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Fully funded ESRC Phd interdisciplinary studentship (3 or 1+3 years) on differential mortality in the 1918 Influenza pandemic, University of Cambridge

Cambridge ESRC DTP Interdisciplinary Studentship 2023: Influences on differential mortality in the 1918 Influenza pandemic

The experience of living through the Covid19 pandemic has re-focused attention on the interdisciplinary nature of understanding infectious disease – particularly how to explain the differential impact on different groups within society. Some societal groups suffer more than others because of the interaction between the way a particular disease outbreak manifests (e.g. mode of transmission, incubation period, infectivity, case-fatality) and the behavioural and structural forces which lead to differential vulnerability and exposure to risk. In addition, societal responses, including individual behaviour and governmental or organisational non-pharmaceutical interventions, can disrupt (or possibly exacerbate) transmission pathways and produce important feedback mechanisms.
It is increasingly recognised that an interdisciplinary perspective is fundamental to understanding these complex interactions, how they contribute to transmission and therefore drive the dynamics of epidemics experienced within populations. This understanding is vital for preparing, responding or indeed preventing the next pandemic. Research on Covid19 is starting to reveal mechanisms and inter-relationships, but data availability means that research is concentrated in places with better data, and is hampered by the fact that the pandemic is not yet fully over. Research on pandemics should therefore not be limited to this most recent experience. Examination of a diversity of epidemic outbreaks in different circumstances is needed to generate more robust modelling assumptions, and there is still much to learn from previous pandemics which we can study in their full historical context. Pandemic research should also study other diseases with pandemic potential, of which influenza viruses are still of the greatest concern given their diversity, wide host range, high rate of evolution and the existence of highly pathogenic variants.

As the most widespread and deadly pandemic in an era with relatively good data, the 1918 influenza pandemic provides an ideal case study for the study of geographic patterns over different time frames. Largely neglected for much of the 20th century, research on the 1918 outbreak has enjoyed a considerable revival, and recent studies reveal its unequal impact and the role of social and structural influences. However, research is still mostly focused on individual countries and localised experiences, and has largely taken place within particular disciplinary boundaries (history, economics, or medicine for example). There is still little consensus of how the pandemic spread over space and why some countries and localities suffered more severely than others.
This studentship will therefore offer an opportunity to contribute to this area of knowledge from an interdisciplinary perspective. It will involve the collation of a range of existing data, which can be analysed using demographic methods, paying attention to contextual issues and influences, and developing theories and hypotheses for the observed differences in spread. To address the dynamic feedback between changes in behaviour and the risk of transmission during a pandemic, mathematical models will be developed to explore scenarios and make testable predictions based on the identified hypotheses. The student will be encouraged to design their own project according to their interests, within this broad remit of investigating the influences on differential mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Cambridge ESRC DTP studentships are open to all students who meet the required academic conditions.
An ESRC DTP studentship will cover Home rate fees and provide £17,668 p.a. in living costs (current rates). DTP students also receive a personal allowance for additional training costs, and can apply for further funding to pursue fieldwork, academic exchange, and collaboration with non-academic partner organisations.

What to do next

You can find out more about the Cambridge ESRC DTP at: and read about some of the opportunities that will be available to you.

You can find out more about the Department of Geography at and the Department of Veterinary Medicine at

Please address any questions about this studentship to Professor Alice Reid at
Applications for this studentship should be made to the Department of Geography (see

PhD position
University of Cambridge
United Kingdom
Closing date
January 1st, 2023
Posted on
November 21st, 2022 09:23
Last updated
November 21st, 2022 09:23