PhD Research in HERU

HERU has a strong track record of PhD supervision in health economics. As a PhD student you will be part of HERU interacting with a team of researchers working in your area of interest.

Available studentships are listed on this page when available, and projects that HERU staff are interested in supervising are listed on the Potential PhD outlines tab below. Students are also welcome to suggest projects that align with HERU's research interests.

See the PhD Funding tab for potential sources of funding for PhDs in HERU.

For general enquiries about undertaking a PhD within HERU please contact Professor Marjon van der Pol.

Refer to the University of Aberdeen Research Degrees page for more general information on PhDs at the University and for information on the application process.

Available Studentships

PhD Studentship: ‘Choosing Wisely in Dentistry: To Dis-invest or Re-invest?’

A PhD studentship (UK students only) is available for a project on 'Choosing Wisely in Dentistry: To Dis-invest or Re-invest?’ The funded PhD project at the University of Dundee will be supervised by Dr Heather Cassie from the University of Dundee Dental School and Professor Jan Clarkson (University of Dundee), Dr Beatriz Goulao (Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen) and Dr Dwayne Boyers (Health Economics Research Unit, University of Aberdeen).  

Recent studies have identified areas of dental activity which provide minimal clinical benefit, but are valued highly by patients. The Choosing Wisely programme was developed to encourage communication between patients and healthcare professionals to prevent unnecessary treatment. However, there are potential benefits and risks around decisions to dis-invest and re-allocate resources. One tool which can aid these decisions is the priority setting framework, Programme Budgeting and Marginal Analysis (PBMA).

The project will apply and evaluate the use of PBMA to improve the efficiency of resource allocation decisions (de-implementation and re-investment) in the context of primary dental care in Scotland.

The study can be tailored to the student’s specific skills and interests; however, an interest in health economics and public health would be beneficial.

There are more details of the project, the funding, and how to apply at the advert on the FindaPhD site. To discuss the project, contact the first supervisor, Dr Heather Cassie, or Dr Dwayne Boyers at HERU to discuss health economics aspects of the project.

The closing date for applications is Friday 10th June 2022, 5pm.


Potential PhD Outlines

See the PhD Funding tabfor potential sources of Funding for the PhD outlines detailed below and information on how to apply for PhDs detailed below is available from the Study Here website. 

Non-market valuation (Discrete choice experiments).

Supervisors: Dr Verity Watson (HERU) and Professor Mandy Ryan (HERU) 

The Health Economics Research Unit (HERU) is internationally recognised for the excellence of its research in the development and application of discrete choice experiment (DCE) methodology. DCEs are commonly used in applied economics to observe how individuals choose among multi-attribute products/services (e.g. choice between two competing treatments).

We welcome PhD proposals exploring the development and application of DCEs in health economics. We encourage interested individuals to visit the Methods of Benefit Valuation theme on the HERU website for more information on our methodological areas of interest. Proposals on shared decision making, health information processing, doctor-patient relationship and incentive compatibility of stated references are encouraged.

Understanding and predicting non-compliance in randomised experiments

Supervisors: Professor Marjon van der Pol (HERU), Dr Verity Watson (HERU) and Dwayne Boyers (HERU)

Randomised experiments are used extensively to evaluate the causal effect of interventions including medical treatments and health behavior interventions.  However, the theoretical advantages of randomisation can be undermined by non-compliance to the intervention allocation. 

Levels of non-compliance can be high especially when participants are allocated to an arm which results in a change in the treatments and services they usually receive. Non-compliance can potentially bias the estimate of the treatment effect.  In order to reduce non-compliance within randomised experiments, it is crucial increase our understanding of the determinants of non-compliance.

Economics can make an important contribution in terms of understanding the role of individuals’ preferences for treatment options and individual characteristics such as education and age. This PhD will assess the suitability of stated preference methods (Discrete Choice Experiments) to predict non-compliance in randomized experiments.


PhD Funding that is specifically relevant for PhDs in HERU

The University of Aberdeen is part of the ESRC Scottish Graduate School of Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (SGSSS-DTC). DTC1+3 and +3 doctoral studentships are available in the Health pathway for potential PhD research within HERU.

Details of these ESRC studentships are available at the SGSSS Studentships website.

The Carnegie PhD scholarship scheme supports a limited number of graduates, with first class Honours undergraduate degrees from a Scottish university, who wish to pursue three years of postgraduate research leading to a PhD at a university in Scotland. Check the Carnegie site for details of when the scheme is open for applicants.

University of Aberdeen studentships:

  • IAHS Studentships are advertised when available.
  • Elphinstone PhD Scholarships are advertised when available. The Elphinstone scholarships cover tuition fees for the entire duration of a three-year research degree programme. Scholarhsips are advertised when they are available.
  • Roy Weir Studentships are advertised when available.

University of Aberdeen Funding Database

Details of potential funding for PhD research within HERU may also be found in the University of Aberdeen Funding Database.

Current and Previous PhD Students

Current Students studying for a PhD

Student: Mélanie Antunes
Project: Public and patient preferences for social prescribing

Student: Huixuan Gao
Project: The value and costs of unpaid care for older people in China

Student: Divya Mohan
Project: Incorporating preference heterogeneity in economic evaluation: informing "realistic medicine"

Student: Pauline Ogilvie (part-time, online)
Project: General Practitioner practices: the impact of contract changes on General Practices in Scotland

Student: Emma Tassie
Project: Using existing data to incorporate broader measures of value in economic evaluation

Student: Carolina Yanez Contreras
Project: Valuing the benefits of oral health interventions for use in economic evaluation

Student: Xuemin Zhu
Project: The role of risk and time preferences and personality in clinical decision making

HERU staff currently studying for a PhD

Student: Michael Abbott
Project: An economic evaluation of genomic sequencing for the diagnosis of rare conditions in Scotland

Recently Completed PhDs

Student: Uma Thomas (part-time)
Project: Using insights into time preference and present bias to develop an intervention to improve adherence to exercise

Student: Ni Gao
Project: The gift of time: how do I use it and how should I use it?

Student: Ruben Sakowsky
Project: Our values or mine? A philosophical and empirical critique of deliberative and stated preference elicitation techniques in health economics

Staff: Dwayne Boyers
Project: External validity of DCEs: a case study of dental care

Student: Kevin Momanyi
Project: Enhancing quality in social care through economic analysis

Student: Laura Dysart
Project: Applying economic methods to optimise self-management

Student: Alastair Irvine
Project: The role of time preference in the medical decision making context

Student: Luis Loría
Project: Investigating willingness to pay for low emission public transportation

Student: Gin Nie Chua
Project: Assessment of the external validity of discrete choice experiments: an application in pharmacy

Student: Liam Mc Morrow
Project: Economic aspects of food choice and its association with health inequalities in Scotland and the UK

Student: Sebastian Heidenreich
Project: Do I care or do I not? An empirical assessment of decision heuristics in discrete choice experiments

Staff: Rodolfo Hernández
Project: Broadening the valuation space in health technology assessment: the case of monitoring individuals with ocular hypertension


Some previous students' comments on their experiences of studying for their PhD in HERU

Dr Alastair Irvine

Completing a PhD at HERU has been a hugely rewarding experience. The Unit provides a unique mix of talents, analysing some of the most pressing problems in health using economics. My PhD grew from an idea I had visiting the HERU and discussing my interests with potential supervisors. From there, I had great support preparing funding applications and was successful in the competitive process for the Institute of Applied Health Sciences Studentship. The Unit is an excellent base from which to explore your interests. Supervisors provide input where necessary and it is broadly up to the student how the project progresses. The Unit is ambitious for its students, and I was encouraged to present at international conferences when my supervisors felt I would benefit. I have also been fortunate to work across departments. My second supervisor was a professor in the Economics department, and I was able to teach undergraduate tutorials in economics. Other students have links to the health sciences researchers, and these inter-departmental links bring new perspectives to our discussions.

HERU has very active internal and external seminar series. The former allow you to test your ideas in front of colleagues and receive constructive feedback when it is most pertinent, as well as an excellent opportunity to develop presentation and communication skills. The external series demonstrates the Unit’s ability to attract high calibre speakers from around the world. These let me get a taste of the broader health economic debates and ask questions to leading researchers.

Dr Sebastian Heidenreich

As a PhD student, you want to have the opportunity to conduct your first independent research, while at the same time being carefully guided and advised by experienced supervisors. HERU is great in delivering such supervision. This is, because people in HERU are open, helpful and passionate about what they do. During my PhD studies I was able to gain a range of experiences that went beyond my PhD project. These experiences helped me a lot in the transition from PhD student to postdoctoral research fellow. My advice is: if you are thinking of doing a PhD in health economics and value challenges, interdisciplinary discourse, hands-on supervision as well as a team spirit culture, HERU is the place for you!