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PhD Scholarship: Disrupting future discounting using virtual reality

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CSIRO Health and Biosecurity is offering a PhD Scholarship to build and test a virtual reality (VR) program that will fast forward consumers from their present behaviours (diet and lifestyle) to health consequences in future decades. This project is located within the Future Science Platform: Precision Health, a large, multi-disciplinary CSIRO program with a goal of building a healthier and wealthier Australia by more precisely anticipating and preventing disease. It will seek to combat a critical barrier to adoption of preventative health behaviours.

'Future Discounting' (or 'Loss aversion') underpins many barriers to adopting healthy behaviours including uptake of digital health technologies, lifestyle behaviours and diets. Consumers often perceive a greater benefit in current behaviours (e.g. taste preference for 'unhealthy' diets) than distant possible benefits (e.g. possible reduction in chronic disease risk through adoption of prudent or healthy diets). In other words, they discount the future or see possible futures as less important than the present. 

The present challenge is to realise futures through VR by presenting consumers with differing scenarios and differing future consequences e.g. adoption of particular diets and activity today and sustained over decades on a virtual life (lives) will be presented as leading to particular health status (weight status, morbidity,  healthcare costs, DALYs and mortality outcomes). Well-being outcomes (subjective, short term) could also be modelled as well as what it 'feels like' to achieve goals (rewards).  We would seek to incorporate ‘agency’ into the scenarios by allowing ‘players’ to manipulate their current lifestyle behaviours and experience fast-forwarded distant consequences.  It is hypothesized that knowing the consequences of current behaviour (status) will negate future discounting, leading to greater acceptance of preventative health behaviours. A randomised controlled clinical trial would be undertaken to test the VR program against a control group.

Location:             Adelaide, South Australia or Canberra, ACT
Scholarship:       Top-up scholarship of $7,000 per annum, plus a generous operating budget of $10,000 per annum (a full scholarship may be available in certain circumstances)
Duration:             Up to 3 years
Reference:          58102

Contact: For more information please contact David Cox by phone on 08 8303 8811 or email

To be eligible to apply you must have (or expect to gain):

  • first class honours or equivalent in Computing Science with particular interest in virtual reality, and an interest in collaborating with health psychologists;
  • admission to an Australian University as a PhD student;
  • a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or university equivalent; and
  • an university supervisor who is willing and able to supervise you.

Recipients of CSIRO Postgraduate Studentships are generally required to be Australian citizens or have permanent residency status. However, in fields in which there is a national skill shortage, studentships may be awarded to overseas candidates provided they are prepared to seek permanent residency as soon as possible within Australian Government policy guidelines.  International students must be able to show evidence of admission to an Australian university, as well as evidence that either their living costs or international student tuition fees are being covered by another scholarship or from private funds.
International applicants must have the appropriate immigration approvals to allow them to take up the scholarship.

Applications will be assessed on:

  1. Quality and relevance of student project: The primary assessment criterion for a CSIRO Postgraduate Scholarship is the quality and relevance of the project being proposed.  The research must be aligned with, the advertised priority research area.
  2. Academic calibre of the student: The quality of the student is also critical to the assessment of a scholarship and candidates must hold (or expect to gain) a relevant first class honours (or equivalent) degree from a recognised University.
  3. Availability of appropriate university supervision: The relevance of the University supervisor’s research background and their willingness to supervise the student in collaboration with the CSIRO supervisor should also be made clear. 

How to apply:

You will be required to:

  1. submit a resume/cover letter (as one document) which includes:
    • the reasons why the research project/s you have selected are of interest to you; and how your previous skills/knowledge and experience meets the project requirements;
    • the names and contact details of two academic referees; and
    • an outline of your longer-term career aspirations and detail how this program will help you achieve them.
  2. upload your academic results in the ‘Requested Information’ field.

If you experience difficulties applying online call 1300 984 220 and someone will be able to assist you.  Outside business hours please email:

About CSIRO: 

We imagine. We collaborate. We innovate. At CSIRO, we do the extraordinary every day. We innovate for tomorrow and help improve today – for our customers, all Australians and the world. We do this by using science and technology to solve real issues. Diversity is the compass that navigates our innovation. We provide an inclusive workplace that respects, values and actively pursues the benefits of a diverse workforce.

Applications close on: Friday 21 December 2018 (10.55pm AEDT)

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