Anxiety in individuals with rare genetic syndromes associated with intellectual disability

Applications are invited for a fully-funded (fees + stipend) PhD to begin in October 2021. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Jo Moss and Dr Chris Askew on research which aims to understand anxiety in children with rare genetic syndromes associated with intellectual disability (ID) and the association between anxiety and autism symptomatology in this population. The successful candidate will join the Neurodevelopmental Research Lab at the University of Surrey and will collaborate with researchers within the Cerebra Network for Neurodevelopmental Disorders. 

Start date
1 October 2021
Three years
Application deadline
Funding source
The University of Surrey, Project-led Studentship Award
Funding information
  • Full tuition fee covered (UK, EU and International)
  • Stipend at £15,609 p.a. (2021/22)
  • Research Training Support Grant of £1,000 p.a.
  • Personal Computer (provided by the department).


Individuals with genetic syndromes and intellectual disability experience poorer mental health outcomes compared to typically developing peers. Despite this, identification of clinically relevant sequelae remains challenging in this population, which precludes equal access to clinical services. Identifying ‘syndromic’ manifestations of clinical and behavioural outcomes is critical to ensuring appropriate diagnosis and intervention in these populations. The research outlined in this proposal will directly address this challenge in relation to anxiety and autism symptomatology in individuals with Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS).   

CdLS is caused by mutations on chromosomes 5, 10 or X. Individuals with CdLS evidence increased risk for autism and anxiety (Kline et al., 2016; Moss & Howlin, 2009; Richards et al., 2015). This risk increases with age (Groves et al.,2021). Prevalence of autism ranges from 50%-60%. Extreme shyness, selective mutism and social anxiety are characteristic of social difficulties in CdLS. These characteristics are also indicative of anxiety related conditions. This overlap in behavioural phenomenology and the high level of co-morbidity for both autism and anxiety in CdLS presents a complex picture. An accurate understanding of the phenomenology of anxiety in CdLS and the mechanisms underlying its co-occurrence with autism is critical in order to develop sensitive methods of recognising these disorders when they occur and treating them effectively. 

The aims of this PhD studentship are: 

  1. To evaluate the behavioural and cognitive characteristics of anxiety in individuals with CdLS. 
  2. To understand which factors mediate the association between anxiety and autism in CdLS. 

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.  

Related links
The Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Foundation Further Inform Neurogenetic Disorders Cerebra Funding
Additional notes

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


  • At least a high 2.1 bachelor’s degree and an MSc degree, one of which needs to be in Psychology.  
  • 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.

This studentship is opened to UK, EU and international applicants. 

How to apply

Prospective candidates are required to apply first using the University of Surrey on-line application system on the Psychology PhD page

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. 

Application deadline

Contact details

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

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