School of Health in Social Science

Breaking the Chain: RSPCA PhD Studentship

This PhD offers a unique opportunity to work collaboratively with experts in human-animal interaction and the RSPCA to evaluate and refine their ‘Breaking the Chain’ intervention to prevent and intervene in cases of animal abuse. The PhD will involve reviewing ‘Breaking the Chain’, refining the intervention materials and evaluating it with young people who at high risk of animal abuse.

Summary of PhD Studentship

The student will be supervised by Prof Jo Williams and Dr Roxanne Hawkins. They will become a member of The Child Adolescent and Adolescent Research (CAAR) group (led by Professor Jo Williams), which is part of the Centre for Applied Developmental Psychology.

The project will start in January 2023 and run for 36 months. You will be based in Edinburgh, with regular meetings with the RSPCA team and data collection in England and Wales (and possibly Scotland).

Scope of the PhD 

Breaking the Chain is an innovative intervention for young people who have harmed or are at risk of harming animals. It encompasses a range of online materials, which fall into four categories: sentience and welfare knowledge; appropriate responsible behaviour to animals; triggers of abuse; and consequences of animal abuse (for humans and animals). Historically, the intervention has been delivered by youth offender teams. Over the last two years the RSPCA has moved to a public health model of intervention and there is scope for ‘Breaking the Chain’ to be re-developed to align with this model (Tier 1 early intervention to prevent animal abuse in low-risk cases to Tier 3 crisis intervention of high-risk animal abuse cases) and evaluated in terms of process (who is best placed to deliver it) and outcomes (what impact does it have on participants).

The PhD candidate will work with Prof Jo Williams, Dr Roxy Hawkins and the RSPCA to re-develop ‘Breaking the Chain’ materials, and to implement evaluation strategies. They will benefit from the world-class research training and research facilities in Clinical and Health Psychology which was ranked 2nd in the UK in Research in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. They will also benefit from working with other PhD and post-doctoral researchers whose research also focuses on human-animal interaction and animal abuse prevention.

Supervision and collaboration

The student will be based at the School of Health in Social Science, and be part of the Research Group of CAAR.  Within the University of Edinburgh, the student will have access to the wide range of research methods courses available to PhD students to meet their learning needs. The University is one of the leading Universities in the world, and Clinical and Health Psychology in the School of Health in Social Science offers a research-rich environment ranked 2nd in UK for psychology research in REF 2021.

Funding Arrangements 

This studentship is for 3 years. This will cover a stipend of £17,421 per annum and University fees (at the UK tuition fee rate). Funding will cease at 3 years but the University allows a final fourth year to write-up if further time is required. Individuals from outside the UK are welcome to apply, but it will be their own responsibility to pay the difference between the UK and international student tuition fee rates.

The PhD project will start in January 2023.

Application Details 

Application to this Studentship is a two-stage process – you must have carried out both stages by the deadline to be considered for the funding. If you are having any difficulty with your submission, have queries about the application process, or wish to check that your application has been received please contact our Research Admissions Administrator at; 0131 651 5144 before 30th November 2022 11:59pm.

Applicant Attributes 


  • A good undergraduate degree (First-Class or Upper Second-Class) in a relevant subject area (psychology, social sciences or biological sciences)
  • A post-graduate qualification (e.g., MSc) in psychology, social sciences, life sciences, or animal welfare
  • Interest in developmental psychology and animal welfare
  • Experience and skills in empirical research using both quantitative and qualitative methods
  • Experience conducting qualitative interviews and focus groups
  • Advanced academic skills (e.g., systematic literature review, advanced data analysis)
  • Experience in presenting and/or publishing academic work
  • An ability to effectively communicate with a wide range of people and ability to maintain respectful relationships
  • If English language is not your first language, then an IELTS (or equivalent) of 7.0 (at least 6.5 in each module) is required.
  • A commitment to completing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh over three years


  • Experience of writing reports for non-academic audiences
  • Experience of presenting research to non-academic audiences
  • Experience of successfully applying for ethical approval from a range of bodies

Interviews and additional task 

Proposed Interview date: Between 12th and 16th December 

Interviews will take approximately 30 minutes. Candidates will be invited to give a short 5-minute presentation on their ideas for the PhD followed by 20 minutes of structured discussion. Candidates will them be invited to ask any questions they have about the project.

Academic Contact 

Professor Jo Williams-