2020 applicants
Postgraduate Research Opportunity

Brain mechanisms underpinning green exercise wellness


Title: SCH30: Brain mechanisms underpinning green exercise wellness

Funding: A full Home/EU fee waiver or equivalent fee discount for overseas students  (£5,103 in 2020-21) (further fee details - international students will need to pay the balance of their fees) plus a doctoral stipend equivalent to the RCUK Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,285 in 2020-21).

Application deadline: Tuesday 31 March 2020

Start date: October 2020

Duration: 3 years (full time)

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in: School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences (in collaboration with Department of Psychology)

This opportunity is now closed. View our open opportunities.


The term ‘Green Exercise’ (GE) originated at Essex; much of the pioneering conceptual research was conducted here.

Research evidences that GE (physical activity in greenspaces) can enhance affective states and attention levels and reduce stress compared to equivalent exercise in other environments. Environments play a key role in activity choices and promotes wellness.

To date GE research has focused on measuring psychological outcomes of engagement but hasn’t investigated underpinning mechanisms.

Novel developments in neuroscience and brain stimulation allows functional characterisation of the brain circuits underlying wellness. These techniques involve non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate functional changes in neural activity.

The project

This PhD project will combine EEG and TMS with a systematic GE program to characterise functional changes in affective brain circuit linked to GE.

We will contrast brain affective responses before, during and after GE versus indoor exercise. Then, we will characterise the role of the affective brain areas towards functional changes associated to GE.


Significant advancement of our understanding of the neurobiology underpinning GE and its benefits for wellbeing.

This will form the basis for translational research to inform environmental, governmental and public health policy and practice, generating wider impact and wellness opportunities.


The award consists of a full Home/EU fee waiver or equivalent fee discount for overseas students (further fee details), a doctoral stipend equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,285 in 2020-21), plus £2,500 training bursary via Proficio funding, which may be used to cover the cost of advanced skills training including conference attendance and travel.


Dr Alex Sel


Department of Psychology, University of Essex

Dr Alex Sel is a new Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. Dr Sel has a strong reputation in the fields of neuroscience and neuroplasticity (with an emphasis on affective processing) through the work she has developed and published in high-impact factor journals (3-4*, Cerebral Cortex, Journal of Neuroscience). Dr Sel has over 12 years’ experience using EEG and has devoted the last four years to develop new TMS-EEG techniques in the context of her personal research grants.

Dr Jo Barton


School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, University of Essex

Jo heads up the Green Exercise Research Team and was primarily responsible for the REF2014 Green Exercise impact case study (4*). Her research focuses on how we can use natural environmental settings as a vehicle to drive behavioural change and promote wellness. Jo’s academic background is in sport and exercise science, health and wellbeing, and outcome evaluation of nature-based activities. Her publications and output in this research area are internationally recognised.


We are looking for applicants with a BSc or MSc. in psychology, sport and exercise psychology and/or neuroimaging techniques/data, or other related discipline.

How to apply

You can apply for this postgraduate research opportunity online.

Please include your CV, covering letter, personal statement, and transcripts of UG and Masters degrees in your application.

The University has moved to requiring only one reference for PhD applications and these can be received after a conditional offer has been made so the absence of these will not hold up the recruitment process.

Instruction to applicants

When you apply online you will be prompted to fill out several boxes in the form:

  • For "Course title" please put "Sport and Exercise Psychology", tick "postgraduate research" and hit "search". This will bring up a list of matching courses, select the one marked "full time" and "PhD".
  • For "Proposed research topic or area of research" please put the title of this studentship (SCH30: Brain mechanisms underpinning green exercise wellness)
  • For "If you have contacted a potential supervisor..." please put the name of the lead supervisor (Dr Mike Rogerson)

If you have any informal queries about this opportunity please email the lead supervisor, Dr Mike Rogerson (mike.rogerson@essex.ac.uk).

You can find the terms and conditions of this studentship here (PDF).

Student and academic working at a board together
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