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Life Changes Trust 3 year PhD studentship

Deadline for applications has passed. Information available for reference only.

What does ‘transformation’ mean for young people with care experience who participate in Life Changes Trust projects? 3 year PhD studentship based in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, commencing Autumn 2019.

Key Facts

Fee status

England, Northern Ireland, Wales, European Union, Scotland


Postgraduate (research)


Deadline for applications has passed. Information available for reference only.

Number of awards


Value of awards

Fully funded

Your country/region

All nationalities

The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling is seeking applicants for a full-time PhD studentship to begin in the 2019/2020 academic year. This studentship is funded by the Life Changes Trust.

Background information

This PhD forms part of a larger evaluation of the Life Changes Trust. The larger project aims to:

  • tell the (hi)story of the Trust
  • demonstrate the impact and outcomes for the three beneficiary groups of the Trust (care experienced young people, people with dementia and their carers)
  • examine the place and impact of the Trust in the wider policy and practice context.

It will adopt a narrative, storytelling approach, utilising life story methods and turn these methods back onto the Trust, its establishment, progress, achievements and challenges over time. Three cross-cutting themes frame the project: life stories, participation and creativity.

Engaging with stories about the impact of Trust projects on individuals and communities will enable participants to reflect on and recognise change (Baú 2016). By encouraging the different stakeholders of the Trust to tell their stories, the project will build an organic, dynamic and evolving picture of the Trust, its work and its beneficiaries over time. Based upon principles from appreciative inquiry and narrative evaluation (Baú 2016, Bushe & Kassam 2005), a strengths-based approach will illustrate the impact of the Trust in creating positive change for beneficiaries and to support further transformation.

Care experienced young people, people with dementia and their carers will be involved in developing all parts of the project, supporting participatory and intergenerational work that enables beneficiaries to share experiences and to better understand commonalities and contrasts between groups. Co-research is an approach that empowers individuals and communities, incorporating their diverse voices throughout the research process (Daly and Westwood 2018), and reflects a growing trend towards asset-based approaches within health and social care. Co-research creates mutually respectful research teams that blend experiences and perspectives into the research process. Capturing these during method design enables and supports accessibility of research at an optimum level, and ensures the right questions are asked in the most appropriate manner.  

Openness to creativity is another important element of this project. To date, the Trust’s work with its beneficiary groups has employed a variety of approaches and methods. In relation to young people, for example, projects have focused on outdoor activities, mentoring and creative work, narrative and story-telling and have given young people access to pots of money to spend on projects of their own. Creative methods reflect the importance of non-verbal communication and of the imagination. They also allow for recognition of non-linear and ambiguous narratives of success, progress and for discussion of failure.

Overall therefore, the approach proposed will enable the research team to develop complex, dynamic stories of the Trust that illustrate the diversity of its work and the impact (or not) for beneficiaries and the wider policy and practice context over time. The work will use a range of creative methods to engage with beneficiaries and stakeholders that will lead to multimedia outputs that represent and showcase the myriad of stories that sit within the wider story of the Trust, in addition to more conventional survey data. 


The PhD will focus on the work with young people with experience of care. Its main theoretical focus will be on notions of transformation and its meaning for these young people, and how they perceive (aspects of) their lives have been changed by the Trust’s work.

The notion of transformatory change is often cited in relation to work with disadvantaged social groups. In relation to young people, such interventions are often justified with reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989) and have attained a degree of policy orthodoxy on the basis of primarily instrumental outcomes. Such programmes often report short-term benefits in attainment and well-being. Aims of, and claims made for, such projects specifically with young people have highlighted individual gains such as increased self-confidence, wellbeing, educational attainment, socio-cognitive skills and employability (ACE 2014: 37), promotion of civic engagement (AHRC 2017, Bourriaud 2002, Rancière 2004), and the reduction of social/cultural exclusion (McCall 2009).  However, their longer-term impact on young peoples’ experience and actions remains little explored.  Young people’s perceptions of the aims of such programmes, the degree of autonomy afforded, and of the power relations involved (especially where programme methods are relatively fixed, and participation a requirement of an ‘activity agreement’), are little examined. The PhD will critically engage with the power relations embedded in claims for ‘participation’, co-production and engagement (Morse 2018) addressing the institutional instrumentality of such practices. Childhood studies has much to contribute here, raising questions relating to broader discussions and critiques of children and young people’s agency (Klocker 2007; Bordonaro 2012), and of the ‘co-production’ or the ‘participation’ of children and young people in decision-making (Hill 2006; Tisdall and Punch 2012).


The PhD student will also contribute to the critical examination of the innovative methods adopted to explore the Trust’s work over time as part of the wider project.

While the exact nature of the creative methods to be used will emerge within the project, they are likely to include secondary analysis of project data; socio-material (fun) narrative interviews (involving objects, photos, record sounds, project artefacts and music that sums up their Trust experience) to discuss the effects of their participation in the projects at the time and subsequently, and any changes in lived experience/practice as a result; self-directed contributions (written, visual, photographic or voice-recorded reminiscences or reflections about their involvement with the Trust and any outcomes they have experienced) sent to the research team; arts-based (messy) engagement including poetry, storytelling, music, visual arts and craftwork; and annual creativity workshops with a community development media centre.


The following questions will structure the research:

1) What are the main notions, concepts, philosophies, processes and locations employed in ‘transformatory’ projects with young people with care experience?

2) Through what individualised and collective processes do young people perceive that such programmes deliver what they consider to be transformational change in their lives (or not?)

3) In what ways do these young people perceive the effects of such programmes to last when confronted by everyday structural disadvantage?

4) What lessons can be drawn for project providers and funders?

Stage 1 (Year 1) A literature review will examine what is understood as transformation associated with intervention projects with young people with experience of care and other groups, their aims, methods, materials, duration, location and power relations. The review will also draw on the secondary analysis of textual and visual documentation associated with the completed projects funded by the Life Changes Trust that form part of the main project. The student will also participate in the project interviews with care experienced young people involved in current and former projects and the workshops with peer interviewers. Ethical approval will be sought from the Stirling’s General University Ethics Committee for both stages 1 and 2, with careful attention paid to consent, potential distress and confidentiality in the context of the potential subsequent use of visual art and online methods. Findings from the literature review will inform collaborative knowledge exchange events planned throughout the project.

In Stage 2 (Year 2), Field work will continue.  Participant observation of the current ‘live’ projects and interviews with those participants will be undertaken. A literature review for peer-reviewed publication and a report to the LCT will be prepared with supervisor assistance.

In Stage 3 (Year 3) Continue analysis, and writing up. Participation in knowledge exchange events. Publication on the meanings of transformation to care experienced young people prepared alongside supervisors.

Eligibility and availability

The successful applicant will have:

  • A degree level qualification in a social science- either an excellent undergraduate degree or Master’s degree
  • A track record of very good performance in previous academic studies
  • An interest in qualitative sociological research and creative methods
  • An interest in the research areas and methodologies involved in the project
  • Skills in time management and completion of work.

Other desirable attributes include:

  • Experience and skills in qualitative research and creative methods
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Experience of research or practice with children or young people
  • Knowledge of relevant fields such as childhood or youth studies
  • Applications would be welcomed from people with care experience.

The studentship provides full fees (at UK/EU rates), along with a living allowance and a training grant (at ESRC rates). Applications from (non-EU) overseas candidates will be considered, however, they will be required to pay the difference in fees between the Home/EU and Overseas rates. The studentship is open to applicants with an excellent undergraduate or Master’s level qualification in a social science or related discipline.

The study will be supervised by University of Stirling academics:

Dr. Sarah Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Dr Grant Gibson, Lecturer in Dementia Studies
Dr. Andrea Priestley, Lecturer in Education

In addition to the monthly supervision meetings and meetings with external partners, the doctoral student will also receive mentoring and support from the Child Protection and Wellbeing research group, working with senior researchers and PhD students with interests in related areas. These research groups run regular seminars, research discussions and training events, and will provide opportunities for the student to meet and benefit from advice from a wide range of staff and other research students with relevant expertise. The doctoral researcher will further benefit from advanced training events and workshops at the Stirling Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) and external institutions, including additional support from the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership.

How do I apply?

Applications should include:

- a covering letter (referring to the essential and desirable criteria above);

- a full CV including the names of two referees (at least one referee should be an academic);

- a transcript of grades achieved during previous university studies;

- a sample of the candidate’s written academic work (see below); 

The sample of academic work should be up to 2000 words, comprising a piece of work (or an extract from a longer piece of work), that the candidate has submitted in their previous University studies, and that demonstrates their competency as a prospective PhD candidate.

Applicants should send all documentation to by 9am on 2nd September 2019. (Please cc this information to

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview in Stirling or via online methods at a date in mid-September.

For further information, please contact Dr Sarah Wilson, or tel 01786.467706

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