Funded PhD opportunities

Discovering hidden abilities (DHA): building assessment tools for children with atypical development.

  • Application end date: Applications currently closed
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (UK students only)
  • Department: Department of Psychology
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr. Iris Nomikou, and Dr. Alessandra Fasulo

ESRC South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership (SCDTP) funded. Project code: PSYC3681018

Applications are currently closed for this project, though may re-open in the autumn. If you wish to submit an expression of interest, please contact

Project in brief

In 2016, 14.4% of children in the UK had special educational needs (SEN). As a consequence, a large number of professionals are involved alongside parents in supporting children with atypical development (AD). Yet a consistent research finding is that the types of assessments teachers and therapists mostly rely on for initial information about children with AD provide only limited information as to their individual strengths and preferences; however, such information is critical to the provision of effective teaching and intervention. This PhD project will develop assessment principles drawing from natural observations of caregiver-child interactions, in which children find it easier to display their abilities and understandings. From these observations the project will establish the initial bases for dynamic forms of assessment with which assessment, therapy, teaching, and communication with children may become more effective.

Project in detail

Assessments are a constant presence in the life of children with atypical development (AD), with consequences in terms of provision of support, inclusion in mainstream schools, and evaluation of their developmental progress. However, many limitations of standardised assessments have been repeatedly pointed out, crucially the fact that by definition they cannot take into account atypical children’s different approaches to problem solving, language and communication. Naturalistic studies of children’s conduct on the other hand, provide compelling evidence of spontaneously occurring linguistic, cognitive and social abilities through enriched, multimodal analyses of activities in- context. These studies propose an alternative approach to conceptualising competences and skills.

The PhD project will be devoted to identifying enabling practices used by caregivers and children’s indicators of abilities occurring in everyday adult–child interactions and define principles which could be used to develop new instruments complementing and supporting the work of practitioners. The project will use a converging methods approach combining multiple research methods, such as corpus analysis of existing and new data capturing interactions of both typically and atypically developing children, a survey identifying practitioners’ problems with existing assessments, and will use the data obtained to develop guidelines for an alternative assessment framework.

Specific research question(s):

  • What are the abilities of children with typical and atypical development that emerge in naturalistic interactions and how can these inform the development of alternative assessment frameworks?

Candidate specification

Applicants for this PhD position should have at least a completed BA or BSc honours level degree in Psychology, Linguistics or a related discipline from an accredited course (minimum 2.1 award) (required); Experience with child research participants (desired); basic knowledge of quantitative and qualitative data analysis (required) and a willingness to learn and apply multiple research methods. 

For all funding, students must have qualifications of the standard of a good honours degree at first or upper second-class level, from a UK academic higher education institution. Degree qualifications gained from outside the UK, or a combination of qualifications and/or experience that is equivalent to a relevant UK degree, may be accepted.

How to Apply

Before you apply, please make sure you meet the candidate specification.

Candidates do not need to submit a project proposal, however are required to submit a 500 word personal statement to include:

  • Details of how your skills and interests match the project
  • Background and previous experience
  • Research interests

If you need to discuss this project and your application further then please contact a member of the supervision team as listed below, in advance of the deadline dates:

Dr. Iris Nomikou -

Dr. Alessandra Fasulo -

There are two stages to the application process:

(1) The first application form you need to complete is for your chosen programme of study at the University of Portsmouth.

Apply to the University of Portsmouth through our standard online application form and follow the instructions given under the 'Research Degrees' heading on the following webpages before you submit your SCDTP application:

When applying to the University of Portsmouth, you will need to enter project code - PSYC3671018

The closing date for University of Portsmouth applications is 21 July 2017, 12.00 noon.

(2) The second application form which requires completion is the South Coast DTP Funding Application Form.  There are two versions of this form which can be downloaded. In accordance with the SCDTP guidance, please ensure you use the correct form (in this case the 'South Coast DTP Project Specific Application Form').

The 'South Coast DTP Project Specific Application Form', and more information on the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership can be found at:

You will then need to submit your funding application to the SCDTP by 28 July 2017

Funding notes

As well as covering all tuition fees, the studentship also includes an annual maintenance grant, of £14,553 (2017/18).

Please note, students applying without a Master's qualification containing a substantial Social Sciences methods component may be required to complete such a Master's beforehand. The Master's will be fully funded by the SCDTP.