Postgraduate Research

What we do

We conduct a world class program of social and behavioural research in health. We have expertise in HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections as well as in the experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment, , end of life and palliative care, management of antimicrobial resistance and how evidence is made and used in health interventions. Our research also includes the social aspects of sexual health, sex education, injecting and illicit drug use, digital and other health technologies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

How we do it

We use a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methods to:

  • assess the health interests and needs of different groups
  • describe, monitor and explain sexual, drug- and other health-related practices
  • examine the ways people use digital health technologies and their health data
  • explore and analyse experiences, practices, discourses and narratives
  • comprehensively test factors that shape behaviours and understandings
  • investigate how knowledge in relation to health is produced and used, and
  • evaluate health education programs and health promotion services

Close engagement with affected communities is the cornerstone of CSRH research. We also work collaboratively across disciplines and with clinicians, advocates, educators, civil society organisations, policy makers and other stakeholders.

Our innovative and multidisciplinary research not only contributes to and strengthens health-related knowledge, but also informs policy and practice.

Download our postgraduate brochure  (PDF)

About the Centre

What we offer

Our research degrees provide the skills needed to undertake high quality research, contribute to academic and policy debates, and inform best practice.

Students form an integral part of our diverse community of talented supervisors and researchers. You will benefit from the active research culture of the Centre and be encouraged to participate in seminars, workshops, lectures and conferences.

Your supervisors will help you develop relationships with community organisations, health and education service providers, and policy makers, to inform your research and strengthen the impact and relevance of research findings.

You will have access to one of the best libraries in Australia and 24-hour access to computer resources and an email account. Individual access to workstations, research costs, conference attendance and teaching experience are provided on a competitive basis.

Where we fit

We are based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UNSW, internationally recognised as a lively and progressive Faculty, combining outstanding scholarship in foundation disciplines and interdisciplinary fields, with a commitment to public engagement and social impact.

Located on the eastern beaches of diverse dynamic Sydney, UNSW is a founding member of the Group of Eight (Go8) key teaching and research universities in Australia and is a member of Universitas 21, a consortium of the world’s leading research universities.

UNSW is acknowledged as a national leader in the 2012 Excellence for Research in Australia reports, and is ranked in the top three Australian universities for the social sciences. Arts and Social Sciences received top rankings across disciplines, with above world standard recognition across the Faculty as a whole.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 3–4 years advanced study for those with a first or upper second class Honours degree from an Australian university, a completed MA by Research degree, or equivalent qualifications approved by the Faculty Higher Degree Committee. A PhD degree requires completion of a piece of research and a 70–100,000 word thesis that demonstrates a significant and original contribution to knowledge, plus coursework as appropriate to the research topic and skills of the candidate.

Doctor of Philosophy

Master of Arts by Research (MA) 1.5–2 years research training for those with an Honours degree from an Australian university or equivalent qualifications approved by the Faculty Higher Degree Committee. An MA by Research degree requires completion of an original piece of research, more limited in scope and nature to that required for a PhD, but including a 30–40,000 word thesis that demonstrates high level research skills, plus three units of postgraduate coursework.

Master of Arts by Research

Graduate Diploma (GradDip) 1 year research training for those without an Honours degree, involving original research and a 15,000 word thesis, plus three units of postgraduate coursework.


CSRH currently offers two postgraduate courses which are subject to demand. If there are insufficient enrolments, the course will not be conducted. Our postgraduate students may also enrol in courses offered by other schools and faculties, subject to agreement with their supervisor(s).

Bodies, Habits and Pleasures (ARTS5040)(6 UOC)

You will investigate the cultural, social and political aspects of sex and drug practices using a range of social theories. The body is approached as a locus of power, pleasure, learning, subjectivity and change.

  • What happens when we conceive the body as a cultural medium rather than, or as well as, a mere object of health and medicine?
  • How do social and cultural approaches enliven the doing of health?
  • How are sexuality and drugs grasped by modern regimes of power?
  • And how have marginalised cultures and groups sought to transform embodied practice?

You will become familiar with important concepts from fields that are currently redefining the sociology of health: science studies, feminism, queer theory, biopolitics, and governmentality studies.

Researching Sex and Drugs: Qualitative Methods (ARTS5042) (6 UOC)

This course equips you with the qualitative research skills necessary to the study of sex and drug practices. Social theory understands these practices as socially and culturally produced but they are also frequently constituted as personal, private, illicit or even shameful. This raises various challenges for the researcher, including questions of ethics, design, and interpretation of findings. You will be introduced to a range of qualitative methods—interviewing, ethnography, focus groups, and research with cultural materials, including popular media and archives—and you will carry out a number of practical exercises to provide experience with a variety of research methods. We will consider and argue for the importance of qualitative methods within the largely positivist field of public health.

How to apply

Who we want

Passionate, engaged and motivated applicants interested in understanding and influencing change in the fields of health, sex, drugs and risk.

We welcome applications for research into the social and cultural aspects of HIV, sexual health, sexual practices, viral hepatitis and drug use but also encourage proposals in related areas of education, health and wellbeing, and from a diversity of social and behavioural science perspectives.

Contact our postgraduate coordinator, Dr Loren Brener, for more information.

Step One

Ensure you meet the UNSW admission requirements, including English proficiency. The minimum requirement for admission into a PhD is a completed undergraduate degree with Honours (or equivalent postgraduate qualifications that include a substantial research component written up as an academic thesis), awarded at or above distinction level (e.g. 75%+ at UNSW). Admission to the MA by Research requires similar evidence of research training, with an Honours equivalent degree awarded.

Step Two

Contact our postgraduate coordinator and be prepared to send us a research proposal of at least 1,000 words which clearly explains the research questions and significance, methods and theoretical frameworks, brief literature review, outline of research materials, and resources you are likely to require. We will also need to see a detailed CV, evidence you meet the admission criteria, a sample of your written research work, and a completed Expression of Interest in Research form (PDF) [270 Kb].

Step Three

If satisfied with the above, we will assess if appropriate supervision and resources are available. You will have two supervisors and, depending on the topic area, joint supervision between CSRH and other FASS schools and centres can be arranged. At least one member of academic staff must confirm their willingness to supervise your project before we can support your application for admission. This might entail further work on the research proposal in response to the potential supervisor’s comments.

Step Four

Once the steps 1–3 are successfully completed, we will invite you to submit a formal application to the Graduate Research School (GRS). An invitation to apply does not constitute an offer. All enquiries from this point onward should be directed through the GRS.

Useful Links

  • Graduate Research School. Essential information on the requirements and process of applying for admission to a postgraduate research degree at UNSW.
  • English proficiency. Details on the language requirements for admission to UNSW.
  • Scholarships. Advice on competitive scholarships, annual stipends, living allowances and tuition fee costs, travel scholarships and supplements.
  • Fees. While domestic students undertaking PhD or Masters by Research programs are not liable for course tuition fees, international students do incur fees.
  • Support for FASS postgraduate researchers. Competitive research support available to FASS research students for field work, transcription, conference travel and so on.
  • Handbook. Coursework and program descriptions.


Dr Philippe Adam is interested in explaining how young people and gay men balance risk and pleasure, and what makes some resist the temptation of having unprotected sex or lose control in the heat of the moment. His research also focuses on barriers to testing and how the unique dynamics of online chat contribute to sexual risk-taking. He is highly involved in the development of interventions to reduce unplanned risk-taking. In Australia, Asia and Europe, Philippe’s work aims to bridge the gap between theory, research and prevention practice.

Emeritus Scientia Professor Peter Aggleton has a background in sociology, psychology, policy studies, education and international health, and is well known internationally for his work on the social aspects of HIV, sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health. His research spans the fields of HIV, gender, sexuality, sex education and health internationally, but with a particular focus on Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. He has successfully supervised numerous doctoral and post-doctoral students to completion.

Dr Loren Brener has a background in social psychology and a particular interest in the nature and role of implicit attitudes. Her work focuses on establishing the impact of stigma and discrimination on those living with stigmatised illnesses such as hepatitis C, HIV and mental illness and the consequences of this stigma for healthcare outcomes and service delivery. She is particularly interested in supervising research using quantitative methods to address both theoretical and applied aspects of implicit and explicit attitudes and self-representation especially as this relates to healthcare for marginalised and stigmatised groups.

Associate Professor Joanne Bryant has a background in sociology and epidemiology. She is available to supervise research that explores social and structural contexts shaping drug use, and has particular expertise with populations such as young people, women and indigenous Australians. Her own research examines how risk-taking behaviour is shaped by needle and syringe availability, points of access to needle and syringe services, gender, and youth.

Associate Professor Martin Holt has a background in psychology and sociology. His research interests encompass HIV prevention, particularly among gay men; the negotiation of sex and drug practices; treatment experiences and the use of technology such as the internet or biomedical technology. He supervises postgraduate research in consumer experiences of clinical settings, gay men and HIV prevention, and users’ experiences of the internet and biomedical technology. He can supervise mixed-method projects utilising quantitative and qualitative approaches.

Dr Max Hopwood is a social psychologist with an interest in the psychosocial dynamics of the hepatitis C epidemic, including hepatitis C treatment. Max has also worked and published in the areas of HIV, HIV and hepatitis C co-infection among gay and bisexual men, illicit drug use, harm reduction and drug policy. He uses mixed-method research designs to examine quality of life for people living with, and being treated for blood-borne viral infections, and the impact of stigma and discrimination on health and identity.

Associate Professor Limin Mao has research expertise in social and epidemiological responses to the HIV epidemic in Australia, China and the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the areas of HIV behavioural surveillance and applied social, psychological and epidemiological research. She is happy to supervise a broad range of studies across the fields of HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Associate Professor Christy Newman is a qualitative social researcher with particular interests in the social aspects of 'engaging' different populations with contemporary health imperatives and health services. She is keen to supervise qualitative research that spans health and social science disciplines, particularly in relation to HIV and sexual health care, gender, sexuality and health care, and cultural narratives of health, illness and medicine.

Dr Asha Persson has a background in social anthropology and phenomenology with a particular interest in research on cultural and lived aspects of HIV, and the productive intersections of illness/medicine/gender. She has particular expertise in heterosexuality and HIV, couples with mixed HIV status, body image and HIV, and cultural discourses of health and illness. She is happy to supervise qualitative studies on health, illness, gender, sexuality, medicine, risk and relationships.

Scientia Professor Carla Treloar leads the viral hepatitis and injecting drug use programs at CSRH and has particular expertise in the influences on injecting behaviour, living with hepatitis C, injecting and illicit drug use, chronic illness and cross-disciplinary studies in hepatitis C and injecting drug use. She welcomes enquiries in these and related fields.