Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Professor Carol Maher

Main Campus
City East

Applications Close
28 Jun 2024

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:
$34,000 p.a. (2024 rate) available to domestic and international applicants

About this project

Join an innovative research project at the forefront of digital health! We are seeking a motivated PhD student to develop and evaluate a cutting-edge AI-powered lifestyle intervention aimed at promoting physical activity and healthy eating. This project offers a unique opportunity to work with leading experts in public health, nutrition, and digital health technology at the University of South Australia’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) Research Centre.

As a PhD candidate, you will benefit from:

  • Hands-on experience in developing and evaluating a state-of-the-art AI health coach.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration with health professionals, government agencies, and community groups.
  • Opportunities to publish your work in high-impact journals and present at international conferences.
  • A supportive research environment with comprehensive mentorship and professional development.

If you are passionate about digital health and eager to make a real-world impact, apply now to join our team and contribute to pioneering research that aims to improve public health outcomes.

What you’ll do

The primary objective of this project is to develop and evaluate a cost-effective, scalable lifestyle intervention that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to promote physical activity and dietary changes. The key question this project seeks to answer is whether an AI-powered lifestyle intervention, delivered as a hybrid of human and AI health coaches, can achieve similar health outcomes to traditional one-on-one telephone health coaching but in a more cost-efficient manner. The challenge lies in maintaining the effectiveness of personalized support while reducing costs and expanding accessibility. The project will employ a Type 2 hybrid implementation-effectiveness randomized controlled trial (RCT) to rigorously evaluate the AI-powered intervention. This methodology will assess both the effectiveness and scalability of the intervention, with a focus on high-risk and underserved populations. If successful, the intervention model can be adopted by health services across Australia, demonstrating the potential of digital technology to complement human support and enhance public health efforts.

The successful applicant will undertake a variety of activities throughout their PhD project. They will have a leading role in running co-design activities with end-users, which will be essential in informing the development of the AI-powered lifestyle intervention software. Additionally, the applicant will gain comprehensive experience in all aspects of conducting the randomised controlled trial (RCT), including participant recruitment, data collection, and analysis.

There is the possibility of travel to regional South Australia locations to engage with participants and stakeholders, although this is not a requirement. Travel costs will be covered by the supervisors. This role offers a unique opportunity to develop expertise in digital health intervention design, implementation, and evaluation, while working closely with a diverse and multidisciplinary team.

Where you’ll be based

The project is conducted within the research environment of the Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA). ARENA focuses on multidisciplinary approaches to improving health through physical activity, nutrition, and innovative interventions, making it an ideal setting for this project. This project complements existing research themes at ARENA by leveraging digital health technologies to promote lifestyle changes and improve public health outcomes.

ARENA's areas of research strength, particularly in physical activity promotion, health behaviour change, and digital health interventions, provide a strong foundation for this project. The project is being conducted in close collaboration with Preventive Health SA, and will be guided by a steering group with representatives from government agencies, non-government organizations, and community groups, underscores the project's commitment to end-user engagement and its potential for significant impact. By integrating advanced AI technology with existing health services, the project aims to deliver scalable and effective lifestyle interventions, contributing to the broader goal of improving public health and reducing healthcare costs.

You will be part of a collaborative research team, supervised by Professor Carol Maher, Associate Professor Karen Murphy, and Dr. Ben Singh, each bringing extensive expertise and a strong track record in their respective fields of digital health, dietetics and exercise physiology. This PhD is offered as part of a nationally funded project, ensuring it is very well resourced in terms of developing cutting-edge software and conducting a large, high-quality randomised controlled trial.

Supervisory team

Financial Support

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $34,000 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 $50,291 per annum. 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.


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:

  • Research experience: Demonstrated experience in conducting research, particularly in the fields of public health, nutrition, physical activity, digital health, or a related area. 
  • Technical skills: Proficiency in statistical analysis and familiarity with software tools commonly used in health research (e.g., SPSS, R, SAS, STATA).
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration: Evidence of ability to work collaboratively within a multidisciplinary team. 
  • Communication skills: Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Problem-solving ability: Demonstrated ability to identify and address research challenges. 
  • Motivation and commitment: A strong commitment to pursuing a research career in public health and a genuine interest in leveraging digital technologies to improve health outcomes.
  • Leadership and initiative: Demonstrated leadership skills and the ability to take initiative in both academic and extracurricular activities.

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 preferred candidate will also be asked to complete a writing task.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time, and to be based at our City East campus in the heart of Adelaide. Note that international students on a student visa will need to study full-time.

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 28 June 2024.

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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