Learning trajectories in neurodevelopmental disorders: nature and nurture

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD scholarship to work with Dr Silvia Paracchini (School of Medicine) and Dr Margaret Leighton (School of Economics and Finance) at the University of St Andrews.

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, developmental language disorder (DLD), stuttering, and ADHD are common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting about 10% children. In addition to the personal

impact on children and their families, these conditions have a significant associated societal cost to meet long-term challenges including problems at school, unemployment, antisocial behaviour and treatment of associated psychiatric conditions. There is a wide disparity in how funding gets distributed for researching these conditions and consequently in understanding the associated impact. For example, it is not clear how these conditions impact onto educational attainment: a strong predictor of many life outcomes (e.g. income, professional careers, health and longevity).

The project

By taking advantage of two British longitudinal cohorts (Total N ~25,000), characterised by an exceptional range of cognitive and behavioural measures, a statistical model will be developed to study educational trajectories and socio-economic outcomes associated with neurodevelopmental conditions. These extremely rich datasets will allow us to define very accurate cognitive and behavioural profiles to dissect the heterogeneity that characterised neurodevelopmental disorders. Equally, it will be possible to factor into our model well-established determinants of education outcomes, including socio-economic status (SES) and genetic backgrounds, among others. It will thus be possible to control for important dimensions of selection bias. We will test to what extent high SES might mitigate the effects of genetic risk factors. Similarly, we will be able to assess whether environmental risk factors might amplify the effects of particular neurodevelopmental disorders.

This project will improve the current understanding and appreciation of individual differences in learning abilities and we will increase awareness around conditions that are not always fully recognised. It will also improve our limited understanding of the socio-economic externalities of neurodevelopmental disorders and potentially identify new avenues for policies to contain such externalities.

Training opportunity

This is an interdisciplinary project that will merge behavioural genetics with the quantitative methods used in economics and other social sciences. The project provides a unique training opportunity in mastering a range of advanced skills including: handling of large and complex datasets, statistical/econometric modelling, behavioural profiling and analysis of genomic data. Data-driven science to address health challenges is a key strategic area in St Andrews where major investments, e.g. HDRUK and iCARD, are shaping the scenery and research environment. Therefore, the successful candidate will work in a highly dynamic environment at the forefront of major interdisciplinary collaborations.

The person

Applications are encouraged from graduates with backgrounds in any of the following disciplines: psychology, economics, bioinformatics, statistics, mathematics, biology, and computer science. The ideal candidate will have an aptitude for statistics and large-scale data analysis. While training will be provided, experience of coding and scripting in a statistical package (e.g. R, Stata, SAS, SPSS) is desirable.

How to apply

For further details on the project and informal enquiries please contact to Dr. Silvia Paracchini () with a CV and a covering letter.

Deadline for applications: 15th May 2019.
Start date: no later than 1st September 2019.

Funding Notes

Scholarship details: three years fully funded (stipend and fees at the UK/EU rate).

This opportunity is one of the University funded St Leonard’s College Interdisciplinary Doctoral Scholarships.