Funded Studentship: Using Virtual Reality to explore the inner perceptual world of autism

ESRC Studentship advertisement 

ESRC Collaborative Award: Using Virtual Reality Technology to Explore the Inner Perceptual World of Autism

Autism, a common neuro-developmental condition, affects at least 1% of the UK population. Autism is partly characterized by sensory difficulties, such as over- or under-responsiveness to certain types of lighting and everyday noises, and an almost obsessive desire for particular types of sensory stimulation, known as “sensory seeking” behaviour. To date, most research on sensory aspects of autism has used parent/caregiver-reports, combined with a smaller amount of self-report data from those able to speak for themselves and further data from lab-based experiments. So far, however, despite these data providing us with some fascinating insights, we have yet to fully appreciate precisely what is going on in the “inner perceptual world” of autism, although it is clear that it is qualitatively different from what typical individuals experience.

In this project we propose the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology to explore this inner perceptual world. VR technology has become much less bulky and much more affordable in recent years, and the availability of software has burgeoned. In our experiments we aim to explore perceptual worlds by asking people to illustrate their experiences using the powerful and compelling creative tools now available for use in VR environments, such as Tiltbrush ( . We will use a combination of quantitative analysis of participants’ responses to questionnaires with qualitative analysis of both their verbal descriptions (if available) and of their audio-visual creations to further understand the nature of their inner perceptual worlds. Furthermore, we will use our experience in objective behavioural experimentation to embed game-like tasks into the created environments to explore our participants’ perceptual limits more objectively. This collaborative project will further our understanding of the inner perceptual world of autism and result in the development of a suite of versatile VR software tools together with new techniques of creative expression for those with communication difficulties.

An ideal candidate for this PhD would have a good honours degree in psychology or a related discipline, experience of working with autistic individuals, an interest in Virtual and Augmented reality technology and a flair for inter-disciplinary research.

The PhD is funded by the ESRC. It will be supervised by Dr. David Simmons ( (cSCAN, School of Psychology: and Dr. Neil McDonnell ( (Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience ) , School of Humanities) in collaboration with technology company Soluis Group Ltd ( ) and a broader inter-disciplinary team of academics and charities.


Home/EU applicants are eligible to apply.

ESRC eligibility information:

ESRC Eligibility Checker Tool:

First or Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) or a Master’s qualification or equivalent are required

The Award

The scholarship is open for +3 (3 year PhD only) or 1+3 (M.Sc + PhD) entry commencing in September 2018 and, depending on your eligibility for a full award (see ESRC Eligibility information and Checker Tool above), will provide:

  • a stipend at the RCUK rate (2018-19 rate is £14,777 full-time / £8,666.20 part time)
  • 100 % tuition fee waiver
  • access to the Research Training Support Grant

If a fees only award is granted (see ESRC Eligibility information and Checker Tool above), this will provide a 100% tuition fee waiver only.

How to Apply

All applicants should complete and collate the following documentation then attach to a single email and send to with the subject line ‘ESRC Collaborative Studentship: Inner Perceptual World of Autism. Scholarship application‘ by  Friday, 15th June 2018

  1. Academic Transcript(s) and Degree Certificate(s)

Final or current degree transcripts including grades and degree certificates (and official translations, if needed) – scanned copy in colour of the original documents.

  1. References

2 references on headed paper (academic and/or professional).

At least one reference must be academic, the other can be academic or professional. Your references should be on official headed paper. These should also be signed by the referee.

If your referees would prefer to provide confidential references direct to the University then we can also accept the reference by email, from the referee’s official university or business email account to clearly labelling the reference e.g. “<applicant name> Inner Perceptual World of Autism: Scholarship Reference”

  1. Copy of CV
  2. Statement of Interest

While the broad aims and approaches to the research have been established (see description, above) please explain why you are interested in the topic, provide your thoughts on the issues that are raised, and suggest how you would approach the work plan. Your response should not be more than 2 pages.

  1. Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership Equal Opportunities Form
  2. Copy of the ESRC Eligibility Checker Tool outcome

Any application which fails to meet the above requirements will not be considered.

For further information or details about the Project

Please contact Dr. David Simmons (

Selection Process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified of the decision soon after the deadline.

All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within the College of Science and Engineering.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant M.Sc. or PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Closing Date:             15 June 2018