Cross-Disciplinary PhD Proposals 2018-19

The cross-disciplinary project topics listed below include those that span across disciplines within our school, and across the University.

How to apply?

To apply for one of the eligible staff-driven projects offered below, please complete an application form on the Queen’s University Postgraduate Applications Portal. Please indicate that you wish to be considered for ‘funding administered by Queen’s University Belfast’ on the online application form. Note that the DfE Studentship application deadline is Friday 16 February 2018 at 5pm.

To be eligible for consideration for a DfE studentship (including a stipend of £14,777 and Home/EU fees), the candidate must have been ordinarily resident in the UK for 3 years (with no restrictions). EU residents may be eligible for studentship covering fees-only.

Further details regarding eligibility criteria (including academic, citizenship and residency criteria) are available at the following link:


Recently announced US-Ireland Studentship

UrbanARK: Assessment, Risk Management, & Knowledge for Coastal Flood Risk Management in Urban Areas 

The School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University Belfast currently offers a fully funded PhD position (3 years with the possibility of a 1 year post-doctoral extension) as part of the UrbanARK project.

The UrbanARK project is an international multi-disciplinary collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), University College Dublin (UCD) and New York University (NYU) funded under the US - Ireland Research & Development Programme.  The multinational project brings together leading researchers across the areas of geomatics, spatial data analysis, hydrology, computer science and risk communication to investigate innovative approaches for the collection and management of spatial data to refine flood risk assessments for urban coastal cities and to support immersive risk communication tools. 

The researcher will be based with the Centre for GIS and Geomatics and the Environmental Change & Resilience Research Group at QUB under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer McKinley and Dr. Ulrich Ofterdinger.  The researcher will focus on the acquisition and analysis of mobile LiDAR Scanning and other Remote Sensing data in the urban environment and support the integration of these data into numerical flood risk models and risk communication tools.  Research activities will include field-based activities in Belfast, Dublin and New York and data analysis in collaboration with collaborating research groups at UCD and NYU. 

Qualifications sought:

BSc/BEng 2(i) or higher and/or or an MSc/MEng; Geomatics, Geography, Geoscience, Environmental or Civil Engineering or related subject; must be numerate & familiar with IT; experience of Geographical Information Science (GIS) and digital data acquisition and analysis is advantageous

Interested candidates should contact Dr. Jennifer McKinley ( or Dr. Ulrich Ofterdinger ( for further details.


Staff-Driven Projects offered for DfE Studentships

A mixed methods approach investigating the impact of urban regeneration on public health

Research Theme: Place, Well-being and Healthy Environment
Supervisors: Prof. Geraint Ellis, Dr. Deepti Adlakha and Dr Mark Tully (Centre for Public Health)

The aim of this project is to develop new methods to understand the impact of natural experiments on health-related behaviour change. There is a lack of evidence regarding the impact of urban regeneration projects on public health, particularly the nature and extent to which urban regeneration impacts upon health-related behaviour change. Natural experiments enable comprehensive large-scale evaluations of such interventions. The Connswater Community Greenway in Belfast is a major urban regeneration project involving the development of a 9 km linear park, including the provision of new cycle paths and walkways. In addition to the environmental improvements, this complex intervention involves a number of programmes to promote physical activity in the regenerated area. This PhD project will seek to further develop approaches to assessing the impact of urban regeneration on health-related behaviour, using data from the Physical Activity and the Rejuvenation of Connswater (PARC study).

The first stage of the PhD project will be to conduct a systematic review of previous natural experiment evaluations, in order to understand the range of approaches used to evaluate their effectiveness. In the second stage, the student will develop quantitative analytic techniques for pre-post study design of natural experiments like the PARC study, using information from the systematic review as a guide. By conducting a series of analyses on PARC study data, the student will compare various analytical approaches in understanding the impact of the greenway on health-related behaviours, such as the influence of changes in macro-environment features (e.g., GIS measured walkability on physical activity, commuting modes, etc.). In the third stage, findings of quantitative analysis, combined with appropriate theories of qualitative research, will be used to inform a feasibility study using narrative analysis techniques (e.g., walk-along interviews, video elicited interviews using wearable cameras) to assess the impact of macro (e.g. walkability) and micro (e.g. street level aesthetics) on health-related behaviours. It is anticipated that the systematic review will be completed within the first year. The quantitative analytical models will be developed during the second year and the feasibility study will be conducted in the first six months of the third year.


Access to the countryside in Northern Ireland

Research Theme: Place, Well-being and Healthy Environment
Supervisors: Dr. Linda Price and Prof Keith Lilley

Despite enabling legislation Northern Ireland has failed to develop access to the countryside at a similar pace to Great Britain.  A statutory right of access only exists within publicly owned forests in NI.  NI is caught, therefore, between an even more illiberal access regime in the Republic of Ireland (ROI), that of furthering opening up of land in GB through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) and regional developments such as the coastal path around Wales.  The project provides the opportunity to explore the historical, political and social contexts to these variations across the UK via a comparative study.  The student would be free to develop the focus of the study which may be around the extent to which NI is experiencing ‘legislative lag’ as a result of the troubles, the extent to which  productivist, agricultural lobbying power is affecting the issue of National Park Development and/or the extent to which the marketing of the natural environment through tourism/health strategies is becoming an ever more pressing issue; the type of countryside management strategies/financing implications that would be needed to enact the legislation; investigation of a weak countryside lobbying movement in Northern Ireland.


Hidden Heritage: Understanding Rapid Environmental Change, Cultural Adaptation and Heritage Resilience in Majuli

Supervisors: Dr. M. Satish Kumar, Dr W. Megarry and Prof. R. Morrow

Majuli, Assam is the largest inhabited river island and carbon neutral- biodiverse heritage site in the world. Home to over 160,000 people, the island of Majuli as a living testimony of the 450-year-old cultural heritage, housing 243 small and large villages whose population has demonstrated incredible ability to adapt their existence to the changing dynamics of its ecosystem over the centuries. Situated in the Brahmaputra river, the island is seasonally flooded during monsoon season. Erosional and depositional processes annually change the landscape however increasing meltwater caused by global warming has resulted in more severe flooding during the last century. Some reports suggest that as much as 60% of the island has been lost over the last 100 years. Much of this loss has also been exacerbated by deforestation. The loss of both settlements and agricultural land continues to have a huge impact on local communities. It also threatens the island’s rich cultural heritage. The island is home to a unique continuous 16th century Vaishnavite religious and cultural traditional traditions based in over 30 Satras (religious monastic institutions). It is also home to a wealth of intangible cultural heritage including rich traditions of pottery making and weaving. This heritage led to the island being placed on the Indian Tentative World Heritage List in 2004. This interdisciplinary project will explore how local communities in Majuli have adapted to (and continue to adapt to) rapid landscape change and how these adaptations might be applied elsewhere to respond to climate change. It will also explore how cultural heritage (both tangible and intangible) can be preserved as the pace of landscape change increases.  


Knowledge Exchange and evidence based policy making in spatial planning

Research Theme: Place, Well-being and Healthy Environment
Supervisors: Prof. Geraint Ellis and Dr Sara Melo (QUB Management School)

For the last 20 years there has been a strong discourse on the need and purpose of evidence-based policy making. This has included the fields of spatial planning, which requires data on a wide range of economic, social and environmental trends, outcomes and impacts, in order to effectively evaluate development strategies. Parallel to this there has been a growing emphasis on university-based researchers to integrate a process of knowledge exchange into their research. However, there is a distinct lack of debate and understanding of the key concepts and types of mechanism in evolved in these processes.

This PhD will explore the purposes, barriers, opportunities and rhetorical claims surrounding knowledge exchange in planning and seeks to evaluate whether the emphasis on this is conceptually useful for planning researchers and likely to be effective for planning outcomes and if so, will seek to identify the mechanisms through which such collaboration could be enhanced.


Objects for an Island World: Exploring the extraction and distribution of felsite on Neolithic Shetland

Supervisors: Dr A. Ruffell and Dr W. Megarry

This project will explore the extraction and exploitation of felsite in the Neolithic period in the Shetland Islands. Felsite is a fine-grained volcanic rock which was used to make visually distinctive polished axes and knives. The geological diversity and properties of felsite are reflected in its selective use as stone tools. These tools are found throughout the Shetland Islands but no examples have ever been identified further afield. The primary aim of the project is to explore the provenance of artefacts on a landscape scale, and to better understand the decision making process behind the targeting of specific dykes and rock sources. It will use data collected by the North Roes Felsite Project (NRFP), a three-year archaeological and geological investigation which has recorded the locations of felsite dykes and quarries in the Northmavine region. Portable x-ray fluorescence (PXRF) readings were taken from all dykes and artefacts, and geological samples from dykes. The project has a strong geospatial component with all fieldwork data organised spatially as features and tables in a geodatabase. The visualisation of the geological properties of dykes within a GIS and of the relationships between artefacts and landscapes will also be of central importance.


Planning for Neurodiversity

Research Theme: Cities, Communities and Contested Urbanism
Supervisors: Dr Neil Galway, Dr. Keith McAllister and Dr Bronagh Byrne (Social Sciences, Education and Social Work)

Humans have a natural variation in the anatomy of their brains – they have a different neurological make up, or ‘brain wiring’.  While most people can be described as neurologically typical, or neurotypical, a minority who show differences such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), dyslexia, dyspraxia are now characterised as neurologically diverse, or neurodiverse. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term that covers the many sub-groups within the spectrum of autism. Along with the triad of impairments associated with ASD that manifest as problems with communication, social interaction and imagination, those with ASD often suffer from sensory sensitivity to the visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, gustatory and olfactory realms.

Therefore for those with cognitive impairment, the Built Environment and its cities in particular, can become difficult, confusing and even threatening. Subsequently one of the main difficulties for the person with ASD is to simply feel at ease within the Built Environment. This can have far reaching and profound consequences for designers entrusted with providing an inclusive Built Environment. Whilst designers are arguably now recognising the benefits to health and wellbeing for people in making our cities accessible to all, little thought has been given to those with cognitive impairment and especially, those with ASD in that context. With the incidence of autism in society currently on the rise and society beginning to take stock of this, now is an appropriate time to tackle this issue.

This proposal therefore seeks to better identify specific and meaningful design considerations when designing for those with ASD in our cities. The aspiration is then that this might help inform future urban design, thereby encouraging fuller integration of just not the person with ASD, but also others with the challenges of sensory sensitivities, anxieties and isolation into the city, the wider Built Environment and society beyond.


Remote sensing regimes in Northern European society: landscape and governance in the first millennium AD

Supervisors: Dr P. Gleeson and Prof. G. Toner (School of Arts, English and Languages)

This PhD project combines G.I.S. with targeted remote sensing survey and toponymic analysis of the hinterlands of four major royal centres: Cashel (Co. Tipperary), Dunseverick (Co. Antrim), Rhynie and Burghead (Aberdeenshire, Scotland), in order to understand how strategies of rulership were articulated between royal centres and their hinterlands in first-millennium AD Northern Europe. This is a key issue in current debates about emerging governance in post-Roman Europe. Over the next five years the four power centres will form the focus of major internationally significant excavations funded by a Leverhulme Trust collaboration between the applicant (QUB) and Dr Gordon Noble (University of Aberdeen): Comparative Kingship: Rulership, Economy and Governance in Early European Society (REGES). This project analyses the role that socio-political landscapes played in the formation and articulation of polities through large-scale excavation, re-dating of legacy data, paleo-environmental reconstruction, historical and toponymic survey, to create new syntheses of the dramatic changes that led to the formation of state societies beyond the edges of the Roman Empire. The PhD will combine cutting-edge remote sensing with landscape reconstruction through toponymic survey and G.I.S in the environs of these power centres. This holistic inter-disciplinary approach will contribute a step-change in our understanding of their landscape context, but also, how strategies of rulership and governance articulated between royal centres and their hinterlands.


Ways of Seeing Cities through Architecture and Cinema: Urban Film Locations across Ireland

Supervisors: Dr G. Kacmaz Erk, Mr. N. Turner and Dr S. Baschiera

This project represents a substantive attempt to put Ireland’s urban landscape on the expanding global map of cinematic cities. It will examine how fiction, semi-fiction, and non-fiction films shot and/or set in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland represent their architectural/urban landscape as well as how these dwellings affect and influence the lives of the people depicted living in these environments. Through observing and assessing the relationship between architecture, space and time, and liminal spaces in film the project aims to highlight ways of seeing the city in means that have been overlooked by architects, urban designers and policy makers due to a lack of interdisciplinarity and failure to adopt the latest methodologies and how these environments affect and influence the subjects who live there. By looking at the understudied role of cinema in the cultural and social development of these two adjoining but empirically different states, this comparative approach will offer an innovative perspective on the urban development or decline, and experience on both sides of the Irish border and compare how they are represented socially, environmentally, architecturally and opportunistically. The project will explore how the study of film locations can help architects, film scholars and professionals, urban designers, and political authorities to consider alternative ways of understanding how cities change and grow/shrink as an organic organism, and are perceived and experienced by residents and visitors. It will do so by collecting and producing data, which will be analysed using contemporary methodologies from both architecture and film studies.


Other Staff-Driven Projects (self-funded position)

Sustainability of Shale Gas Development-Refining the Risk Assessment Process to better understand the Net Environmental Impacts on Groundwater Resources

Supervisors: Dr U. Ofterdinger and Dr J. McKinley

The exploration of Shale Gas resources poses significant challenges in ensuring that any extraction processes are based on the sound cross-discipline understanding of the geological systems exploited. Public perception of shale gas development tends to be polarised and the rapid expansion of the technology poses challenges to national regulatory frameworks and environmental oversight regimes. Fugitive methane emissions as well as harmful additives associated with hydraulic fracturing and geochemical compounds mobilised by the extraction process pose a potential threat to groundwater resources, surface waters and associated ecosystems. Our research activities to date in this area have focussed on combining interdisciplinary expertise in the areas of structural geology & reservoir engineering, hydrogeology, geochemistry and contaminant fate & transport processes to develop numerical modelling approaches as an evidence-based risk assessment tool in the context of Shale Gas extraction. These research activities are based on close collaborations with leading international partners in Ireland, the US and South Africa. as well as the geological surveys and environmental agencies across the UK and the Island of Ireland. In this context, the proposed research project will focus on further developing and validating numerical modelling tools for the risk assessment of proposed shale gas extraction scenarios on water resources, investigating key international shale gas resources such as in the UK and South Africa as case studies. Only such robust and transparent risk assessment approaches provide the necessary confidence for stakeholder consensus in support of strategic energy policies which are transferable between jurisdictions and aligned in its approach with key legislative frameworks.