HDR Scholarship - Exploring the placebo effect in psychiatric clinical trials

Applications now open. A PhD scholarship is available to initiate and conduct research on the topic 'Exploring the placebo effect in psychiatric clinical trials'.

Research topic

By providing crucial evidence on effectiveness and side-effects, clinical trials are an all-important step in getting new, helpful medical treatments into actual use. But what happens if aspects of this trial process make it hard for researchers to measure a beneficial effect?

Clinical trials, and particularly those in psychiatry, have been hindered by a rise in the placebo response, whereby people receiving a placebo control (rather than active treatment) still improve because of the concerted attention of staff during a clinical trial – masking the effects of an otherwise beneficial treatment. The problem is that the placebo itself cannot be prescribed as an ongoing therapeutic tool: the effect wains once a trial is completed, and in the real world, it is unfortunately neither feasible nor affordable to recreate the same level of personal attention.

So are we missing out on promising compounds because trial data cannot demonstrate their benefits?

This project addresses an important need across diverse diseases (psychiatric and beyond) and drugs: exploring ways to reduce the placebo effect within randomised placebo controlled trials.

It will sit within supportive broader groups including CREDIT, The Centre of Research Excellence for the Development of Innovative Therapies for Psychiatric Disorders.

Project aim

This project aims to pilot an intervention that could reduce the placebo effect in randomised control trials that rely on placebo to reveal the effect of an active drug.

The incoming PhD candidate will be integral to recruiting a cohort of participants to take part in focus groups and individual interviews explaining the placebo effect and the proposed intervention. The results of the project will be used to inform clinical trial designs in the future and is likely to be valuable in influencing research and treatment development for a broad range of diseases.

Important dates

Applications close 5 pm, Monday 13 April 2020.


This scholarship is available over 3 years.

  • Stipend of $28,092 per annum tax exempt (2020 rate)

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • be a domestic candidate (domestic includes candidates with Australian Citizenship, Australian Permanent Residency or New Zealand Citizenship)
  • meet Deakin's PhD entry requirements
  • be enrolling full time and hold an honours degree (first class) or an equivalent standard master's degree with a substantial research component

Please refer to the research degree entry pathways page for further information.

How to apply

Learn more about submitting a successful application on the How to apply page.


Contact us

For more information about this scholarship, please contact Associate Professor Olivia Dean

Associate Professor Olivia Dean
Faculty of Health
Email Olivia Dean
+61 3 4215 3300