Applications are invited for a three year collaborative PhD studentship to investigate the nature of perceptions in marginalised communities of the relationship between air pollution and health, and how this relationship has been impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

This studentship is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (LISS DTP). The studentship is a collaboration between Imperial College and Guy’s and St. Thomas Charity (GSTT Charity).

Funding is available to cover the cost of UK home/domestic fees plus a stipend of for 3 years (rates for 2020/21 are £15,285, plus £2,000 London weighting). Funds are also provided for research costs. Overseas applicants must cover the additional cost of international fees from other sources of funding.

The topic

Air pollution has been recognised as a major environmental and public health concern accountable for numerous health problems and tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in the UK. Though air pollution is a problem faced by everybody, some communities may face higher air pollution levels.

In recent years, public awareness campaigns on actionable measures for the public to reduce pollution and limit exposure have become more prominent. However, there is little evidence on how these approaches have impacted the public’s perceptions of urban air pollution, and its mitigation. In particular, there is a lack of understanding of how marginalised communities, including some Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups think and feel about air pollution and associated health effects. Furthermore, we are yet to know how the impacts of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected poorer communities, will affect the public’s understandings of the relationships between air quality and health.

The PhD will investigate the nature of perceptions in marginalised communities of the relationship between indoor and outdoor air pollution and health, and how this relationship has been impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

The successful applicant will examine:

  • How communities’ understandings are formed, and what sources of information/communication are most appropriate
  • How public perceptions relate to social and geographical circumstances
  • Perceptions of risk, with particular focus on the impact of COVID-19 in conjunction with existing air pollution and health concerns

Research findings will provide policy makers with evidence based knowledge on the design and efficacy of future air pollution mitigation policies.

Essential criteria

  • A good undergraduate degree (2:1 or first class) and a relevant Master’s degree. The selected candidate will have a high calibre social science background with interest in public health and the environment.
  • Student should have experience in conducting quantitative and qualitative research, particularly ethnography.
  • A demonstrable ability to communicate with members of the public, particularly within urban community groups.
  • Excellent command of English
  • A commitment towards equity and social inclusion

Desirable criteria

  • Knowledge of, or prior professional experience with, public perceptions of health and/or personal and societal risk, such as the impacts of intersectionality and marginalisation.
  • Experience with relevant methodological software (e.g., SPSS, NVivo).
  • Willingness to engage in mixed methods (ethnographies, interviews, and quantitative surveys), and novel methodological approaches to best support community engagement with the research.
  • Command of other languages, such as those characteristic of BAME communities in London will be an advantage.

 Supervisory team

The PhD will be jointly supervised by Dr Benjamin Barratt, Reader in Environmental Exposures and Public Health at Imperial College London and Dr Heather King, Reader in Science Education at King’s College London.

The student will be based in the Environmental Research Group (ERG) at Imperial College, benefitting from working closely with researchers leading the provision of air quality information and the research in the UK. Additionally, the student will have the support of the non-academic partner (GSTT Charity) who recently initiated a ten-year program in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark to explore how the health of vulnerable communities is affected by poor air quality, and to test possible solutions.


Interested candidates should apply by emailing the following documents to Valentina Lotti

  1. An up-to-date CV.
  2. A completed Application form for the position available here(additional application to the doctoral programme will be required for the successful candidate).
  3. A personal statement, including suitability for the position.
  4. Contact details for 2 referees, at least one of which should be a recent academic referee.

Key dates

The deadline for applications is Sunday 28 February 2021 at 23.59. Interviews will be held online on the morning of 15 March 2021.

The successful candidate will be asked to complete a DBS check upon commencing the post.
The studentship will start on 1 October 2021.

We particularly encourage applications from underrepresented groups in science and social science.