Dickerson
The role of education and skills in determining individuals’ labour market outcomes is a key element of Andy’s research, which is partly sponsored by the UK Department for Education. This includes the analysis of gender differentials in both education and earnings, the importance of peer groups at school, and the socioeconomic factors which impact on the transition from education into work.

Dr Elisabeth Garratt
Beth’s recent research into homelessness has explored the theme of inclusion in relation to housing status and access to work.

Dr Lucy Jackson
Lucy’s research interests look towards social justice and inclusion as underpinning her perspectives and approach to research. Influenced by prominent Human Geographers such as Tim Cresswell, Lucy’s research looks at the inclusivity of place for those with ‘different’ identities. Lucy’s work on inclusion identifies aspects of social, cultural and political belonging and attachments, and how these are formed in and through everyday practices.

Dr Will Mason
Will’s work seeks to reflect principles of social justice and inclusivity. Social deprivation and the experiential dimensions of associated hardships have featured in much of his work, as have the processes by which inequalities are constructed and reproduced by powerful groups.

Dr Aneta Piekut
Along with Gwilym Pryce, Aneta looks at the role of spatial segregation and ‘social frontiers’ for shaping community cohesion, crime levels and individual life outcomes (eg education, social mobility, integration of immigrants). Aneta works with colleagues on ongoing mixed-methods research, especially the ‘Living in Difference’ project data looking at generations in Poland and responses to difference.

Dr Mark Taylor
Mark collaborates closely with a charity that aims to challenge and confront issues of inequality in the arts and culture.

Dr Abigail Tazzyman

Abigail’s work on workforce, organisations and professions engages with issues of inclusion in regards to workforce makeup, job quality and career progression. She has also looked at inclusion and access in regards to health and social care provision and quality of care provided.

Mobility and migration

Professor Andy Dickerson
Two of Andy’s current PhD students are examining different issues in mobility. The first is looking at intergenerational income mobility and its determinants. The second is examining intergenerational education mobility. In both cases, the role of parental background, including their income and education, is paramount. Advantage (and disadvantage) is inherited.

Dr Andrew Bell
Andy is working on a paper with Aneta, looking at age, period and cohort effects on attitudes towards migration. He is also interested in what happens when people move into neighbourhoods - as opposed to, what happens when neighbourhoods change.

Dr Elisabeth Garratt
Beth’s recent research into homelessness has explored the theme of mobility in relation to housing and homelessness experiences.

Dr Lucy Jackson
Lucy’s research include an interest in the geography of migration and what this means as an everyday, lived, experience. Lucy’s research with regards to migration and mobility focuses on issues of stillness and waiting, of being temporary, and of the rights of those who find themselves in suspended situations. Lucy’s research has included work in both the UK, Singapore and East Africa

Dr Will Mason
Migration connects to Will’s research in that, much of his work engages with diasporic communities who share complex migration histories. Will’s work has explored the identity politics and inequalities faced by minority groups, particularly young people.

Dr Mark Taylor
Mark works on social mobility, particularly with reference to the makeup of work in the cultural and creative industries has changed since 1971: how far do contemporary class inequalities in these jobs simply reflect longer-term trends?

Dr Aneta Piekut
A substantial part of Aneta’s work explores responses to ethnic diversity and international migration at the individual-level for example, prejudice and tolerance, wellbeing and at community level and social cohesion. Aneta's comparative cross-national research exploring differences and responses to immigration mostly uses European Social Survey data.


Dr Lucy Jackson
Lucy’s research involves participatory research methods as well as participatory action research (PAR) with specific communities. Further, Lucy’s research looks to participation as a community tool and as a method of forming identity and belonging for other identities and groups. Lucy’s research on reproductive justice also looks at the politics of participation around activism, this is stated in the UK, Northern Ireland, and mainland Europe.

Dr Will Mason
Will is experienced in the use of qualitative approaches within community settings. His ongoing studies use a community-based participatory approach to explore residents’ experiences of services in a low income neighbourhood and to explore the experiences of young people and families in areas of deprivation. Will is particularly interested in university-community partnership and the ethics of reciprocity in social research.

Dr Mark Taylor
Who participates in culture; how does this relate to social inequality; what does it mean to participate in culture in the first place? Mark works with both survey data and transactional data (for example, from box offices) to unpack cultural participation.

Methods and methodology

Professor Andy Dickerson
Andy is an applied economist and econometrician. Most of his research involves using large scale survey and administrative data, and micro longitudinal/panel data on individuals and households, including matched datasets.

Dr Andrew Bell
Andy works on developing and critiquing quantitative methods, with a focus on multilevel models, age-period-cohort analysis and fixed/random effects models

Dr Todd Hartman
Todd is a political psychologist, who specialises in experimental design and the analysis of complex surveys across the social sciences. He uses a number of quantitative methods in his work such as models for causal inference, structural equation modelling, and conjoint analysis, among others.

Dr Elisabeth Garratt

Although a quantitative researcher by training, Beth has recently begun to undertake qualitative research, with a particular focus on lifecourse and visual methods.

Dr Lucy Jackson
Lucy is a qualitative researcher who utilises talking methods, ethnography, use of archival data, and PAR approaches. Lucy has written on innovative methods and continues to think about the ethics of research in the social sciences from a theoretical and practical dimension.

Dr Will Mason
Will uses a wide range of methods in his work, including ethnography, qualitative interviewing, focus groups, case studies, co-construction and community based-participatory approaches.

Dr Aneta Piekut
Working with European Social Survey data looking at item nonresponse patterns, Aneta's first paper - 2014, wave 7, exploring nonresponse to questions measuring attitudes towards immigration, her second paper (currently a work in progress) is more of a broad research of all ESS waves and exploring nonresponse to various questions.

Dr Mark Taylor
Mark’s particularly interested in data visualisation in social research: how can we communicate what we’ve found more clearly and effectively?

Dr Abigail Tazzyman

Abigail’s ethos as a qualitative researcher stems from her early training in feminist research methods and emphasises criticality and reflexivity. Abigail uses a wide range of methods including: interviews, focus groups, observations, case studies, Normalisation Process Theory, and document, discourse and thematic analysis.

Course structure

Your PhD supervision could be split between an SMI academic and an academic in another social sciences department.

All PhD students within the Faculty of Social have access to world-class training alongside your doctoral study. The training you take can be tailored to your individual needs to ensure you have the right skills you need to develop your research.

This training programme is designed to exceed current UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) training and development guidelines and gives all our social science PhD students access to ESRC-funded White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership regardless of your source of funding.

The training is flexible and bespoke to your needs which you will discuss with your PhD supervisors.


Students looking to undertake PhD study within the Faculty of Social Sciences will require a strong understanding of the full breadth of social science research methods. Many students are required to take the 1-year MA Social Research degree with the SMI before progressing on to their PhD studies.

This year of study develops students' knowledge of research design, quantitative and qualitative methods, develops their professional skills, and allows them to take specialist and advanced subject-based courses in the field of their research topics whilst further developing the themes of your research.

More information on our Social Research MA

Your application

Entry requirements

Research students normally need a first degree which is equivalent to a UK 2:1 classification or better, and a masters degree which is equivalent to a UK mark of 65% or above. Candidates with other qualifications will be considered on an individual basis.

For students whose first language is not English, we require an IELTS grade of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component, or equivalent.


There are a number of ways that you can apply for funding to study a PhD at the SMI. For more information, click here

How to apply

Candidates are invited to contact potential supervisors to discuss your research and the initial stages of your application. If at any stage of your application you have any questions, we would encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Once you feel confident of your proposal and your supervisor, you need to apply directly online using the Postgraduate Application form

If you are interested in applying and have any questions please contact us.

Apply now

Length of Programme

The Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes contains a wide range of information required by both students and their academic departments from the point of registration onto a higher degree by research, to the point of award, including time scales allowed for the completion of a PhD.  However, a benchmark for this information is:

PhD (full-time)

  • 3 years (normal)
  • 4 years (maximum)

PhD (part-time)

  • 6 years (normal)
  • 8 years (maximum)
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