Advancing knowledge of Autism in rare genetic syndromes

Applications are invited for a fully-funded (fees and stipend) PhD to begin in October 2020. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Jo Moss and Professor Emily Farran on research which aims to understand atypical patterns of autism in children with rare genetic syndromes associated with intellectual disability (ID). This PhD forms part of a larger Network of research, funded by Cerebra, to improve clinical outcomes in children with genetic syndromes associated with ID. The research conducted by the successful PhD candidate will contribute to the wider Network of research, which is being led at University of Surrey (Dr Jo Moss), Aston University (Dr Jane Waite), University of Birmingham (Dr Caroline Richards) and Warwick University (Dr Hayley Crawford). Applications will close on 7 August 2020.  

Start date
1 October 2020
Three years
Application deadline
Funding source
Cerebra and University of Surrey
Funding information

Full UK/EU tuition fee. Funding for this project is available to citizens of the UK/EU. 

Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2020/2021) 


Children with genetic syndromes associated with intellectual disability are more likely to show characteristics of autism relative to other children with intellectual disability who do not have a genetic syndrome and to the wider general population (Moss & Howlin, 2009; Richards et al., 2015). Despite this increased risk, recognition of autism and related characteristics as part of clinical practice is significantly reduced in this population, leading to poorer long-term prognosis for these individuals (Reilly et al., 2015). Contributing to these lower recognition rates is the fact that the presentation of autism characteristics is often atypical within individual syndrome groups and highly heterogenous across different genetic conditions (Moss et al., 2013). The aims of this PhD are to:  

i: evaluate the social-cognitive mechanisms that underly the development of atypical presentations of autism in individuals with genetic syndromes.  

ii: identify the predictive factors that contribute to the complex pattern of heterogeneity of autism characteristics evident in this population. 

iii: consider how these complexities impact on the utility of existing autism diagnostic assessments for this population.  

The successful candidate will use a range of research methods including informant questionnaire surveys, behavioural observation and eye-tracking methods to address the aims. They will communicate with families and stakeholders to ensure effective dissemination of the work, as well as traditional scientific communication via academic papers and conferences. They will contribute to the wider Network of research and work with PhD students and researchers across the Network. 



Reilly et al (2015) ASD, ADHD, mental health conditions and psychopharmacology in neurogenetic syndromes: parent survey. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 59:307-18 

Moss J & Howlin P (2009). Invited Annotation - Autism spectrum disorders in genetic syndromes: Implications for diagnosis, intervention and understanding the wider ASD population. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 53, 852-872. 

Richards et al., (2015). The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder phenomenology in genetic disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis Lancet Psychiatry, 2, 909-916. 

Moss et al., (2013). Delineating autism spectrum disorder characteristics in Cornelia de Lange and Fragile X syndromes.  American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 118, 55-73. 

Related links
Cerebra Funding for The Cerebra Network for Neurodevelopmental Disorders FIND: Further Inform Neurogenetic Disorders Cerebra: Working wonders for children with brain conditions

The school of Psychology at the University of Surrey comprises a large community of academics and professional clinicians undertaking innovative and high-quality research pertaining to issues across the life-course with a specific focus on wellbeing and psychological health. A key aspect of research conducted at the University of Surrey is working with non-academic partners, in which the School of Psychology has a very successful track record. In REF 2014, 98% of Surrey research was classified as world leading, internationally excellent or internationally recognised. 93% of research assessed in the Allied Health submission was considered of 4* or 3* quality, placing the University of Surrey in the top 10 UK universities for Allied Health professions.   

The School of Psychology is one of the largest, most active and forward-looking postgraduate training departments in the country offering excellent facilities for research and training. Having been newly refurbished during 2019, the School of Psychology has state of the art teaching and research lab facilities. 

Eligibility criteria

The studentship is available to UK or EU candidates.

If English is not your first language, you will be required to have an IELTS Academic of 6.5 or above (or equivalent), with 6.0 in each individual category.


• At least a high 2.1 bachelor’s degree in Psychology or a related field, or on track to be awarded such a degree before 1 October 2020  

• At least a high 2.1 grade in a research-based dissertation conducted as part of an undergraduate degree, or equivalent research experience (e.g. through volunteering with a research team)  

• A strong interest in research and a high level of motivation to develop research ideas

• Excellent interpersonal and organisational skills  

• Some knowledge of statistics and a willingness to learn more advanced methods  

• English language proficiency  

• Ability to work independently when required but to seek supervision appropriately  

• Personal or professional experience working with individuals from vulnerable populations (e.g. children, individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders) and/or their families  

• An understanding of how to work with stake holding organisations to plan, develop or conduct useful research and demonstration of the skills necessary to do this well.


Desirable (but not essential):  

• A first class bachelor’s degree from a research intensive university in Psychology or a related field  

• Experience of conducting research with individuals from vulnerable populations and/or their families  

• Evidence of being able to disseminate research findings (e.g. via a seminar or conference presentation, or a journal publication) 

• Familiarity with open research practices.

How to apply

Prospective candidates are required to apply first using the University of Surrey on-line application system. Although the standard application deadline is 20 July, you will be able to apply until the 7 August deadline for this studentship.

With your application, please provide: 

  • A two-page project proposal for the PhD, outlining a plan for your PhD research. The project can include a single syndrome or multiple rare syndromes associated with ID. It can address one or more of the stated research aims. Within the two-page proposal, please include a 250 word lay-summary suitable for families of children with rare genetic syndromes, explaining the purpose and value of the research

  • CV 

  • Two references 

  • Transcript of grades 

Interviews will be held w/c 17 August 2020. 

Application deadline

Contact details

Jo Moss

+44 (0)1483 686880

Joanna Moss
AD 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686880

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