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Design for early detection of symptoms of anxiety and depression in university students

Anxiety, depression, and psychological distress can have a severe impact on university student quality of life and academic performance, and recent studies have highlighted the role that the COVID-19 pandemic has played in exacerbating symptoms. It has been recognised that universities are best positioned to lead on the development of systems of integrated support, recommendations including the provision of efficient links with external care providers and an increase of student awareness of on-campus services. However, comparatively little research has focussed on developing structured and scalable approaches towards detection of early signs of psychological distress in university students.

The project will fill this gap by adopting state-of-the-art user-centred design processes to investigate opportunities and barriers towards implementing scalable methods of detecting early signs of psychological distress based on multimodal student data, including bio-signals. A proof-of-concept prototype for data collection and processing will be developed based on an existing health data logging platform.

The successful candidate will take responsibility of designing, running, and evaluating a range of activities with end users (e.g. university students and staff, as appropriate). He/she will also be in charge of developing a working prototype for data collection, visualisation, and processing.

The ideal candidate’s profile combines proficiency in user-centred design processes with technical competency in relation to a broad range of computer science techniques, including data integration across resources. Familiarity with data collection using wearable devices and with probabilistic inference methods, e.g. relying on machine learning models, will be advantageous. A Masters’ degree is desired but not essential.

The successful candidate will work in the Brunel Design School and will be supervised by Dr Federico Colecchia, who specialises in emerging technologies and innovation at the intersection between technical development and user-centred design. The researcher will work in a stimulating interdisciplinary academic setting and will collaborate closely with the Brunel Division of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences and with the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Strathclyde.

For informal enquiries about the research, please email Federico.Colecchia@brunel.ac.uk.

Supervisors: Dr Federico Colecchia, Brunel Design School; Dr Daniel Bailey, Brunel Department of Life Sciences; Prof Feng Dong (external supervisor), Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)


Federico Colecchia - I am a specialist in emerging technologies and innovation. My research focusses on the integration between technology development and user-centred design to facilitate the achievement of positive societal and economic impact. My work has a marked interdisciplinary character and a significant part of it has been carried out in close collaboration with private sector organisations. My current research focusses on machine learning, and artificial intelligence more broadly, the Internet of Things, and immersive technologies. I have 20+ years of R&D experience in academia and in the private sector, which has led to the establishment of a broad international network of academic and industrial collaborators.  I have been active in Higher Education since 2002 leading undergraduate and postgraduate modules and am presently in charge of a Year 3 undergraduate module covering electronics and microcontroller programming for product design, as well as of the Brunel Design MSc dissertation module. I also teach Systems Design and electronics to Year 2 undergraduate students. I was awarded a doctoral degree (PhD) in Physics from the University of Padova in 2001, following work on a large-scale physics experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the USA. I subsequently built an interdisciplinary research and innovation portfolio focussing on applications of artificial intelligence across disciplinary boundaries with an emphasis on the biomedical domain - brain tumour segmentation from MRI scans, protein-DNA binding site prediction, informed decision making in the pharmaceutical industry. Following my work in Padova and at Stanford, I have been a research staff member at University College London (UCL), Brunel University London and Lund University, honorary research scientist with the UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and project leader in the private sector - artificial intelligence and informed decision making for the pharmaceutical industry. My research has been funded by UK Research Councils, the EU, and private investors, and has involved close collaboration with multinational technology companies such as QinetiQ. Over the years, I have collaborated closely with clinicians, biologists, statisticians, mathematicians, sociologists, psychologists, educationalists, and designers, thereby developing a robust understanding of interdisciplinary collaboration dynamics and a deep appreciation of knowledge exchange and research exploitation pathways. I have published research in computer science, human-computer interaction, design, bioinformatics, and physics, and my academic articles have received more than 6,000 citations (ResearchGate, 2020). I am sole inventor on a US patent on distributed storage and visualisation of large relational datasets. I have delivered presentations at international conferences across academic fields, chaired conference sessions, and peer-reviewed scholarly publications in medicine, human-computer interaction, and physics. Research Expertise and Interests: Artificial intelligence, machine learning, embedded electronics, Internet of Things, immersive technologies, human-computer interaction, user-centred design, data mining, information visualisation. ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Federico_Colecchia Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=wZlM_6YAAAAJ&hl=en Teaching - Embedded Systems for Design - FHEQ L6 Design MSc Dissertation Project (Integrated Product Design) - FHEQ L7 Electronics, Programming & Interfacing - FHEQ L5 Systems Design - FHEQ L5

Daniel Bailey - Dr Daniel Bailey is a Senior Lecturer in Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences in the Division of Sport, Health and Exercise SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences. He is Co-Director of the Centre for Physical Activity in Health and Disease after previously establishing and leading the Sedentary Behaviour, Health and Disease Research Group. Dr Bailey's research investigates the relationship between sedentary behaviour and chronic health conditions, with a particular focus on non-communicable disease. This research includes the epidemiology of sedentary behaviour and associations with non-communicable disease risks, controlled laboratory studies examining the acute effects of breaking up prolonged sitting on cardiometabolic biomarkers, and the development and evaluation of interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity in a range of population groups at risk of adverse health such as people with Type 2 diabetes, office workers, individuals with a spinal cord injury, and older adults with frailty. Dr Bailey has been awarded multiple research grants from funding bodies and industry partners to support his research and has published a large number of research articles in his field of research. He has delivered multiple conference presentations and invited talks across the UK and Europe and was Technical Advisor for the Qatar National Physical Activity Guidelines 2nd edition, 2021. Dr Bailey is Deputy Chair of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Physical Activity for Health Division and is a member of the BASES conference planning group. Dr Bailey was also a member of the scientific global leadershop committee for the 8th International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH) Congress. Dr Bailey has a wealth of experience teaching physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health topics at undergraduate and postgraduate level and uses innovative teaching approaches in his practice including research-informed teaching, bleneded and authentic learning, and flipped classrooms.