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Co-design and test an intervention to increase engagement in pulmonary rehabilitation in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and Brunel University London are providing a PhD studentship with full funding and a training budget to co-design and undertake feasibility and acceptability testing of a very brief behavioural change intervention to increase referral and uptake rates for pulmonary rehabilitation amongst people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

This studentship will be based in the Department of Health Sciences, College of Health Medicine and Life Sciences at Brunel University London and funded by the NIHR as part of Dr Claire Nolan’s Advanced Fellowship and Brunel University London. It will offer a basic salary in line with the UKRI stipend of approx. £20,662, Home/EU tuition fees, for a maximum of 36 months, and a training budget of £2,951 to develop skills required to undertake the project. The preferred start date is January 2nd 2025.


Pulmonary rehabilitation, an exercise and education programme for people with a lung disease called COPD, improves breathlessness and decreases the frequency of hospitalisations. National data report that pulmonary rehabilitation referral and uptake rates are low, with ethnic minority groups, those living in deprived areas, women and older people less likely to be referred. Increasing the number of people receiving pulmonary rehabilitation is an urgent research priority.

Very Brief Advice, which is widely used in the NHS, is an evidence-based behavioural change approach that increases the referral rate to smoking cessation services and uptake of smoking cessation. It involves an online training programme for healthcare professionals that provides training in Very Brief Advice. As referral and uptake are behavioural issues, adapting Very Brief Advice, a behavioural change approach, to enable healthcare workers to discuss pulmonary rehabilitation with patients may be a plausible way to increase referral and uptake rates.

The PhD project will involve co-design and investigation of the feasibility and acceptability of conducting a full-scale cluster-randomised controlled trial of a very brief behaviour change approach, for healthcare professionals to assist conversations on pulmonary rehabilitation with people with COPD. The doctoral researcher will undertake both qualitative and quantitative research, including focus groups, co-design workshops, and mixed-method feasibility cohort study. With the support of Dr Nolan, they will lead on patient and public involvement activities and be a member of the study’s independent advisory group and trial steering committee.

We envisage that data generated from this PhD will help to inform a future full-scale trial of the proposed intervention.

The project will involve collaboration with patient and public involvement representatives, National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training, patient support networks, primary and secondary care centres and Dr Nolan’s wider research team.

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Claire Nolan (Dr Claire Nolan | Introduction | Brunel University London) and Prof Cherry Kilbride (Professor Cherry Kilbride | Introduction | Brunel University London), with developmental support provided by Dr Emma Norris (Dr Emma Norris | Introduction | Brunel University London)

For informal discussions about this studentship, please contact Dr Claire Nolan (


Candidates should have an undergraduate degree (first or upper second class) or equivalent qualification in a health science subject, behavioural science or psychology. A Master's qualification in an area relevant to the proposed project, experience working in the NHS or healthcare environment, and undertaking research with people living with chronic respiratory disease would be desirable. Applicants who have not been awarded a degree by a University in the UK will be expected to demonstrate English language skills to IELTS 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in any section).

How to apply

If you wish to apply, please e-mail the following to by 14th April 2024.

  • An up-to-date CV.
  • A single-page A4 single-spaced personal statement stating why you are a suitable candidate (i.e. outlining your qualifications and skills).
  • One example of your academic writing (e.g. an essay, a section from an undergraduate or a Masters dissertation).
  • A summary of your teaching experience or the teaching activities you feel you could support.
  • Names and contact details for two academic referees.
  • A copy of your highest degree certificate and transcript.
  • A copy of your English language qualification, where applicable.

Short-listed applicants will be required to attend an interview. Applicants chosen for interview will be instructed to submit a formal online application via Admissions. Interviews will follow shortly after the application deadline.

For further information about how to apply, please contact the College of Health and Life Sciences Postgraduate Research Student Office on

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Claire Nolan - Dr Claire Nolan is a Lecturer in Physiotherapy in the Department of Health Sciences and an NIHR Advanced Fellow with clinical expertise in pulmonary rehabilitation. Dr Nolan completed her PhD in Imperial College London in 2018 on gait speed and prognosis in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Dr Nolan’s research interests include pulmonary and remote rehabilitation strategies, increasing engagement in rehabilitation programmes and outcome measure validation in people with chronic respiratory disease, particularly chronic obstructive disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, as well as multiple long-term conditions. She has expertise in mixed-methodologies, feasibility and randomised controlled trials, cohort studies as well as intervention development. Dr Nolan is an Honorary Senior Research Physiotherapist in the Harefield Respiratory Research Group, Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals, and a committee member of the NHSE National Respiratory Programme, NICE Early Value Assessment of digital technologies to deliver pulmonary rehabilitation for adults with COPD and the British Thoracic Society Quality Standards for Pulmonary Rehabilitation committee.

Emma Norris - Dr Emma Norris is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health, within the Department of Health Sciences and Co-Chair of the Health Behaviour Change Research Group. She is Deputy Lead of the Division of Global Public Health and Lead of MSc Public Health and Behaviour Change (online). Dr Norris is a researcher in behaviour change and health psychology, exploring evidence synthesis of behaviour change interventions, as well as development and assessment of physical activity, smoking cessation and digital interventions. Before joining Brunel, Dr Norris was a Research Fellow at the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London working on the Human Behaviour-Change Project: synthesising published literature on behaviour change using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence. Dr Norris' PhD tested Virtual Field Trips as physically active lesson interventions for primary-school children. Dr Norris is also an advocate for Open Science. She established and Chairs Brunel's Open Research Working Group and is Brunel's UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) Local Network Lead. She is also interested in designing behaviour change interventions to facilitate Open Science behaviours in researchers. Dr Norris is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA). She is Co-Chair of the European Health Psychology Society’s Open Science Special Interest Group. Emma is an Associate Editor for Health Psychology & Behavioral Medicine and Cogent Psychology. Follow Dr Norris' research and updates on Twitter: @EJ_Norris