Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Dr Ashleigh Smith

Main Campus
City East

Applications Close
28 Sep 2023

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate or International Candidate

Tuition Fees:

All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. International students who receive a stipend are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
$32,500 p.a. (Domestic and International)

About this project

Identify dementia risk factors in rural areas. 

If you are keen to further your career in the allied health industry and passionate about dementia risk reduction and ageing well, the University of South Australia – Australia’s University of Enterprise – is offering a hands-on project-based PhD within Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA). 

Dementia has the unenviable claim of being Australia’s second leading cause of death. People living in rural and regional Australia are disproportionately affected. Emerging evidence suggests they are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop dementia compared to their urban counterparts.  

Despite this, there is limited understanding of how dementia risk factors cluster differently in regional and rural communities, compared to people living in major cities. Moreover, few dementia prevention programs include rural and regional populations in their research.  

Even fewer dementia prevention strategies consider the impact of living rurally. This means currently available dementia prevention strategies and interventions may not be contextually or geographically appropriate for people living outside of cities (e.g., walking programs are only safe if there is a footpath and good lighting). 

We know that up to 40% of late-life dementia may be prevented by addressing lifestyle risk factors. To address the inequalities in dementia prevalence in rural Australia we urgently need high quality research showing which dementia risk factors cluster together.  

We also need community level mapping of services and the dementia friendliness of the environment for rural communities for intervention planning. 

Our project will, for the first time, identify how risk factors cluster in different country areas.  This will be an important first step in identifying appropriate personalised interventions for dementia prevention in the most at-risk populations.  

We also want to identify which communities are doing well and where the opportunities are for improvement. A key innovation of this research program will be in-depth community assets mapping, analysis of 2021 Census data and ground truthing the data through community discussions.  

You will become a member of ARENA, under the supervision of esteemed dementia researchers working in the built environment field. Whilst based at City East Campus, you will also be required to collect data in Whyalla and other rural locations. 

What you’ll do

In this project-based research degree, you will first undertake a scoping review of successful elements of health promotion programs in rural Australia. Next, you will expand our successful ACTIVate study outside urban cities. By harmonising measures with our already funded ACTIVate study, the aim is to characterise dementia risk in rural communities at the individual level.  

Finally, you will map services, accessibility and dementia friendliness of rural communities at the community level. This blend of quantitative and qualitative research will give you an enviable breadth of skills and knowledge upon graduation. 

Where you’ll be based 

You’ll be based in the ARENA research centre. ARENA investigates the role of exercise, nutrition and other lifestyle activities in improving clinical and health outcomes. Physical, psychological and sports performance in populations is studied across a wide cross-section of society, ranging from children to elite athletes and people with chronic disease. 

Our research focus ‘Healthy lives through healthy living’ centres around the grand challenge of tackling the growing epidemic of chronic diseases. We focus on real-world issues and bring bold ideas to create solutions which optimise health, function and wellbeing. 

Our mission is to be the leading Australian voice on a global stage by championing research in exercise, nutrition, preventative health and other lifestyle behaviours across the lifespan. 

We work with diverse research partners, end-users and our communities to identify and evaluate solutions, and translate these outcomes into products and changes in policy and practice.

Supervisory team

Financial Support 

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses.  Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $32,500 per annum is available to eligible applicants. Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants will be eligible to receive an increased stipend rate of $46,653 per annum (2023 rates). A fee-offset or waiver for the standard term of the program is also included. For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information for domestic students or international students.

An additional top-up scholarship with a value of $10,000 per annum (paid over 2 years) is available to the right applicant.

Eligibility and Selection 

This project is open to application from both domestic and international applicants.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally, applicants must meet the projects selection criteria:  
  • Experience working or living in rural and regional Australia.
All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project. A merit selection process will be used to determine the successful candidate. 

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time and to be based at our City East Campus in the heart of Adelaide.

Essential Dates 

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer.  Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close on Thursday, 28 September, 2023.

How to apply:

Applications must be lodged online, please note UniSA does not accept applications via email.

For further support see our step-by-step guide on how to apply , or contact the Graduate Research team on +61 8 8302 5880, option 1 or email us at You will receive a response within one working day.

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