Potential study topics

Potential PhD and Masters study topics

NISAN staff members are able to offer supervision at honours, masters and doctoral level. Below are some ideas for thesis/dissertation topics, which could be undertaken by a potential student, under supervision of one of our academic team members.

In the area of Pediatric TBI (For information contact Dr Kelly Jones)


An implementation study of a telehealth intervention aimed at improving adolescent outcomes following traumatic brain injury

Project summary: As found in other international studies, evidence from our Brain Injury Incidence and Outcomes New Zealand in the Community (BIONIC1) study revealed a peak in incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among adolescents. Effective interventions to facilitate the recovery of adolescents and their families are required and in order to be effective these interventions need to be accessible. Research and development has already been completed to adapt a telehealth intervention specifically designed for adolescents with TBI and their families, known as Teen Online Problem Solving (TOPS). Given the current COVID-19 situation and social distancing requirements, now is a timely opportunity to provide a mechanism for access to TOPS-NZ by a range of service providers. This will be a family choice implementation project. To the best of our knowledge, this proposal represents the first implementation of a telehealth problem solving therapy in NZ where families can select their preferred mode of treatment (in-person, therapist-guided online, or self-guided online) to improve child behaviour and quality of life following pediatric TBI. Should the study demonstrate that family-choice TOPS-NZ can be faithfully clinically implemented, society at large could benefit in terms of improved access to treatment and reductions in lost productivity.  The project is a close replica of a similar project in the USA (led by Professor Shari Wade). This project has been approved by the Health and Disability Ethics Committee and the Auckland University of Technology Ethics Committee.

COVID-19 impacts among a multinational cohort of children and youth with brain injury

Project summary: While the COVID-19 pandemic shares some commonalities with the SARS pandemic, there are significant differences in scale, prolonged social isolation requirements, unprecedented economic devastation, and the widespread closure of early childhood education facilities, schools, and universities. At an individual level, many young people have suddenly lost access to activities that are fundamental to their well-being, such as school, extracurricular activities, and social interactions. These losses are potentially combined with prolonged home confinement (including quarantine and isolation) with its numerous emotional outcomes (i.e. boredom, frustration, confusion and fear), disruptions to learning, and decreased physical activity. Relatedly, the subsequent development of psychological difficulties has been linked with as little as 10 days of quarantine. In addition to impacts on young people, parents are likely facing more daily stressors related to increased childcare demands, possible financial losses, and an unprecedented widespread loss of traditional family supports. Within this unique context, it is reasonable to propose that some children and youth may be more vulnerable than others to the psychosocial effects of pandemics, including those with pre-existing health conditions.

Children and youth with a history of prenatal/neonatal or acquired brain injury (ABI, defined as damage to the brain that occurs after birth), and their families, may encounter further stressors such as additional barriers to accessing rehabilitation and other support services. Opportunities to deliver educational and other supports are greatly reduced in the COVID-19 pandemic due to large-scale home confinement and social distancing restrictions. While there has been a rapid scale-up of telehealth options in response to the pandemic, a range of additional strains may place children and youth with prenatal or ABI, and their families at heightened risk for adverse outcomes. Yet, little is known about the impacts of COVID-19 on children and youth with brain injury, and across different countries. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been an influx of publications speculating upon or researching its effects on school-aged samples of children and youth, including but not limited to mental health, parent-child relationships, caregiver burden, parent burnout and child maltreatment,[8] and family risk and resilience.  This study will focus on the impact of the pandemic on children and youth with prenatal brain injury or ABI in a multinational sample, with particular focus on impacts on their education, service access, behavior, and well-being. The impacts on child and youth will change as the pandemic continues to evolve. Nevertheless, in light of the widening economic crisis and widespread uncertainties surrounding this pandemic, now is a timely opportunity to examine its impacts on children and youth with brain injury and their families, including parent- and youth-self-report and across a multinational context. This project involves study sites in NZ, the United Kingdom and Italy. This project has been approved by the Health and Disability Ethics Committee and the Auckland University of Technology Ethics Committee.