Virtually painless: An investigation into the therapeutic potential of virtual natural environments for chronic low back pain

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship in the Pain Modulation Laboratory. The studentship is for three-years and will start on 1 October 2022


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Psychology (and select the entry point of October 2022), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a research degree.

For more information on the admissions process please contact

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship in the Pain Modulation Laboratory at the University of Plymouth. The studentship is for three-years full-time and will start on 1 October 2022.

Successful applicants will be part of a large, vibrant, highly collaborative community of PhD students and academic staff. PhD students will have access to extensive, modern and well-equipped laboratory facilities supported by a dedicated team of technical staff in the newly constructed Brain Research and Imaging Centre (BRIC).

Project summary

Virtual reality (VR) is an emerging digital therapeutic with many different applications for both acute and chronic pain states. These range from home-based cognitive behavioural therapy to the use of interactive distraction based virtual environments. Simulated natural environments have been demonstrated to have strong restorative effects on physical and mental health in healthy populations, however, the therapeutic potential of using simulated natural environments for use in chronic pain patients is poorly understood.

This PhD project will directly test the applicability of environmental psychology theories within an immersive virtual reality environment on pain and pain related measures in both healthy participants and chronic low back pain patients. The research will involve using psychophysical (e.g. quantitative sensory testing) and psychometric assessments in both healthy participants and chronic low back pain patients.

The successful applicant will supervised by a unique interdisciplinary collaboration involving Dr Sam Hughes (Lecturer in Human Neuroscience), Dr Kayleigh Wyles (Associate professor in Environmental Psychology) and Professor Patricia Schofield (Professor in Clinical Nursing).

Eligibility and funding

Applicants should have first class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification.

The studentship is supported for 3 years and includes full Home tuition fees plus a stipend starting at £16,062 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for Home fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the Home and the overseas tuition fee rates.

Informal enquiries about the project may be sent to Dr Sam Hughes.

Please see a list of supporting documents to upload with your application.

For enquiries about the admission process, please contact the Doctoral College,

The closing date for applications is Sunday 22 May 2022 (midnight, UK time). Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interviews in June. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 31 August should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.