One PhD scholarship valued at $34,863 p.a. is available to undertake research in standardising cannabis metrics, and mapping and mitigating brain and cognitive dysfuntion in substance use and related disorders with entrenched mental health problems.

The successful candidate will support the work of Associate Professor Lorenzetti and her team at the Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program, which is part of the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre at ACU. A rich and dynamic research hub, the program includes 15 staff and research students, and provides a mentorship scheme, regular forums and seminars on interdisciplinary topics, journal clubs specific to the program and psychology, and social activities.

The scholarship is 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. Throughout your candidature, there may be competitive internal funding opportunities to present at both domestic and international conferences.

About the Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program

Addiction is the largest preventable contributor to burden of disease in the community. We believe that everyone vulnerable to or impacted by addiction and mental health problems deserves the opportunity for better life outcomes. We aim to map the core mechanisms of addiction and related mental health problems and to inform targets for prevention, treatment, and policy. To this end, we use highly specialised and hard-to-source biomedical technical skills, MRI equipment and resources; unique longitudinal global consortia/big data; carefully-controlled experiments (e.g., double blind, active placebo-controlled); brain-based interventions (e.g., neuro-feedback, mindfulness); and international multidisciplinary consensus such as Delphis.

Supervisory team

The principal supervisor will be Associate Professor Valentina Lorenzetti. Associate Professor Lorenzetti is an Al and Val Rosenstrauss Senior Research Fellow and NHMRC Investigator Fellow, Lead of the Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program, and Deputy Director of the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre (ACU Profile; ResearchGate Profile).

The successful applicant will work with a multidisciplinary supervisory team, including a network of expert researchers from collaborating international universities, depending on the project. You will have opportunities to train in the required neuroimaging methods in high-quality national/international research centres.

  • Professor Val Curran (Professiorial Research Fellow at Australian Catholic University, Australia; Emeritus Professor of Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology at University College London, United Kingdom)
  • Associate Professor Andrew Zalesky (Principal Research Fellow and head of the Systems Neuropsychiatry and Neuroengineering Research Stream at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia)
  • Associate Professor Bradford Moffatt (Senior Research Fellow at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit, University of Melbourne, Australia)
Available Projects

In the available projects outlined below, you will:

  1. 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
  2. be expected to complete a PhD thesis
  3. undergo training in using state-of-the-art neuroscientific tools to answer fundamental questions on the neurobiology of chronic addictions and mental health problems
  4. work on the translational potential of the scientific findings and collaborate with end-users.

Addiction has been associated with neuroadaptations in the brain reward neurocircuitry as per prominent neuroscientific theories of addiction. Yet it remains untested if such neuroadaptations can be observed in people with severe cannabis use disorders and if they can be mitigated to alleviate cravings and to predict lower chronicity of use.

In this project, you will conduct the world first real-time neurofeedback that gives people with severe substance use disorders online feedback on their own brain function to help them manage strong cravings using a powerful 7T magnet (one of two in Australia) and state-of-the-art neuroimaging tools at the University of Melbourne Biomedical Precinct. This project will be the first to identify with precision:

  1. which brain pathways are affected in people with severe substance use disorders, and how they relate to prominent neuroscientific theories of addiction
  2. how we can empower people to modulate addiction-related brain dysfunction.

To address these research questions, you will learn sophisticated high-res imaging techniques that process in real-time computationally demanding MRI data on brain function.

Alcohol dependence is highly prevalent in males and females and is entrenched with depression. Sex differences are outstanding in distinct aspects of alcohol dependence. Males have a higher rate of alcohol dependence, and females experience stronger cravings, a more rapid transition from recreational use to dependence, and relapse faster. Yet, sex differences in the underlying neurobiology remain unclear due to a focus on mostly male samples.

In this project, you will conduct world-leading research to examine the neurobiology of alcohol dependence, using data from BioBank UK, one of the largest datasets with state-of-the-art neuroimaging data, psychosocial, and cognitive data. You will profile—cross-sectionally and longitudinally—sex differences in the neurobiology of comorbid depression and chronic alcohol use, and consider how the neurotoxic effects of alcohol dependence and depression change over time in affected males and females.

To undertake this research, you will learn sophisticated high-res imaging techniques that measure brain integrity in-vivo. You will also have the opportunity to work with multi-modal imaging data from one of the world’s largest biomedical database, i.e., 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. 

Cannabis products are being decriminalised in many international jurisdictions and are becoming increasingly potent, accessible, and diversified. The lack of standardised measurement and systematic tracking of cannabis potency hinders our ability to understand the mental health risks and potential of contemporary cannabis use.

In this project, you will conduct translational research with implications for policy and public health on the standardised measurement and reporting of cannabis potency nationally and internationally, and the mental health risks and benefits associated with the consumption of cannabis products. You will be working with internationally recognised reseachers in the field of cannabis.

Cannabis Use Disorders (CUDs) are highly prevalent and are experienced by about a third of >200 million cannabis users globally. Yet, the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying CUD are unclear, as well as whether dysfunctions can be mitigated and how these change over time.

This project will access 2 original and recently collected multimodal datasets with cognitive and neuroimaging data, to unpack fundamental questions on the neurobiology of CUD:

  1. Is CUD associated with cognitive or neural changes, and do these changes exacerbate with chronicity of use and related mental health problems?
  2. Can a mindfulness intervention that targets craving mitigate altered cognition or neurobiology, using an active placebo controlled double blind experiment?
  3. How do cognitive and brain alterations in people with a CUD change over time?
Scholarship details
Study mode

Full-time for 3 years, commencing as soon as possible.


ACU's Melbourne Campus


The successful applicant will be awarded: 

  • An Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) stipend scholarship of A$34,863 p.a. (tax-free, partially indexed) for domestic candidates or an ACU Stipend Scholarship of A$34,863 p.a. (tax-free, partially indexed) for international candidates.
  • a Research Training Program Fees Offset Scholarship, that is, a tuition fee waiver for 3 years for domestic candidates, or an ACU tuition fee waiver for 3 years for international candidates.
  • Single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) for international candidates.

International applicants support

If your application is successful as an international applicant, there is the following support:

  • an international support team to assist with candidature commencement
  • student accommodation available to book through the university
  • assistance to cover some of your moving fees, which can be applied for once the move has been completed.

This scholarship is open to high-quality domestic and international applicants. (Domestic candidates are either a citizen or permanent resident of Australia, or a citizen of New Zealand.)

Essential requirements:

  • Ambitious and highly motivated, with a strong interest in addiction, psychopathology, neuroscience, neurodevelopment, and/or policy.
  • Excellent written and verbal English communications skills.
  • Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for the PhD program at ACU. Please see section four of the Higher Degree Research Regulations.

Desirable skills:

  • Experience in biostatistics data analysis
  • Experience in writing publications in peer reviewed scientific journals
  • Experience with statistical and computer programming skills (e.g., scripting, Matlab, LINUX)
  • For neuroimaging projects specifically: experience in neuroimaging and a numerate background – e.g., a Master's degree in computer science, mathematics, engineering, medical image analysis or related discipline.
Research group
Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre

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.

Learn more

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. 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 research at ACU received the top score (5/5), rated as well-above world standard.

How to apply

Applications close: 11:59pm AEDT Friday 6 October 2023

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact and provide Associate Professor Valentina Lorenzetti with a brief expression of interest, CV and academic transcripts before submitting an application for the PhD program and this scholarship.


To be considered for this scholarship, applicants must submit all documentation required for an application to the PhD program at ACU, as detailed in the ‘How to Apply’ instructions, 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, with the subject line ‘Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health’.

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