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.

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: Ni Gao
Project: Thriving not surviving: what can time allocation tell us?

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

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: 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


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

Mr 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 unit 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 is 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.

The unit 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 have 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!

Dr Ewan Gray

Completing a PhD is a challenge completely different from anything I have found subsequently working as a health economist and researcher. The scale of the final thesis and high degree of independent work that is expected really do require developing new skills and perspectives. At HERU I gained both skills and confidence that I have found valuable in my career since.

One of the best things about HERU, in my opinion, is the broad range of expertise in the group. During my PhD studies, I received some great advice from many members of the team on all areas of health economics. Staff at all levels were very approachable and generous with their time so we could discuss issues relevant to my PhD in real depth.

During the most difficult periods of my PhD experience both my supervisor and the team more generally were supportive and flexible. Many PhD students will face difficulties at some point in their studies and having a good pro-active supervisor as well other sources of support in the group are both very important in overcoming these.

Dr Jean-Baptiste Combes

"Doing a PhD was the most difficult academic task I had to go through. I arrived in HERU as a Master student doing an internship, I was soon thrilled by the research experience that HERU offers and straight away applied for a PhD position. If you read these lines and consider doing a PhD, my advice is that you think thoroughly about three things.

The first one is the topic, that is obvious and I am sure you knew and have already thought about this. You will form a team with your supervisors for three to four years and it is important that you get on with them and them together before then. With my supervisors, some times were difficult but had we not get on together we would not have been able to handle these difficulties. Understanding each other in research is critical.

Even when your relations with your supervisors are good it is also important that you can talk with other people. Friends are important but they may not understand why you are doing a PhD instead of going out and get a proper job instead. That is where the team comes and HERU has lots of friendly people who are always available to talk to when you need.

HERU is a great place to do research in health economics, I was so pleased with the experience I had that I am now coming back as a visiting researcher with great joy."

Dr Frauke Becker

"From the first moment I arrived in to Aberdeen for my interview, I never regretted the decision to take up the PhD post in HERU! The warm welcome I experienced back then was only one example of a very open-minded, enjoyable atmosphere in the unit.

Being able to attend working groups as well as programme meetings did (and still does) not only keep me up to date with what is going on around the unit with all the different research projects, but makes me feel being part of a group of highly motivated people, which – again – makes me try to work harder in order to contribute to the unit's work in a similar way. The various opportunities to discuss and share ideas with fellow research students and colleagues as well as seminars and conferences broaden – and at the same time, narrow down (a necessity when you are a PhD student) – my horizon. This and the university's policy for research students encouraging a personal development plan contribute to an excellent environment for skill development, both in health economics and generic competences.

Considering my time in HERU so far, the most satisfying experience is being able to focus on one topic within the critical environment and not being isolated within my individual research. And the constant support by supervisors and colleagues makes it the perfect place to study for a PhD!"

Dr Yang Feng

"One of the greatest assets of HERU is that it encourages innovations. HERU provided an excellent platform for me to develop my own research ideas, expand my knowledge, and challenge myself academically. Abundant resources and support were given by HERU greatly enriching my PhD experience. My supervisors and other research staff in HERU were always available to provide the necessary guidance and supervision to write my PhD thesis. My time studying here gave me a great foundation to build a future career as a health economist.

The integration of students with staff members meant that I was able to gain a better understanding of the life of a researcher and the types of projects members of staff worked on. Another great benefit of working in HERU is that I was given ample opportunities to communicate with experts in health economics through attending HERU seminars, workshops, national conferences and international conferences. This will greatly help me in my future career.

I also made close friends in HERU, having fun after a long day of research was a great distraction from the sometimes stressful PhD life!!"

Dr Emmanouil Mentzakis

"HERU offers a firsthand experience of what it feels like to be an academic researcher. You get treated like staff both in terms of privileges and responsibilities and that fully prepares you for your later appointments. Independent research is encouraged and collaborations can happen with anyone whose research interests you. Research and administrative staff are extremely friendly and eager to help and advice."