HDR Scholarship - The placebo effect in psychiatric clinical trials.

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

Project Supervisor

Additional Supervision


Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus and Barwon Health

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 wanes 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. To secure this scholarship, you must be available to commence by April 2023 or earlier, on a full-time basis. While we are now using a blended on-campus and remote working approach, the candidate must be available to perform some project work in person in Geelong.

Project aim

This project aims to pilot an intervention that could reduce the placebo effect in randomised control trials that rely on a 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 future and is likely to be valuable in influencing research and treatment development for a broad range of diseases.

Important dates

Applications close 5pm, Tuesday 28 February 2023


This scholarship is available over 3 years.

  • Stipend of $33,500 per annum tax exempt
  • International students only:  Tuition fees offset for the duration of 4 years. Single Overseas Student Health Cover policy for the duration of the student visa.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • be a domestic or international 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

Please email a CV and cover letter to A/Prof Olivia Dean. The CV should highlight your skills, education, publications and relevant work experience. If you are successful you will then be invited to submit a formal application.

Contact us

For more information about this scholarship, please contact A/Prof Olivia Dean

A/Prof Olivia Dean
Email A/Prof Olivia Dean
+61 3 42153300