STARTING SCHOOL Study: Smartphones and Adolescent Risk and resilient factors for wellbeing when transitioning school

Supervised by Dr Victoria Goodyear and Professor Miranda Pallan together with Forward Thinking Birmingham

To apply for this project, please include Goodyear & Forward Thinking Birmingham’ as the project descriptor in the subject heading of your email. 

The aim of this studentship is to explore the relationship between smartphone use and mental wellbeing in adolescents as they transition from primary to secondary school. 

In the UK, it was estimated that 1 in 5 adolescents aged 11-16 had a probable mental disorder in 2022. Transition from primary to secondary school is associated with a reduction in mental wellbeing and the emergence of vulnerabilities associated with increases in mental health conditions. Understanding which individuals and groups are most vulnerable to poor mental health at transition would enable better and more tailored provision of guidance and advice to support school teachers and parents/carers. 

By age 12 smartphone ownership is near universal, which coincides with the timepoint of transition from primary to secondary school and the onset of more than half of mental health disorders. Emerging data suggests that associations between smartphone use and mental wellbeing are developmental, and negative effects are influenced by age and gender. Equally, smartphone use can be beneficial for mental wellbeing, through the use of social media apps (TikTok, SnapChat), and by providing opportunities for social and emotional support, information access, entertainment, and through security affordances of location tracking (e.g., SnapMaps).  

Through a focus on primary and secondary school transitions, there is an opportunity to increase understanding of how smartphone use and developmental risk and resilient factors interface across this period to influence mental wellbeing. 

This is a multi-mixed method iterative study design that will involve: (1) workshops to evaluate and co-produce data collection methods with adolescent participants; (2) quantitative measurements of phone use and wellbeing across the transition period from primary to secondary school; and (3) qualitative focus groups with adolescents to understand their experiences of phone use across the school transition period. 

The PhD student will be integrated with the community schools research programme in Birmingham led by Forward Thinking Birmingham - at Breathe Education (see: The aim of the census is to enable a systematic approach to evaluating effective and sustainable preventative approaches to supporting children and young people’s wellbeing in schools. 

We are looking for a highly talented and dedicated PhD student with a 1st class or 2:1 degree in the field of social sciences, and related to public health, psychology and/or education. An MSc degree in a relevant area is desirable though not necessary. Previous experience with children and adolescent research is desirable. 

Informal enquiries about the project prior to application can be directed to Dr Victoria Goodyear,