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Stress and resilience during family structure transitions

A Postgraduate Research Studentship is available to applicants of UK or EU nationality in the Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology at Queen Mary University of London (UK) under the supervision of Dr Kristin Hadfield. 

Project Description

As a result of demographic shifts in the formation of intimate adult relationships and childbearing, children are less and less likely to spend their entire childhoods living with two married, biological parents. These changes in family structure – often termed family instability – are widely viewed as a threat to children’s psychological and social functioning. A recent systematic review by Hadfield and colleagues suggests that more attention should be paid to protective processes and, specifically, what underpins the differences between those transitions which are stressful and those which are not. 
In this project, the student would conduct secondary analysis of available datasets (Young Lives, Growing Up in Ireland, the UK Millennium Cohort, Fragile Families, CANDLE, etc) to examine: 
1) The circumstances under which changes in family structure lead to stress. This will particularly focus on the differences between transitions which are stressful and those which are not stressful. 
2) Sources of resilience during family structure transitions, and how these can be bolstered in the future to improve children’s and parent’s ability to cope with any adversity associated with family transitions. 
3) Rates of and differences between types of family transitions in LMICs (low- and middle-income countries) as compared to high-income countries. The vast majority of this research has been conducted in the United States, which is somewhat unique in its family formation patterns. This research will examine how transitions differ in the US from other high-income countries, as well as from LMICs. 
4) How and under what circumstances changes in family structure during pregnancy and the immediate postnatal period affect children’s mental, physical, and behavioural development during early childhood. 

Research Environment and Training

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) is one of the UK’s leading research-focused higher education institutions, where multidisciplinary research is carried out at the highest level. QMUL is a member of the prestigious Russell group of top UK universities

Joint research group meetings are held on a weekly basis among researchers studying positive psychology and resilience. In these meetings, we present on research updates and discuss highlights from the recent literature. All researchers are part of the QMUL Doctoral College, which provides high-quality training in transferable key skills such as communication, critical thinking, teamwork and entrepreneurship. Free English language courses are also available through the Queen Mary Language Centre.


This studentship is open to UK and EU nationals. It will cover tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at Research Councils UK rates (£16,553 in 2017/18).

Eligibility and Applying

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project (e.g. Psychology, Sociology, Family Science). A Master’s degree is desirable, but not essential.

Candidates must be experienced with longitudinal data analyses. This project will involve multilevel (growth curve) modelling; experience with this type of analysis is desirable but not essential. For candidates who have experience with longitudinal data analysis but need further training in statistical techniques specific to the project, funding will be available for attendance at workshops for advanced statistical skills. Candidates will ideally have some experience with secondary data analyses, and with research on children and families.

Informal enquiries are strongly encouraged. Contact Dr. Kristin Hadfield by email ( with your enquiry and a full CV. For the formal application, please submit an online application before the stated deadline. 

Apply Online


  • Hadfield, K., Amos, M., Ungar, M., Gosselin, J., & Ganong, L. (2018). How do changes to family structure impact child and family outcomes? A systematic review of the instability hypothesis. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 10, 1-46. 
  • Hadfield, K., Ungar, M., & Nixon, E. (2018). Rethinking discourses of family instability. Journal of Family Social Work, 2, 1-16. 
  • Hadfield, K. & Nixon, E. (2017). “He’s had enough fathers”: Mothers’ and children’s approaches to mothers’ romantic relationships following the dissolution of previous partnerships. Journal of Family Issues, 39, 271–295. 
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