Postgraduate Scholarships and Loans

School of Psychology

Research Scholarship (PhD) in Developmental Psychology 2014

The School of Psychology is currently inviting applications for a Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology to commence in October 2014.  The scholarship will take the form of a School Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA).  Students engaged as graduate teaching assistants hold a unique position in the University; they are both registered PhD students in receipt of a scholarship award and employees of the University.  In this case, the holder of the advertised Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology will be registered as a PhD student and will assist in the management of the Kent Child Development Unit.

The GTA will cover tuition fees at the Home/EU rate plus a combined maintenance grant and salary, equivalent to the maintenance grant offered by the ESRC.  The GTA will be offered for one year in the first instance, renewable to a maximum of three years subject to satisfactory academic performance.

Possible projects

Listed below are possible PhD projects/project topics that our developmental psychologists within the School of Psychology would be particularly interested to supervise.  This list of possible projects is not exhaustive and is intended to illustrate the kinds of project that members of staff are keen to supervise.  There will be flexibility in the choice of project topic, and the recipient of the Scholarship will have the opportunity to develop a project with their supervisor.  However, as part of the selection process, candidates will be asked to discuss their preference for one of the projects listed.

Teaching children to understand the informational needs of the listener: Typically-developing vs. children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Kirsten Abbot-Smith

Children have to learn to use language in interaction in a pragmatically appropriate manner, taking their listener’s informational needs into account.

Typically-developing two- and three-year-olds often make pragmatic errors of under-informativeness, for example asking a parent to give the ‘that one’ or ‘the sheep’ when there are two toy sheep present, thus failing to recognise their parent’s current knowledge state. Failing to take a listener’s perspective in this manner is also a classic pragmatic deficit associated with individuals with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The proposed project will explore the particular cognitive skills which are associated with development in this area in typically-developing pre-schoolers, using elicited production and possibly also eye-tracking techniques. It will also investigate which individual differences predict the ability to train these children to be better able to produce requests with appropriate levels of informativeness.  A related project would examine individual differences in this ability in a sample of school-age children with ASD.

Can children generalise rules about prejudice?
Dominic Abrams

Although there is a lot of research on children’s prejudices, there is relatively little research that considers how they transfer a lesson or rule (eg that they should not be prejudiced) from one situation to another. As part of my work with the Anne Frank Trust, I and my current postgraduate, Kiran Purewal, are exploring ways that different messages or activities can have this ‘general’ effect of challenging prejudice.

The project will involve designing and testing an intervention in a school or public (eg library) setting to distinguish how different types of message are received and interpreted by young adolescents between the ages of 11 and 14. This is part of a larger international programme of work that is finding ways to reduce social exclusion during childhood (see Abrams & Killen, 2014, Journal of Social Issues, 70, 1-11. doi: josi12043).

The development of gender stereotypes in young children
Lindsey Cameron

I am interested in projects examining the development of gender stereotypes in young children, the medium through which these stereotypes are transmitted, and impact of exposure to these stereotypes on children’s performance, self-concept, and beliefs about gender.

The project will look at the role of social context as well as children’s emerging cognitive abilities. This project would also examine how we can avoid or counteract the negative impact of gender stereotypes.

Children’s conversational skills during the pre-school years
Michael Forrester

Learning how to talk and acquire the skills necessary for engaging in everyday conversation is possibly the most important thing a young child has to do. A small but growing emerging body of work best described as child-focused CA (conversation analysis) conducts research into all aspects of children’s conversation (eg repair skills; how to answer questions; tell stories; introduce topics; argue – see, Forrester & Cherrington, 2009; Forrester, 2013).  This research project will encourage exploration, description, and explanation of any aspect of children’s conversation during the pre-school years.

Children’s understanding of knowledge (and questions)
Erika Nurmsoo

When learning from others, children run the risk of learning inaccurate information, as a speaker might be incorrect for many reasons. Importantly, children have strategies that decrease their chances of learning bad information, including rejecting speakers who do not have the relevant information (Nurmsoo & Robinson 2009). For example, we may be less likely to believe someone who tells us what happened at a meeting if they were not themselves present at that meeting. Children apply similar strategies when deciding who to believe.

Although children are good at judging when to believe a speaker who offers unsolicited information, they suffer difficulty when asking questions (Robinson, Butterfill & Nurmsoo, 2011). In these studies, one puppet looks inside the box, and one puppet does not. Although children as young as three are easily able to identify 'who knows what's in the box', they perform at chance when they must choose 'if we want to know what's in the box, who should we ask?'. This project aims to determine where children’s difficulty lies, in order to get a better idea of how children’s understanding of knowledge develops, how they  guide their own learning through asking questions, and what they consider when deciding whether – or when – to believe a source (see Robinson et al., 2011, doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2011.02036.x; Nurmsoo et al., 2010, doi: 10.1007/s13164-010-0043-y).

Prospective memory and episodic future thinking in autism spectrum disorder
David Williams

Prospective memory involves remembering to carry out an intended action at the appropriate point (eg remembering to submit your essay before the deadline) and is crucial for everyday adaptive functioning.  Importantly, prospective memory is thought to be related to one’s ability to imagine one’s future (“episodic future thinking”).   Difficulties with prospective memory and episodic future thinking among people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may explain core aspects of the disorder (see Williams et al., 2013, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 1555-1567; Williams et al., 2014, Neuropsychology, 28, 30-42).

The proposed project will explore the neuro-cognitive bases of prospective memory and episodic future thinking in ASD, using standard cognitive-experimental techniques and possibly neuroscientific techniques (e.g., eye-tracking; EEG).  Furthermore, the project could explore and develop intervention strategies designed to remediate difficulties with prospective memory and episodic future thinking in ASD.


  • Candidates must hold (or expect to finish coursework for) an Honours BSc or MSc in Psychology by September 2014.
    A standard of a first or 2(i) for undergraduate degrees, or merit/distinction for postgraduate degrees, is expected; for degrees not yet completed this will be assessed on the basis of existing work. Non-British qualifications will be judged individually; we will generally require an overall result in the top two grading categories.
  • The GTA competition is open to all postgraduate research applicants. UK, EU and overseas fee paying students are invited to apply. Overseas students would have to make up the difference between the Home and Overseas tuition fees.
  • Please note that current Kent PhD students are not eligible to apply.

How to apply

Apply for a PhD place in the School of Psychology including:

  • your preferred supervisor's name;
  • a transcript of your degree marks to date (and certificate if completed);
  • the names and email addresses of two academic referees (references must also be received by the deadline below);
  • the following documents (these can be uploaded during the online application process):
    • your CV;
    • a covering letter stating why you should be awarded a Research Scholarship in Developmental Psychology 2014 (briefly describing relevant research and laboratory management experience), plus your preferred project from the list above and your reasons for this preference;
    • a recent piece of work that you have completed.
  • Please note that although the online application asks for a Research Proposal to be uploaded, you do not need to provide this. Therefore, please mark the Research Proposal as “not applicable”.


5pm GMT, Friday 23 May 2014

Interviews are likely to be held in the week commencing 16 June 2014. We are unable to cover travel costs, but will arrange telephone/Skype interviews where appropriate.

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Last Updated: 30/04/2014