Professor Alex Wood: Mental Health and Happiness across Psychology, Economics, and Psychiatry/Medicine

Alex Wood, PhD, Director of the CAMEHELP: The Cambodian Mental Health Project,

Professor, Behavioral Science Centre, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling

Honorary Professor, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester.

I'm is normally heavilly oversubsribed with PhD requests. However I'm is currently taking on up to five self-funded PhD students to work with him on the Stirling Cambodia Mental Health Initiative. I'm only able to take on PhD students as part of this Initiative for reasons that are explained in the About Me page, and students will have to be able to self-fund (fees here, plus living costs) or have their own scholarship, as all of our fund raising energy is going into to building the Initiative. However, there are options to study by distance (and you don't need to be based in Cambodia!). If you are potentially interested in studying for a PhD with me, please:

Opportunities of doing a PhD with the Stirling Cambodia Research Programme

  • Personal supervision by Prof. Wood, supported by a team of expert researchers and clinicians.
  • Options for a PhD by distance from a leading UK university, living in the UK, Cambodia, or other parts of the world. Asian students will benefit from having their supervisor based at least half of the year in Asia.
  • The best way, within the time and resources of a PhD, to maximise global well-being.
  • Leading a project that could improve thousands of lives of the poorest people in one of the lowest income countries in the world.
  • The potential to influence the direction of a developing country’s healthcare system.
  • The opportunity to collect data from patients with psychiatric diagnoses (such as anxiety, depression, etc.) and physical disorders (e.g., HIV, Tuberculosis [TB], Cancer, and all other conditions seen in major hospitals), with the ability to select certain groups to study. Or, alternatively, this data could be collected for you.
  • Assistance putting your work into practice by changing the policies of two large Cambodian’s hospitals (one urban, one rural).
  • To evaluate and quantify the impact of your work on the well-being of hundreds or thousands of people, such as through quality adjusted life years saved, number of patients treated, and the improvement in the patient’s clinical signs (e.g., more lifesaving white blood cells in patients with HIV).
  • Conduct research to save scare charity money to use on other projects by making mental health services more efficient
  • Gain a PhD in Psychology, Medicine, Psychiatry, Economics, Health Sciences, Business, or whatever best describes the work you conduct.

Possible Projects

Assessment of Mental Health in Cambodia
. The parent project will validate assessment techniques of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The PhD project will use similar methods to create and validate techniques to assess other mental health conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Psychotic Disorders etc. Impact quantification will be the adoption of the assessment in treatment protocols and an estimation of the increase in accuracy. This links to a previous PhD supervised by myself on developing a new measure which lead to a student first authored publication in Psychological Assessment during their PhD (ERA A*).

The Efficacy and Cost-Effectiveness of Including Best Practice Mental Health Treatment in HIV Treatment Protocols in the Developing World. This is a planned extinction of the parent project (to be taken over by the student). This is a high priority for the hospitals as they run a UN funded HIV programme which, being excluded from the UN protocols, leaves mental health untreated (or treated with drugs that have toxic interactions with HIV medication). The PhD would be evaluating the cost-effectiveness of adopting a mental health treatment protocol (developed by HIV specialised psychiatrists), with the expectation of a net saving to the HIV programme through increased compliance (e.g., less missed appointments and more consistent medication compliance, leading to lower opportunistic infections needing treatment and less medication failure (requiring the use of new, more expensive medicines). Further, implementation of the programme is expected to lead to a greater survival rate of the patients, indicated by mortality, or by disease markers (e.g., white blood cell count). The project itself quantifies impact, to be supplemented with evidence of adoption in local hospitals, and later potential changes to international aid protocols. This links to a previous PhD supervised by myself on evaluating an intervention which lead to a student first authored publication in Social Science and Medicine during their PhD (ERA A*).

The Efficacy and Cost-Effectiveness of Including Best Practice Mental Health Treatment in Tuberculosis Treatment Protocols in the Developing World. As above, focusing on the hospital’s Tuberculosis (TB) programme.

The Effect of Best Practice Treatment of Parental Post-Partum Depression on Children in the Developing World. One of our partner hospitals has a 50% focus on maternity and children and this PhD would examine the impact of extending the parent project (appropriately modified) to mothers who have recently given birth. In particular, the project will examine the benefits of best practice treatment of the mental health of mothers on childhood physical and developmental-pathological outcomes. This links to a previous PhD supervised by myself on parental well-being and childhood outcomes which lead to a student first authored publication in Child Development during their PhD (ERA A*).

Using Self-Help Treatments to Supplement Mental Health Care in the Developing World. Paper based self-help mental health treatments have shown promise in the West, reducing pressure on overstressed medical services. This project examines the efficacy and cost effectiveness of using such treatments in Cambodia, where mental health is viewed very differently and such programmes will have to be tailored to the local culture. The attenuated efficacy due to low literacy rates will be a specific focus of the project, as will possible solutions aimed at delivering a fully inclusive service. This links to the my work on positive self-help interventions published in Clinical Psychology Review (ERA A).

Using Internet Self-Help Treatments to Supplement Mental Health Care in the Developing World. About half of the population served by the hospitals have access to the internet (usually via smart phone), this project is an important variant on the above, considering the unique challenges of internet delivery. This links to the my work on internet self-help interventions published in Social Science and Medicine (ERA A*).

The Role of B-Vitamin Deficiency in Mental Health in the Developing World. The Cambodian levels of mental health are significantly higher than surrounding counties. The previous assumption by Western healthcare practitioners is that this is due to the Genocide and years of war. However, as would be explored in the qualitative project (below), the feasibility work conducted prior to starting the Initiative generally did not find this represented in patient’s accounts, that tend to focus on psychosomatic factors. The Cambodian population is also known to be deficient in B-vitamins relative to the (also deficient) surrounding countries. There has been a lack of international research into the role of B-Vitamin deficiency in mental health, although both biological models of functioning and medical case studies suggest this may be a major and overlooked factor. This project will investigate the extent to which providing B-Vitamin supplementation (alongside or without anti-depressant therapy) improves depression and anxiety, with impact qualified by money saved through B-Vitamin supplementation verses psychiatric therapy. This links to the my previous work on nutrition published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (ERA A).

Understanding Conceptions of Mental Health Disease and Treatment in Cambodia: A Qualitative Investigation. The parent project is fully quantitative in design, although it is informed by informal interviews and focus groups conducted as part of the feasibility work prior to the start of the Initiative. All of the research in the parent programme (and fellow PhDs) would be enriched by a parallel stream of qualitative work that examines how patients and doctors understand mental health, how this changes as a result of implementing a new treatment programme, how they experience that programme, and how all of the above interact. The structural conditions are in place for a top quality qualitative study with two hospitals (one in a rural environment and one in the urban Capital) and a natural longitudinal design at a time of both organisational and individual change (the implementation of the programme at hospital level, and being diagnosed and treated, respectively). Impact would be via influencing the other projects (which have impact quantification built in). This links to a small qualitative study included in a previous PhD supervised by myself on patients with schizophrenia’s experience of participating in research, which lead to a student first authored side publication in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (ERA B; alongside A* publications), despite only being a single location and time point. This project requires physical attendance in Cambodia at several time points.

The Role of Stigmatisation in Patient Acceptance and Compliance with Mental Health Diagnosis and Treatment in Cambodia: Can Framing Improve Treatment Outcome?  This project specifically addresses concerns about ensuring the overall Initiative is culturally sensitive and that mental health diagnosis and treatment does not unnecessarily cause additional suffering through self-esteem loss and a poor community reaction to the patient. Specifically, the project would investigate which specific aspect of mental health diagnosis and treatment cause the stigmatisation, and it will investigate ways of framing mental health to the patient as to avoid these problems. (For example, feasibility work suggests that stressing the somatic components of mental disorders relative to their cognitive and emotional elements has greater patient acceptability.) Impact would, for example, be quantified through showing the increase in second appointments attended and improvements in dosage compliance once the new framing approach was accepted by the hospitals. This links to the my work on intervention information framing published in Health Psychology (ERA A*).

Personality and Drug Interactions in the Predictor Of Anti-Depressant Treatment Success. Currently, anti-depressant treatments work more weakly (or not at all) for some people, but strongly for another. The same person many have no response from one drug but a strong response from another (even though each are in the same class and should work via the same mechanisms). Current explanations focus on (as yet unfound) genetic susceptibility. Alternatively, it could be due to way that the drug needs to be used interacting with prior-personality traits. For example, all (SSRI) anti-depressant medicine need to be taken daily, as prescribed. However, the immediate consequences of missing a does depends on the exact SSRI used. For example, Sertraline remains in the body for a very short time, meaning that highly unpleasant withdrawal effects will occur the next day. In contrast, fluoxetine remains in the body for several weeks so the effect of inconsistent dosing will not become apparent to later, when it may not be linked to the missed dose. On average both work equally as well. However, the prediction of the project is that people with higher temporal discounting (a behavioural economics measure of not delaying gratification) and lower conscientiousness would do better on Sertraline, as the immediate consequences of missing the dose are what they need to keep to the schedule. The quantifiable impact of this project will be when the hospitals assign patients to on or other (equally as good on average) medication due to personality scales scores to customise their medicine; the greater improvement over the hospitals patients will also be monitored and evaluated. This links to my work on personality and environment interactions, published as two papers in Psychological Science (ERA A*).

Do you want to do a PhD with Prof. Alex Wood and his team?

This depends, it is very important that there is a natural “clicking” between student and supervisor and that each have the same goals and working styles. Please see the links above and the other pages on this website to get a better understanding of me. You and I do decide to proceed to the next level, there will be a no-risk no-commitment period of jointly working on a proposal where both will get to know each other well, as outlined in the applications guide above. Some general questions to as supervisors, and my own own track record are below.

What to look for in any PhD supervisor

What should a student look for in any potential PhD supervisor? Success at a PhD is normally 50% due to the student and 50% due to the quality of the supervision. (This is an appendix to and should be read in conjunction with the Guide for PhD and Early Career.) Key questions (and the lowest that would be an acceptable answer):

(1) How many PhDs have you supervised? (Good answer: Three; many academics supervise about five across their careers)?

(2) Have you ever been asked to examine a PhD at another top-rated university? (Good answer: Yes, once; this shows that their judgement on PhD matters is recognised and valued by other top researchers in the field, and that another university trusts them to examine their students)

(3) Do most (above 70%) of your students complete on time? (Good answer: 3 years full time, unless on an integrated 4-year course including methods training)?

(4) How many, if any, have your students published before the end of your PhD? (Good answer: More than 10-20%, which is the national norm for students in the social and medical sciences)?

(5) Have any of your students published more than one paper? (Good answer: Two, as two papers is considered an excellent quantity of output)?

(6) If any of your students have published, in what quality journal did they do so, as judged using objective metrics? (Good answer: “B” on the ERA list; this is defined as “impressive for an early career researcher”, whereas A is rare and A*s very rare; read this paragraph here to understand what to look for on this critical domain)?

(7) How many of your students get full-time jobs immediately at the end of their PhD (Good answer: Half; nationally, graduates commonly have to work for a year or so part-time or on short contracts)?

(8) What jobs have your students gained upon completion (Good answer: Most students who undertake a PhD want a job in academia, but only around 10% of students manage to do so; the exception is students undertaking a clinical psychology PhD, many of which want to go onto a clinical training course [ClinPsyD or similar] prior to becoming Licenced Clinical Psychologists (the course requires several years of research of clinical experience and is over-subscribed by about 100:1).

Details for all my Prior Students of Prof. Alex Wood (100% completion rate)

Twelve successfully supervised (part and full-time) doctoral dissertations across clinical psychology, economics, medicine, psychology, and social sciences, on both research (PhD) and practitioner (e.g., ClinPsyD) doctorates, plus a one-year 100% research based Master’s degree (MPhil).

2012 – 2015. Elisabeth Garratt-Glass. PhD Social Sciences.

Completed in 3 years. Two papers accepted within a year of PhD completion, including in Child Development (ERA = A*). Moved straight to a Research Fellow position at University of Oxford. Co-supervised with T. Chandola and K. Purdam.

 2011 – 2015. Hilda Ostafo Hounkpatin. PhD Psychology.

Completed on time as part of a fully funded 4-year programme (with 1 year advanced methods training). Published 3 papers during her PhD including in Social Science and Medicine (ERA = A*) and 2 in Social Indicators Research (ERA = A). Employed before the end of her PhD to a Research Fellow position at the University of Southampton. Co-supervised with G. Dunn.

2012 – 2015. Marie Briguglio, PhD Economics (part-time).

Completed in 2.5 years (full time equivalent). Published during her PhD in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management (ERA = A), with further two papers under review. Promoted to Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta immediately following and due to her PhD. Co-supervised with L. Delaney and N. Hanley.

2011 – 2014. PhD Psychology. Alys Griffith (co-supervised with Sara Tai).

Completed in 3 years (despite having employment for the last 6 months). Published 2 papers during her PhD including at Psychological Assessment (ERA = A*). Moved straight to a Research Assistant position at University of Bradford. Co-supervised by S. Tai.

2010 – 2013. Wendy MacDonald, DClinPsy Psychology.

Completed within three years alongside clinical training. Conducted a study of clients in a parenting intervention. Co-supervised with R. Calum.

2013, Joanna Hudson, PhD Medicine.

Conducted a major longitudinal study collecting psychological and biological information from several hundred diabetes patients in hospital settings. PhD research published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research (ERA A). Completed within four years (due to complexity of data collection and full time employment before completion). Appointed to a Research Fellow before the end of her PhD in King’s College, University of London. Co-supervised with C. Bundy, C. Dickens and P. Coventy, and D. Reeves.

2013, Andrew Siddaway, ClinPsyD.

Completed within three years alongside clinical training. Doctoral research published in Journal of Affective Disorders (ERA = A). Awarded a 3-year personal MRC Research Fellowship at a clinician’s salary (> £50,000) following doctoral completion. Co-Supervised with J. Schulz.

 2013, Peter Taylor, DClinPsy.

Completed within three years alongside clinical training with 5 accepted publications, including in Psychological Medicine (ERA A) and Journal of Affective Disorders (ERA A). Moved straight to Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool.

2013, Pat Watkinson, MPhil.

Completed a one-year MPhil (2 years part-time), directly after undergraduate (with extensive childcare commitments and a part-time job), during which she published a paper in Pain (ERA A). Moved straight to being a student Tutor at the University of Manchester with the option of a funded PhD scholarship.

2011, Rebecca Kelly, PhD Psychology.

Completed early within two years (with special faculty agreement) with 4 accepted publications, including in Cognition and Emotion (ERA A) and the Journal of Affective Disorders (ERA A). Moved straight onto clinical training (DClinPsy) at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London. Co-supervised by W. Mansell.

2010, Judith Johnson, PhD Psychology.

Completed within three years with 6 accepted publications, including in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology (ERA A*), Clinical Psychology Review (ERA A), and Behaviour Research and Therapy (ERA A). Moved straight onto clinical training (DClinPsy) at the University of Birmingham. Now Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Leeds. Co-supervised by P. Gooding and N. Tarrier.
2010, Peter Taylor, PhD Psychology.

Completed within three years with 9 accepted publications, including in Psychological Bulletin (A*), Journal of Abnormal Psychology (A*), and Behaviour Research and Therapy (A). Moved straight to clinical training (DClinPsy) at the University of Manchester and currently Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool. Co-supervised by P. Gooding and N. Tarrier.

PhD Examination Experience


Royal Holloway, University of London (External Examiner)
University of Nottingham (External Examiner)
University of Stirling (Independent Chair)


University of Melbourne (Australia; External Examiner)
University of Liege (Belgium; External Examiner)
University of Lahore (Pakistan; External Examiner)