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PhD: Personalised Real-Time Models of Suicide Risk and Protective Factors (ref. BAP-2024-378)

The Center for Contextual Psychiatry is a world-leading centre of expertise in Experience Sampling Methodology (ESM). We use this methodology to conduct fundamental research, as well as to investigate how this can be implemented in clinical practice using implementation science. Current substantive research lines include: (1) ESM methodology, statistics, and meta-science; (2) Person-environment interactions in non-suicidal and suicidal self-injury; (3) Person-environment interactions in psychosis; and (4) Development, efficacy testing, and implementation of digital mobile mental health. The CCP is an interdisciplinary and international group of about 25 researchers covering theoretical, experimental, developmental, and clinical psychology, and psychiatry. Our lab is internationally renowned for its expertise in Experience Sampling Methodology and Open Science, and their application in suicide and clinical psychology research. Researchers from the CCP are involved in numerous international research projects, with a wide network of national and international collaborators. The CCP fosters strong collaboration within the research centre, with weekly lab meetings, reading groups, and seminars on broader topics in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. As a PhD student, you will become a member of the CCP team, closely collaborating with fellow PhD students, as well as with postdocs, and research assistants.
For more information and representative publications, see www.ccp-leuven.be.

The Centre for Mental Health and Community Wellbeing (CMHCW) at the University of Melbourne is a centre within the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health. The Centre aims to improve mental health and mitigate the impact of mental illness at a population level. It does this through high-quality, collaborative, interdisciplinary research, academic teaching, professional and community education, and mental health system development. Dr Angela Clapperton works within the Mental Health Epidemiology Unit – a unit specialising in the design and analysis of studies in mental health, including randomised controlled trials, cohort studies, data linkage studies, case-control studies, sample surveys, and meta-analyses.

Unit website: https://gbiomed.kuleuven.be/en...


Suicidal thoughts and behaviours (STBs) are a major cause of distress and mortality worldwide, and often begin in adolescence. Although various theories of STBs from different research perspectives exist, we lack an integrated framework for understanding STBs that covers risk and protective factors at the individual, relationship, community, and society levels. New technologies, such as the experience sampling method (ESM), enable us to capture data in young people’s daily lives, which can help us identify new risk and protective factors at the individual and relationship levels. Data about risk and protective factors at the community and society levels, typically come from large-scale public health databases and have not previously been linked to ESM data. To address this, we need to develop methods for combining ESM and public health databases. This allows us to develop personalised and general models of risk and protective factors for STBs, and moves us closer to personalised medicine for suicide prevention.

This PhD project builds on a ground-breaking, ongoing research programme at the Center for Contextual Psychiatry, KU Leuven, Belgium, with collaborators at the University of Melbourne, Australia. In this project, the student will i) identify individual risk and protective factors for STBs in daily life using existing ESM data from a large adolescent cohort study in Flanders, ii) develop new methodologies to link ESM data with public health data, and iii) collect new ESM data and link this to public health data to develop personalised and generalised models of risk and protective factors for STBs. This PhD project provides a unique and exciting opportunity to study at two leading international centres of expertise in suicide research, live and work in two countries, and benefit from an international and multidisciplinary supervision team.

At KU Leuven, the primary supervisor of the PhD student will be Prof. dr. Olivia Kirtley, with Dr Gudrun Eisele and Prof. dr. Ginette Lafit as co-supervisors. At the University of Melbourne, the primary supervisor of the PhD student will be Dr Angela Clapperton, with Prof. Jo Robinson and Dr Louise La Sala as co-supervisors.

The PhD candidate is expected to complete a PhD-study within a period of 4 years and to spend a minimum of 12 months in Melbourne. It is therefore crucial that the candidate is happy and able to move to Melbourne for at least one year of their PhD. The responsibilities of the PhD candidate on this project will be:

  • Applying quantitative methods to analyze ESM and epidemiological data including time series analysis, multilevel modelling techniques, machine learning, and structural equation modeling.
  • Collecting ESM data from young adults with suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  • Writing papers for publication in international peer-reviewed journals
  • Closely collaborating with researchers at the CCP in the research lines on ESM methodology, statistics, and meta-science, and Person-environment interactions in non-suicidal and suicidal self-injury


The essential criteria for the successful candidate are:

  • A masters degree in Psychology, Statistics, Behavioural Sciences, or a related discipline, with a strong interest in the experience sampling method and working with complex epidemiological data
  • Strong statistical skills (using R), especially with mixed-effects models and time series analysis
  • A strong interest in open science
  • Good analytic and writing abilities
  • Good command of English (written and oral)

Motivated candidates of all nationalities, who have the ability and desire to work in an interdisciplinary and international research environment with a strong commitment to research on experience sampling and measurement, are invited to apply.


The study will lead to a dual PhD degree from KU Leuven and the University of Melbourne. As a PhD student, you will have every opportunity to develop yourself further in your professional career, by studying literature, attending seminars and workshops, participating in international conferences, and interacting with leading researchers from multiple disciplines. In addition, you will become part of (and contribute to) a network of academic and non-academic partners in the field of quantitative methods in behavioral sciences, ambulatory assessment, and open science.

In addition to a competitive salary, KU Leuven offers a number of additional advantages, such as the possibility of flexible working, hospitalization insurance, eco-vouchers, reimbursement for commuting by public transport, inexpensive meals, a KU Leuven bicycle, etc.

The candidate can start from September 2024 onwards.

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality, or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.

For more information please contact Prof. dr. Olivia Kirtley, tel.: +32 16 32 06 04, mail: olivia.kirtley@kuleuven.be or Mrs. Silke Apers, mail: silke.apers1@kuleuven.be.

You can apply for this job no later than July 15, 2024 via the online application tool. Interviews are planned between 22th July and 2nd August. Please note that applications will close once a suitable candidate is identified. Interested applicants are encouraged to submit their application as early as possible.

Apply before: 16/07/2024

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