Specialist research area: HBMRC "Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health" $33,854 p.a. (full-time)


We offer two PhD scholarships – described in section below “About the PhD Stipend Scholarships”. The 2 PhD scholarships are available to undertake research in the areas of neuroimaging of addiction and mental health. Join us to undertake fun, exciting and innovative research on the brain and mental health. This is inclusive of a $5,000 top up per year in addition to the standard PhD scholarship rates.

The successful candidates will join the recently-founded Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program, where we host a vibrant research team with ~20 people between staff and research students (PhDs, Honours, Masters, volunteers); and a broader research team of the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre (HBMRC) at ACU. The applicants will access a rich and dynamic research hub with a well-organized mentorship scheme, regular forums and seminars on interdisciplinary topics, journal clubs specific to the Program and Psychology, and social activities organized by our fun team.

The Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program focuses on examining the clinical, cognitive and brain mechanisms underlying substance use and related mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders). We believe that everyone vulnerable to or impacted by addiction and mental health problems, deserves the opportunity for better life outcomes. With multidisciplinary methods, we aim to identify the origins, correlates, and harm reduction of substance use, addiction, and mental health problems. Specifically, our research aims to map with precision the neurobiological mechanisms which predate, predict and underscore addiction and mental health problems using unique global consortia, next-generation multimodal brain imaging tools and rigorous experiments; and to trial evidence-based interventions aimed at effectively mitigating addiction-related harms. The successful applicants’ supervisory team will include:

Dr Valentina Lorenzetti
View Valentina's ACU profile
View Valentina's Research Gate profile

Professor Val Curran
View Val's ACU profile
View Val's UCL profile

The successful applicants will work with and have access to a multidisciplinary supervisory team including also a network of expert collaborators from collaborating international universities. You will have opportunities of training in the required neuroimaging methods in high-quality national/international research centres.
Co-supervisors depend on the specific PhD project selected and include:

  • A/Prof Andrew Zalesky (Principal Research Fellow -and head of the Systems Neuropsychiatry & Neuroengineering Research Stream at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, The University of Melbourne, Australia)
  • A/Prof Bradford Moffatt (Senior Research Fellow at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit, The University of Melbourne, Australia)
About Australian Catholic University

ACU is a world-leading research university in our priority areas of education, health, and theology and philosophy. Research excellence at ACU is founded on the principles of social justice and attracts leading experts, students and collaborators from across the globe. These PhD scholarships are offered in the fields of psychology (1701 FOR Code) and exercise science (1106 FOR Code). According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, ACU is ranked in the top 100 Young Universities, worldwide. In the 2018 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assessment, psychology and exercise science research at ACU received the top score (5/5), rated aswell-above world standard.

About the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre (HBMRC)

The Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre (HBMRC) aims to advance knowledge critical to improving mental health, physical performance and well-being. Mental health, brain-related, and developmental disorders have significant negative impacts upon the mortality and social participation of the most vulnerable members of the community and are among the most urgent global challenges of the 21st century. The Centre aims to make significant contributions to mental health, physical performance, participation and well-being by integrating cutting edge research expertise and technology spanning neuroscience, addiction science, clinical psychology, developmental psychology and rehabilitation science to improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of mental health, brain-related and developmental disorders. The Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program is one of three leading research programs of the HBMRC.

About the PhD stipend scholarships

Two (2) PhD Scholarships are being offered in 2022 to support the work of Dr. Lorenzetti and her team at the Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program. The Scholarships are available for competitive and high-performing candidates who are driven to make a difference in the field of neurosciences of mental health and addictions, and who are keen to contribute to our mission.

Project one. Can we retrain the brain in addiction? A novel real time fMRI neurofeedback study
You will conduct world-leading research to unpack novel research questions, including:

  1. Which brain pathways are affected in substance use disorders, particularly in those with more severe use and related mental health problems?
  2. Can we mitigate brain harms in substance use disorders? You will train people with severe addictions, to modulate their own brain dysfunction using state-of-the art online brain training using real-time fMRI based neurofeedback. This will be done for the first time using a very potent 7T MRI scanner based at the Melbourne Precinct, The University of Melbourne? To address these research questions, you will learn sophisticated high-res imaging techniques that process in real-time, computationally demanding fMRI data on brain function
  3. You will work with an ambitious, expert and inclusive supervisory team and the study results will be disseminated in high quality neuroscientific journals, but also to members of the public via presentations.
  4. You will be expected to complete a PhD thesis.

Project two. Unpacking sex differences in the neurobiological mechanisms of alcohol dependence and comorbid depression: A longitudinal MRI study of a large-scale cohort

  1. You will conduct world-leading research to unpack novel research questions about the neurobiological mechanisms of alcohol dependence, using a rich dataset with state-of-the-art neuroimaging data, psychosocial, and cognitive data:
  2. Are men or women most vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of chronic alcohol use?
    a) what are the neurobiological differences between men and women with chronic alcohol use, depression and comorbid alcohol use and depression?
    b) how do the neurotoxic effects of alcohol dependence and entrenched depression change over time in affected men and women?
  3. To address these research questions, you will learn sophisticated high-res imaging techniques that measure brain integrity in-vivo
  4. You will be working with multi-modal imaging data from one of the world largest biomedical database ie the BioBank UK: a large-scale biomedical database and research resource, containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants with comprehensive cognitive, behavioural, clinical and neuroimaging data. https://www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/
  5. You will work with an ambitious, expert and inclusive supervisory team to disseminate study results via publication in high quality neuroscientific journals.
  6. You will be expected to complete a PhD thesis.
PhD eligibility criteria
Scholarship criteria

Essential requirements:

  • Highly motivated, with a strong interest in addiction, psychopathology, neuroscience, neurodevelopment and/or policy.
  • Excellent English written and verbal communications skills.

Desirable skills:

  • Experience in neuroimaging / biostatistics data analysis
  • Experience in writing publications in peer reviewed scientific journals
  • Experience with statistical and computer programming skills (e.g., scripting, Matlab, LINUX).
  • A numerate background – e.g., a Master's degree in computer science, mathematics, engineering, medical image analysis or related discipline
Study mode and location

Full-time for three (3) years based at the Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program, Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre in the School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, Melbourne Campus, commencing as soon as possible. 

Value and duration
  • An Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) stipend scholarship of A$33,854 per annum (tax-free, partially indexed, full-time rate) for domestic candidates or an ACU Stipend Scholarship of A$33,854 (tax-free, partially indexed, full-time rate) for international candidates. The stipend duration is for three (3) years, subject to satisfactory progress and full-time study mode; plus
  • a Research Training Program Fees Offset Scholarship; that is, a tuition fee waiver for three (3) years for domestic candidates or an ACU tuition fee waiver for three (3) years for international candidates.
  • Single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) for international applicants.
Applications close
  • 11:59pm AEST Monday 31st October 2022
How to apply

This scholarship is open to high quality international applicants in addition to domestic candidates who are either a citizen or permanent resident of Australia, or a citizen of New Zealand.

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Valentina Lorenzetti before submitting an application for the PhD program and this scholarship, possibly with a brief expression of interest, cv and academic transcripts:

E: valentina.lorenzetti@acu.edu.au

To be considered for these scholarships, applicants must submit all documentation required for an application to the PhD program at ACU, as detailed in the ‘How to Apply’ instructions on the ACU Research Web Page, plus:

  • A CV detailing relevant academic and practical experience;
  • A cover letter detailing demonstrated interest and/or experience in the program of research described.

For general candidature enquiries, email Candidature Services on res.cand@acu.edu.au, with the subject line ‘PhD Stipend Scholarship specialist research area: Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health’.

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