PhD Studentship: Contributing to an international Collaboratory of Centres for Understanding Behaviour Change (CUBiC): How can the use of graded tasks be optimised to promote physical activity?

Subject area: Psychology

Campus: University of Hertfordshire, College Lane

Closing date of advert: 31 October 2021

Start date: January 2022

Full-time/part-time availability: Part-time (6 years)

Project detail

Understanding how to optimise behaviour change interventions is vital for enhancing public health outcomes globally. Optimisation involves exploring how best to change health behaviours, in particular understanding (for different behaviours, populations and contexts) what needs to be delivered, how and with what frequency, to maximise cost-effectiveness. An international team of Behavioural Scientists recently called for research centres to embark on a collaboration to coordinate global efforts to optimise behaviour change interventions.

The content of interventions can be summarised using behaviour change techniques (BCTs). Although the body of knowledge on each BCT is growing, we are still in the early stages of knowing how each one works. The aim of this project would be to join this Collaboratory by investigating the effects of the BCT ‘Graded Tasks’ (increasing duration/frequency/intensity over time) in health interventions, with a particular focus on physical activity. Physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for long-term conditions such as obesity and type 2 Diabetes, many of which make people more vulnerable to COVID-19.

This programme involves three stages:

  • reviewing the literature to see how, why, in what context and with how much frequency, graded tasks work (or not) to change behaviour, and to highlight evidence gaps
  • to investigate the proposed mechanisms of action (process by which a BCT impacts a behaviour) for graded tasks on physical activity
  • piloting of an intervention testing the different effects of graded tasks (in combination with other BCTs) on physical activity using the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) framework.

The successful candidate will join a strong vibrant behaviour change research centre that has been awarded several large NIHR grants. Find out more about this research group.

For further information about the PhD topic, please email Dr Neil Howlett using the subject line “Graded tasks PhD Studentship Application”.


Principal supervisor: Dr Neil Howlett

Supervisory team: Dr Katie Newby and Professor Katherine Brown

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in psychology or a related subject. A relevant master’s degree will be an advantage, e.g. health psychology. Further experience of systematic reviews, quantitative and qualitative analysis would be beneficial. In addition, applicants should have excellent personal, oral and written communication skills, as well as confidence in scientific research methods. International/EU applicants must meet the minimum English language requirements, which include an IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent.

There may be additional paid opportunities to assist with project supervision, teaching and assessment on the undergraduate psychology degree programme.

How to apply

Applicants are required to provide the following documents:

Please send completed applications to the Doctoral College at using the following format in the email subject line: PhD Studentship: Graded tasks PhD Studentship Application.

The closing date for applications is 31 October 2021. The shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview the week beginning 8 November 2021.

Funding information

The studentship will provide a tax-free stipend over six years (part-time), currently £7,804.50 per annum (standard RCUK rate) plus home tuition fees at the UK rate. A successful international/EU applicant would be required to pay the difference from home fees.