LAURA: The Leverhulme Trust Aural Diversity Doctoral Research Hub

People sat in a room surrounded by audio equipment being setup

The Leverhulme Trust Aural Diversity Doctoral Research Hub provides inter-disciplinary PhD and Masters training in the study of hearing and listening differences.

Applications are now open for October 2024 entry – closing date 21 April 2024

Webinar: Funded PhD Opportunities in Aural Diversity 2024

In this webinar, the Director of LAURA, Prof Bill Davies, first presented on what LAURA is, what funding is available, and how to apply. We then had a round robin with several LAURA supervisors introducing themselves and their topics, with questions at the end.

For those who were unable to attend live, or are interested in finding out more, you can watch the webinar on our YouTube channel.

a person placing ear defenders on head and torso simulator dummy

The Leverhulme Doctoral Centre for Aural Diversity seeks to disrupt and transform thinking across disciplines by fundamentally reconceptualising hearing to include the whole spectrum of aural experience. Everybody hears differently. Yet, outside medicine, when sound is produced, controlled, consumed or discussed a ‘normal’ listener is usually assumed. People who hear differently, like a musician with tinnitus, a lip-reading churchgoer or an autistic student are marginalised by this assumption.

Head and torso simulator dummy in a room surrounded by audio monitors

Hearing differences are common, diverse and often hidden, affecting at least 1.4 billion people worldwide. But the widespread adoption of a binary ‘normal’ or ‘impaired’ does not reflect the heterogeneity of reality. Musicians and sound engineers are not taught how to make performances for an aurally diverse audience. Engineers and architects design cities, cars and phones for ‘normal’ listeners.


Man looking at computer and timer

LAURA brings together supervisors from almost every discipline involved with sound, including acoustics, anthropology, art, architecture, computer science, education, engineering, English literature, music, occupational science, psychology, sociology and speech. It is a joint venture between the University of Salford and Goldsmiths, University of London.

You can study for a PhD, MPhil, or Masters+PhD with LAURA. We invite applications annually. Full funding is available for a limited number of talented students. LAURA researchers can use a wide range of world-class facilities, including the acoustics labs and EEG, fNIRS and TMS facilities at Salford, and the Electronic Music Studio and Sonics Immersive Media Labs at Goldsmiths.

Programme Outline

Man smiling into camera

The Leverhulme Trust Aural Diversity Doctoral Research Hub (LAURA) based at the University of Salford and Goldsmiths University of London invites applications to several fully-funded 4-year PhD scholarships. 

Aural diversity is a new and highly interdisciplinary field and LAURA is the first PhD programme in the world to focus on it. Aural diversity is based on the simple observation that individual and group differences in hearing, listening and responding to sound are common, yet, outside medicine, when sound is produced, controlled, consumed or discussed a “normal” listener is usually assumed. 

LAURA students will be supervised by a highly diverse range of supervisors drawn from several departments across Salford and Goldsmiths. Most disciplines involved with sound are represented, including acoustics, anthropology, art, architecture, computer science, education, engineering, English literature, music/music technology, occupational science, psychology, sociology and speech. 

LAURA students will each receive a stipend of £18,622 per year (matching the UKRI rate), with an additional £2,000 per year London weighting for students based at Goldsmiths. LAURA students will not pay tuition fees. In addition, LAURA students will each have access to up to £10,000 for research and professional development costs. 

Topic Areas

Below you will find our potential PhD projects grouped by a broad topic, area. Within these groupings are indicative projects. You an apply to a topic (see the apply now section below for more details) or you can use these as inspiration for your own Aural Diversity project.

Potential PhD projects - Neurodiversity

Autistic Listening: A mixed methods approach to positive and negative experiences

Researchers know that autistic people often experience problems with sound sensitivity and processing speech (e.g. Haesen et al., 2011). But many positive experiences with sound give pleasure and are under-researched, such as an increased capacity for detail and structure in sound (e.g. Brinkert & Remington, 2020; Woods & Estes 2023) . This PhD will use a mixed-methods approach to characterise the full range of autistic listening experience, including interviews/focus groups, listening tests and EEG measurement. Some experience of working with EEG methods and data is desirable.  

Supervisors: Bill Davies and Sam Gregory (Salford) 

Exploring autistic voice processing and recognition.

Autistic individuals show differences to non-autistic individuals in voice processing, including differences around processing social signals in voices (e.g. Haesen et al., 2011). However autistic individuals process social signals from other autistic individuals with more fluency than from non-autistic individuals and vice versa, i.e., the double empathy problem (e.g. Crompton et al., 2020). Yet, there is limited research into how autistic individuals process the voices of other autistic individuals. This PhD would help fill this gap using social cognitive experimental methods.  

Supervisors: Sam Gregory and Bill Davies (Salford) 

Profiling musical abilities in a neurodiverse adolesecent population

Musical skills and abilities have been shown to grow for the majority of individuals during the teenage years, but individual differences in the growth of musical abilities are substantial (Müllensiefen et al., 2022). However, it is yet unclear how musical skills develop in neuro-diverse populations (i.e. including children with dyslexia, learning disabilities, ADHD or autism) and whether certain conditions are associated with better or worse than average musical development. Hence, this project aims at assessing the musical ability profiles of students from a neuro-diverse population. The project will make use of the battery of musical online tests employed in the LongGold project. Outcomes of the project should provide a good understanding of the underlying musical abilities profile of these neuro-diverse populations and help to develop curricula and pedagogies that enable individual students to develop their individual musical specialisms. 

Supervisor: Daniel Müllensiefen (Goldsmiths)  

Global vs. local features in music listening and sub-clinical autistic traits

It has been hypothesised that certain musical skills and abilities, such as absolute pitch, benefit from a local cognitive processing style that is commonly found in autistic individuals (e.g. Mottron et al., 2000; Wenhart & Altenmüller, 2019). However, there is very little empirical evidence yet for the relationship between local vs. global processing styles of music in general and sub-clinical autistic traits. Hence, in a first step this project aims to the answer the question whether a local vs. global processing style for music is a stable individual trait or just two different listening approaches that can be shifted at will and whether the ability to shift between these depends on the degree of musical expertise. In a second step, the project aims to clarify whether the degree to which a local processing style for music can be employed to solve a listening task is related to sub-clinical autistic traits (i.e. systematising/empathising traits) of individual listeners. 

Supervisor: Daniel Müllensiefen (Goldsmiths)  

Collaborative composition with neurodiverse participants for neurodiverse audiences

How can composers make music which takes into account the needs of neurodivergent participants in collaborative and community music projects? Can collaborative and participatory methods ensure that these needs are respected in the outcomes, and what methods might be developed to do so more effectively? This project would generate practice-based outcomes for, and with neurodiverse communities, with input from creatives identifying as neurodivergent, and assess their effectiveness in making work which is built around the needs of these communities. Ideally, you will be a composer with experience of community music projects. 

Supervisors: Alan Williams and Adam Hart (Salford) 

Embodied musical interaction and neurodiversity

Research in the New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) community has pushed the boundaries of digital musical instrument design. This project broadens this scope to contexts of neurodiversity, and explore possibiliies of nonverbal music engagement by autistic people . This PhD project seeks to explore how these interfaces can be used to enable diverse musicians and audiences to explore their artistic capabilities. This builds on work by the supervisors building physiological interfaces for electronic music performance in contexts of neurodiversity.  Through this engagement, the project seeks to understand how new musical interfaces can be created to support themusical practitioners and audiences of diverse abilities. Moreover, the project will explore how these changes could lead to an expansion of the sonic possibilities of musical performance.  

Supervisors: Atau Tanaka and Eleonora Oreggia (Goldsmiths) 

Potential PHD Projects - Music

Personalised music production for aural diversity through citizen science

Hearing loss can reduce the enjoyment people get from listening to and creating music. While hearing aids can include personalised music programmes, the success of these is mixed. Rather than take a standard stereo mix and try and improve it via a hearing aid, would better results be achieved through personalised music production? In this PhD you will work closely with sound engineers using a citizen science approach to the research. The sound engineers will be tasked with personalising music to sound best for their own diverse hearing. This will reveal approaches to music production that allow for different hearing acuities, which can then be used to improve the listening experience of people with a hearing loss.

Supervisors: Trevor Cox and Adam Hart (Salford)

Live sound for aurally diverse audiences in music venues

The enjoyment of live performances is highly dependent on the aural experience in the audience. This project focuses on strategies to deliver appropriate audio content to audiences with diverse aural profiles. Some of these strategies might investigate the use of different live sound zones across an audience or the use of augmented audio targeting specific individuals. Appropriate knowledge of live sound reproduction engineering as well as audio signal processing are desirable skills for this project.

Supervisors: Adam Hart and Bruno Fazenda (Salford)

Broadening new interfaces for musical expression

The New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) community has a long history of pushing the boundaries of instrument design through creative and diverse technological innovations. This PhD project seeks to explore how these interfaces can be used to enable diverse musicians and audiences to explore their artistic capabilities. To do so, it will engage with local and national performance art, concert music, and the international NIME and sonic art communities. Through this engagement, the project seeks to understand how new musical interfaces can be adjusted and repurposed to better suit the needs of a variety of musical practitioners and audiences. Moreover, the project will explore how these changes could lead to an expansion of the sonic possibilities of musical expression.

Supervisors: Atau Tanaka and John Drever (Goldsmiths)

Musical listening abilities: Structure modelling, clustering of listening styles, and benchmarking diversity

Listening to music can unfold in many different ways, as has been observed in the academic literature. This includes emotional v. cognitive listening styles, listening with global v. local focus, or the selective attention to different instruments and structural elements of musical pieces. However, it is unclear how stable these listening styles are within individuals and how they are related to quantifiable musical listening abilities, such as melodic discrimination, beat perception, musical imagery or rhythm processing. Therefore, this project aims a) at developing tools of measuring musical listening styles and b) model their associations as well as structural relationship to listening performance abilities. The resulting model can then be used to derive benchmark norms for the diversity of listening styles in the general population.

Supervisor: Daniel Müllensiefen (Goldsmiths)

Super-listeners and golden ears: Cognitive and sensory correlates of individuals with exceptionally high auditory discrimination skills

Individuals with a “golden ear” are believed to possess a special talent in hearing, such as being able to discriminate subtle differences in audio recordings that most listeners cannot hear. This project proposes to assemble a battery of free and open-source tests suitable for the identification of superior auditory abilities (i.e. “golden ears”) and screen a large sample from the general and specialised populations. In a second step, individuals positively identified as golden ears will be assessed on a second battery of cognitive and sensory tests to understand whether superior auditory abilities are associated with one or more specific profile of psychological traits.

Supervisor: Daniel Müllensiefen (Goldsmiths)

Emotional-semantic meaning of basic auditory signals in listeners with strongly diverging musical background and preferences

Many fundamental sound attributes such “rough”, “consonant”, “hollow”, “complex”, “harsh” are thought to be universally understood at least within the context of western populations. But given that many musical parameters such as melodic and harmonic structure are learned through the exposure to music, it seems implausible that musical exposure should not affect the perception and appreciation of fundamental sound attributes. Hence, this project will sample listeners with highly diverse musical preferences and musical backgrounds (e.g. strong preferences and/or expertise for classical music/heavy metal/techno/folk etc.) and assess their perception, understanding, and usage of fundamental sound attributes. Thus, the project will contribute to our understanding of the diversity of sound perception and its relationship to listening habits and preferences.

Supervisor: Daniel Müllensiefen (Goldsmiths)

Potential PHD Projects - Education

The impact of aural diversity on language learning from digital technology

How does synthetic speech intelligibility affect the language development of diverse young children? From an early age, children are using digital media including television and touchscreen apps. Importantly, digital media has been linked both positively and negatively to young children’s language development (Jing et al., 2023). This PhD will explore the intelligibility of digital speech (via electronic toys, television, touchscreen apps, digital audio players) for typically developing monolingual children, bilingual children and children with cochlear implants to understand the role of aural diversity on language learning from digital technology.

Supervisors: Gemma Taylor and Trevor Cox (Salford)

Aural diversity and children’s learning and development during the first 5 years of life

Understanding the role of early acoustic environments and aural diversity on young children’s learning and development. The first 5 years of life are essential for children’s healthy development and children’s learning and development is strongly influenced by their early environments. Understanding the role of early acoustic environments and aural diversity on young children’s learning will be an important step in understanding how we can best support children during the first 5 years of life. This PhD will explore children’s auditory experiences across a range of common environments typically experienced at this age both indoors and outdoors and measure the impact on children’s learning and performance across a range of skills (e.g., vocabulary, executive function, working memory). The target population for this PhD could include typically developing children, neurodiverse children or children with hearing impairments across the first 5 years of life.

Supervisors: Gemma Taylor and Bill Davies (Salford)

Aural Diversity and Learning: Designing Educational spaces

The range of auditory experiences and abilities individuals possess, can have an impact on learning and affect learners’ preferences for auditory (and other) learning styles. Understanding how aural diversity influences learning is crucial for designing spaces that cater to the diverse needs of students. To do so, the project will engage with a variety of educational settings and will explore how different aural environments can impact on the learning experience to facilitate more inclusionary educational settings. Design guidelines will be developed to improve the acoustic environment of some educational spaces.

Supervisors: Bill Davies and Athina Moustaka (Salford)

Aural Diversity in Mainstream Secondary School Education: Understanding how Children with Hearing Loss Experience ‘Auraltypical’ Acculturation

In mainstream secondary school education, young people with hearing loss face distinct challenges that profoundly affect their learning, peer interactions, and self-esteem. This PhD project will explore the unique challenges and acculturation experiences of these young individuals in educational settings that predominantly adhere to an ‘auraltypical’ or "hearing norm." These students encounter a myriad of complex issues, such as language and communication barriers, educational challenges, and divergent perspectives on Hearing and Deaf culture. Notably, children with hearing loss are especially susceptible to social exclusion (Coster et al., 2013).

Such challenges often result in difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, which in turn can intensify feelings of isolation and social exclusion (Olsson, Dag, & Kullberg, 2018; Murray et al., 2007). Moreover, discrimination, taking forms such as bullying and educational obstacles, further complicates their experiences (Smith, 2013; Wheeler et al., 2007). These challenges can have a significant impact on their quality of life, potentially leading to decreased social interaction and depression in later life (Kochkin and Rogin 2000; World Health Organization 2015). This research project aims to provide a deeper understanding of these issues, contributing towards a more inclusive and supportive educational environment for young people with hearing loss.

This research will use a co-production approach, ensuring that young people with hearing loss on the aural diverse spectrum are active partners in the research process. The project will employ participatory methods, such as focus groups, world cafés, and young people's forums, to help young people identify research priorities and explore the challenges and facilitators they experience in an 'auraltypical' world across their learning and psychosocial development within a mainstream secondary school setting. Co-production techniques involving collaborative analysis and interpretation of data will be utilised to empower young people and ensure that their insights shape the research outcomes. 

  • Coster, W., M. Law, G. Bedell, K. Liljenquist, Y. C. Kao, M. Khetani, and R. Teplicky. 2013. “School Participation, Supports and Barriers of Students with and Without Disabilities.” Child: Care, Health and Development 39 (4): 535–543
  • Kochkin, S., and C. Rogin. 2000. “Quantifying the Obvious: The Impact of Hearing Aids on Quality of Life.” The Hearing Review 7 (1): 8–34.
  • Murray, J. B., Klinger, L., & McKinnon, C. C. (2007). The deaf: An exploration of their participation in community life. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 27(3), 113-120.
  • Olsson, S., Dag, M., & Kullberg, C. (2018). Deaf and hard-of-hearing adolescents’ experiences of inclusion and exclusion in mainstream and special schools in Sweden. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 33(4), 495-509.
  • Smith, D. H. (2013). Deaf adults: Retrospective narratives of school experiences and teacher expectations. Disability & Society, 28(5), 674-686.Smith, D. H.  (2013). Disability & Society.
  • Wheeler, A., Archbold, S., Gregory, S., & Skipp, A. (2007). Cochlear implants: The young people's perspective. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(3), 303-316.
  • World Health Organization. 2015. “Deafness and Hearing Loss.” factsheets/fs300/en/

Supervisors: Jay Vickers and Gemma Taylor (Salford)

Potential PHD Projects - Audio Technology

Aural diversity in machine listening models of auditory attention

Machine learning algorithms are increasing being used to model human listening. In most cases, machine listening algorithms are developed using ground truth data generated with psychoacoustic experiments on people with ‘normal’ hearing. This results in machine learning algorithms that are then biased against people with diverse hearing. This matters, because these algorithms are then used by other machine learners e.g. to develop better hearing aid processors. In this project, you will develop machine learning models of attention, with the aim of exploring how to best incorporate more diverse hearing. You will need to be able to program Python within machine learning frameworks and have an interest in psychoacoustics.

Supervisors: Trevor Cox and Sunil Vadera (Salford)

Perception of Acoustics in VR, AR, video games and e-sports for aurally diverse users

There’s a proliferation of virtual display technologies for entertainment, training and marketing, among other applications. Typically, content in these platforms does not comply with needs for those with diverse aural perception modes. This project will research how these technologies may be made more inclusive for those with hearing difference. The project will entail creation of environments in VR/AR platforms and the design of subjective testing to understand response to inclusive strategies. Skill in programming, production of immersive audio environments and design and deployment of subjective testing are desirable.

Supervisors: Bruno Fazenda and Chris Hughes (Salford)

Exploring individual differences in processing and recognition of synthetic voices

Response to synthetic voices is an understudied research topic, and as more and more AI assistants are being developed to help with a myriad of societal issues, it is important to understand how these voices are processed. When judging synthetic voices, what do listeners think is behind the voice? How are peoples’ judgements influenced by stereotypes that they use with human voices? What are the individual differences in how synthetic voices are tolerated and embraced? What are the implications of this? For example, how do different individuals process information from digital assistants? In this project you will develop experimental methods to answer the key questions posed. Qualitative methods can also be employed to investigate the subjective user experience.

Supervisors: Sam Gregory and Trevor Cox (Salford)

Individualised remixing of the sonic environment

Some aurally divergent individuals can find many environmental sounds as being disturbing, confusing or even painful to hear. Recent work in AI has improved the capability of sound source separation, sound (e.g., speech) enhancement and reduction (e.g., background noise). This project would investigate deep learning techniques for sound identification and separation with the aim of facilitating real time rebalancing of environmental sounds based on individual requirements or needs.

Supervisors: Ben Shirley and Chris Hughes (Salford)

Musical training to assist auditory streaming and sound localisation in ICUs

Anecdotal reports note the stress-inducing sonic environments of ICU wards, particularly under pandemic conditions. Much information vital to healthcare is conveyed through sound, but staff report difficulties in streaming the audio content appropriately, and in localising monitor sounds, creating a ‘wall of noise’ effect. Existing research suggests reduced auditory streaming to be affected by the presence of non-neurotypical conditions; also evidenced is the ability of trained musicians to stream and localise sounds more effectively. Could training healthcare staff to listen more effectively using musical training assist them in identifying and localising information-bearing sounds in the clinical environment?

Supervisors: Alan Williams and Phil Brissenden (Salford)

Potential PHD Projects - Noise and Soundscapes

Environmental noise assessment accounting for aural and personal diversity

Current methods for quantifying the impact of noise on exposed communities are based on meta-analyses of exposure-response relationships between noise exposure and annoyance.  These assume an average community responding in a consistent way to environmental noise exposure.  We do know that everybody ‘hears differently’ and therefore will respond differently to noise.  Because of this, new evidence and novel methods are needed for best practice and regulation to consider aural and personal diversity in decision-making.  This PhD will explore different approaches to incorporate aural and personal (e.g., noise sensitivity) diversity in the assessment and management of environmental noise exposure.

Supervisors: Antonio Torija Martinez and Robert Bendall (Salford)

Applied soundscape design for an aural diverse populace (Practice Research)

Addressing the Welsh Government’s Noise and Soundscape Plan for Wales 2023-28 on “how to factor in aural diversity in decision making”, this PhD will develop practice methods in real world contexts, devising methods to co-compose, co-design and co-create soundscapes with the aurally divergent in the centre of the process, to fashion an acoustically equitable environment.  This study will build on the work of current Goldsmiths’ CDA PhD research by Mattia Cobianchi who is collaborating with the Noise Abatement Society.

Supervisors: John Drever and Anneke Kampman (Goldsmiths)

Aural diversity and concrete use: enhancing soundscapes in architectural environments

Architectural spaces dominated by concrete, can influence the auditory experiences of individuals, with potential implications for neurodiverse populations. By considering factors such as reverberation, echo, and ambient noise levels the research aims to propose design principles and interventions that can enhance soundscapes in concrete-heavy spaces to better address the experiences of neurodivergent individuals.

Supervisors: Bill Davies and Athina Moustaka (Salford)

Sound and the choice and participation of leisure occupations

How does sound facilitate or inhibit choice in leisure and how do individual differences interact with environments?  Individuals may choose to seek calm quiet areas to participate in their leisure pursuits, whereas others actively choose areas with ambient background noise or even noisier environments. There is little research into the role of sound facilitating or inhibiting choice in participation in leisure occupations.

Supervisors: Victoria McQuillan and Bill Davies (Salford)

Potential PHD Projects - Culture and Society

Exploring the relationship between identity, culture, and musical heritage in diverse listeners

Music and identity have a complex interplay. Each individual has a unique relationship between these two factors, which makes understanding the relationship between them and neurodiversity all the more important. By doing so, sound engineers, musicians, music supervisors, and others in the audio industry can be more sensitive to their audiences in terms of how they interact with sound and create audio experiences that are tailored to their individual needs.

Supervisors: Duncan Williams and Garry Crawford (Salford)

AV culture, and aural diversity in film and social media

How is aural diversity represented in AV and film culture? Does it explore the full range of hearing experiences? How do multimodal approaches consider aural diversity? Can some approaches be considered ableist and how can they be adapted to be more aurally inclusive?

Supervisors: Holly Rogers and John Drever

Sound Affects: the effects of aural diversity

How does aural diversity shape our experience of sound through emotional and bodily states?

This project focuses on the affect, aural experiences and diversity, in understanding how sound is experienced and embodied by different people in different context, and how this shapes our understanding of the world, and in turn how this shapes us, and we shape it.

Supervisors: Garry Crawford and Gaynor Bagnall (Salford)

Rhythms of Place

How the shared and unique rhythms and identities of places develop over time.

Places are shaped not just by the physicality but also their sounds, be this the noise of a factory, railway line, or the music that emanates from clubs, bars, or street cultures. This project therefore seeks to explore culture, locality, and the experiences of place, through sound.

Supervisors: Garry Crawford and Gaynor Bagnall (Salford)

The Sounds of the Suburbs: politics, propaganda, and passion

The political and social power of sound, revealing how this varies greatly with individual and social context.

Just like the personal, sound is pollical. What sounds occur, where they occur, and also how we experience them are all shaped by social power relations. Sounds can be used for oppression, even violence, but can also be a source of resistance and rebellion. This project explores the contemporary urban context of sounds, and how they shape, control, or empower those who use and encounter them in their everyday lives.

Supervisors: Garry Crawford and Gaynor Bagnall (Salford)

Aural Diversity in Literature

How is the aural diversity of authors and their characters expressed in fictional work?

Supervisors: Andreas Kramer and John Drever (Goldsmiths)

Potential PHD Projects - Practice Research

Learning how extant methods and procedures in sound art, public art and participatory art practice can help inform aurally diverse sound and soundscape design (Practice Research)

Sound art and experimental music is abundant in diverse and novel ways of exploring space, place, sound and hearing, offering a wide range of audience / user engagement and participation. This PhD proposes a review of apposite methods and procedures in extant practice, exploring what lessons we can learn and through practice research approaches explore selected approaches in an applied soundscape design context.

Supervisors: John Drever and Iris Garrelfs (Goldsmiths)

The development of aural diversity thinking and practice around impaired and augmented spatial perception (Practice Research)

Using practice research methods to learn from and better support those with sensory impairment and aurally divergent hearing who require optimal context specific acoustics and sound design through auditory spatial awareness (Drever 2024).

Supervisor: John Drever (Goldsmiths)

Transient ear noise and in-flight popping – common aurally diverse experiences (Practice Research)

Through novel practice research methods, explore and communicate everyday hearing changes, such as ear popping, and transient noise, that we habitually ignore.

Supervisors: John Drever and Iris Garrelfs (Goldsmiths)

A review of aurally diverse empathy models - hearing loss, cochlear implants, etc. Best practice, their effectiveness, and the development of new approaches. (Practice Research)

Simulation of hearing impairments and divergent forms of hearing is increasingly being used as an empathy training tool, “to hear as other’s hear”. This approach requires thorough critiquing, as it engenders simplistic notions of hearing and generalisations, and is predicated on a normal hearer as the desired user. There is also a growing resistance within the autistic community to such approaches. A practice research approach can offer novel and better-informed approach.

Supervisors: John Drever and Monica Greco (Goldsmiths)

Potential PHD Projects - Disability and Health

A critical review of aural diversity from disability studies perspective

A critical review of aural diversity within the frame of a current disability, impairment and crip theory. At this stage of the development of this new field it is necessary to take a critical approach within the frame of related more developed fields.

Supervisors: Monica Greco and John Drever (Goldsmiths)

Socialising with hearing loss – impacts and interventions for older adults

Can interventions using hearing aids improve cognitive wellbeing and reduce dementia risk? Hearing loss in older age is known to negatively affect socialisation, with this having a negative impact on cognitive wellbeing, increasing risk of dementia, and other negative health outcomes (e.g. Loughrey et al., 2018). Yet, while hearing aids are available on the NHS in the UK, around 20% of people issued with them don’t use them. Further, while according to the Bristish Academy of Audiology it is estimated that over 6 million Uk residents would benefit from hearing aids, only around 2 million people use them. However, hearing loss makes socialisation difficult, with research suggesting it is a significant barrier to participation in social activity (e.g. Chaintré et al., 2023). This includes participating in social activities such as singing groups, an activity known to benefit cognitive health  (e.g. Galinha et al., 2021).

This PhD would investigate the interaction between hearing loss and social isolation and seek to provide and assess interventions in this area. Including investigating barriers around use of hearing aids and singing. This PhD will use a mixed-methods approach. Interviews/focus groups would be used to understand issues from the perspective of those experiencing hearing loss, including hearing aid users, survey data would be collected to get a broad view of the issues, and experimental methods would be employed to design and test interventions.

Supervisors: Sam Gregory and  Rebecca Vos (Salford)

The impact of environmental noise on lived experience of adults who experience fatigue

Many adults with chronic health conditions find fatigue among the most salient of their symptoms. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that fatigue and noise annoyance may interact: it can be harder to tolerate noise when fatigued, and being exposed to noise may worsen the fatigue symptoms. This project will take a participatory approach to investigate the interaction of fatigue and noise, working with adults who experience fatigue. The researcher will develop a model for the noise-fatigue process and also produce recommendations for more inclusive auditory environments.

Supervisors: Bethan Collins and Bill Davies (Salford)

Use of auditory cues to enable sport and physical activity in blind and visually impaired people

It is well known that blind and visually impaired people use specific auditory cues to navigate their surrounding environment. Nonetheless, there is a barrier to sport and physical activity given the difficulty to interact with a more demanding activity and environmental setting. This project will investigate whether specific auditory cues may be used in everyday sport and physical exercise for an aurally diverse population. Augmented reality strategies or sonification of the environment and the activity will be investigated. Skills and knowledge desirable for this project are experience in research for the visually impaired, knowledge of human auditory localisation, spatial audio and programming.

Supervisors: Bethan Collins and Bruno Fazenda (Salford)

Auditory navigation by blind people in everyday life

Which tools and environments work best, and which aspects of the acoustic environment best enable participation?

Supervisors: Bethan Collins and Bruno Fazenda (Salford)

Aural Diversity and Isolation in Later Life for Older Adults with Early-Stage Dementia

Sensorineural hearing loss in older populations is a prevalent yet complex condition that significantly impacts auditory functions. This type of hearing impairment is particularly noticeable in challenging listening environments, such as social settings with background noise, and can lead to significant difficulties in word recognition and processing (Salvi, et al., 2018). When this hearing loss occurs alongside dementia, it not only exacerbates social isolation and cognitive decline but also adversely affects cognitive reserve, a crucial defense mechanism against brain changes (Panza, et al., 2015).

With the increasing global incidence of dementia, it is vital to understand the connection between hearing loss, dementia, and isolation (Powell, 2022). Individuals with dementia notably experience a decline in social engagement (Hackett, Steptoe, Cadar, & Fancourt, 2019), underscoring the importance of strategies that address aural diversity, aural decline, and their roles in isolation. This research aims to deepen our understanding from the perspectives of people with early-stage dementia and their families on how aural diversity and hearing loss are experienced and the ways in which they contribute to the isolation experienced by this vulnerable group.

The appointed candidate will employ Grounded Theory as their principal research methodology, a practice highly regarded in the social sciences for its efficacy in deriving new theories from empirical data (Strauss and Corbin, 1998; Charmaz, 2006, 2014). Essential to this research is the active involvement with key stakeholders, particularly individuals with dementia and their families. This engagement is crucial for gaining an understanding of aural diversity and the relationship it may play in isolation and loneliness in older adults with early-stage dementia.

  • Hackett, R. A., Steptoe, A., Cadar, D., & Fancourt, D. (2019). Social engagement before and after dementia diagnosis in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. PLoS One, 14(8), e0220195.
  • Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing Grounded Theory. A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage
  • Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory. London: Sage
  • Panza, F., Solfrizzi, V., Seripa, D., Imbimbo, B., Capozzo, R., Quaranta, N., Pilotto, A., Logroscino, G. (2015). Age-related hearing impairment and frailty in Alzheimer’s disease: interconnected associations and mechanisms. Front. Aging Neurosci. 7:113. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00113
  • Powell, D. S., Oh, E. S., Reed, N. S., Lin, F. R., & Deal, J. A. (2022). Hearing loss and cognition: what we know and where we need to go. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 13, 769405.
  • Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics Of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures For Developing Grounded Theory (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Salvi R, Ding D, Jiang H, Chen GD, Greco A, Manohar S, Sun W, Ralli M (2018) Hidden age-related hearing loss and hearing disorders: current knowledge and future directions. Hearing Balance Commun 16:74–82.

Supervisors: Jay Vickers and Sam Gregory (Salford)

Aural diversity in sensory emotion regulation and its implications for mental health

Sensation and emotion are directly and indirectly linked. Whilst research suggests that sound is used to increase positive emotion and decrease negative emotion, sensation and hearing are omitted from models of emotion regulation. The PhD will investigate how aural diversity is associated with the strategic use of sound to up- or downregulate emotion and therefore have implications for the mental health and wellbeing of individuals with aural diversity.

Supervisors: Robert Bendall and Duncan Williams (Salford)

Aural diversity in therapeutic sensescape experiences: refugee and asylum seekers transnational soundscaping

The therapeutic landscapes concept is one way of exploring the links between health, wellbeing and place (Gesler, 1992). A therapeutic experience within place is never guaranteed because places do not hold inherent qualities, but therapeutic experiences can happen through relational, subjective and diverse interactions with place. A therapeutic landscape experience also requires some level of agency in how the person interacts with the space in pursuit of a therapeutic experience (Bell et al., 2014; Biglin, forthcoming) and is closely aligned with theories of place-making in which every day social practices generate subjectivities that create a unique sense of place, belonging and security. This relational thinking has encouraged exploration of the ‘dynamic, contingent and ever-morphing constellations of bodies-subjects-objects-ideas-spaces that together work to enhance or destroy the therapeutic potential of the spaces in question’ (Emerson, 2019: 596). Yet, despite this relational thinking, and the common understanding that place and place-making is a multi-sensory experience, the therapeutic landscape literature is ocularcentric. However, to fully understand the therapeutic potential of place encounters beyond the visual it is key to explore how people experience, shape and respond to diverse multisensory qualities of the place encounter (Bell et al., 2023).

Forced migration and the process of seeking asylum is an embodied experience. Pre migration contexts are traumatic, impacting negatively on the body. The asylum process, described as a form of ‘slow violence’ (Darling, 2022), is characterised by a racialised loss of bodily control (Ugolotti, 2020). Thus, people seeking asylum and refugees engage in various forms of embodied place-based practice to counter, challenge and engender wellbeing whilst in new places. Including a number of sound-based practices, for example, engaging in music, song, and social dancing or even attending to the sounds and smell of cooking traditional food. These are all ways in which transnational belonging; emplaced memory, and associated forms of wellbeing are transported and practiced.

Vision is also prioritised by Western media when representing asylum and migration. Little and Vaughan-Williams (2017) summarise: as sufferers, migrants are framed through apolitical interactions and, as a threat, the migrant appears in militarised representations of dark-skinned males crossing a border. What is lost through the silencing of asylum seekers and refugees, voices and soundscapes? Furthermore, how do forces and experiences such as power and privilege, cultural, mobility, inequality and political marginalisation influence the listening and wellbeing experience within place? Using participatory-action research methods, particularly, soundscaping this PhD will explore the sound-based therapeutic sensescape experiences of asylum seekers and refugees. There is an expectation that the candidate will be involved in action-based dissemination activities.

Supervisors: Josephine Biglin and Jostine Loubser (Salford)

The role of sound in everyday stress and wellbeing

We are all subject to the effects of sound and noise in our environments. Sound events can create stress and annoyance or promote wellbeing. This project will investigate how individual differences, context and temporal changes modulate the effect that sound has on our mood regulation, with an emphasis on aurally diverse populations. Standard subjective testing techniques (such as listening tests) will be used to collect data on subjective responses to sound events and their impact on subject mood and wellbeing. There will be a particular emphasis on modulation dependent on diverse listening styles and profiles. Desirable experience and skills for this project are prior experience in research of sound and noise effects on human response, the design of listening studies and audio signal processing.

Supervisors: Victoria McQuillan and Bruno Fazenda (Salford)

Who should apply

You should have a minimum of a First-class undergraduate degree or a 2:1 + Masters in a relevant area. If you do not meet these requirements, but feel you have relevant experience akin to Masters, please contact the team explaining these factors prior to application  via Conditional offers can be made for students currently on such a course. We regret that we cannot accept international applicants this year. However, LAURA will be recruiting again for entry in October 2025 and 2026 and we will offer some international places then.

Some of the PhD topics involve studying a particular group of aurally divergent people – for example, there are several suggested projects on autistic hearing. If you have a hearing difference yourself or otherwise identify with the group you wish to study, then we particularly encourage you to apply. A range of aural diversity is represented in the supervisors and directors of LAURA.

If you are from one or more of the groups listed below then we can offer you additional support during the application process, such as a mentor who could offer advice on your draft application.  Enquire about being matched with an independent mentor by emailing These groups are under-represented in research:

  • You are from an ethnic group that is underrepresented in research careers (Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic).
  • You identify as having a disability. The term ‘disability’ is quite broad, and further definitions of what might be considered a ‘disability’ can be found under the Equality Act 2010.
  • You are a first-generation student (you are the first person in your family to go to university).
  • You are a mature student (you were aged 21 or over when you started your first undergraduate course).
  • You are care-experienced or an estranged student.

Apply Now

  1. Study the list of suggested research topics and supervisors above. Contact the lead supervisor of the ONE project that most interests you and suggest a 1-page outline that expands on the paragraph in our list. If the supervisor agrees, you will develop your outline into a full PhD proposal.
  1. After discussing your PhD project with your potential supervisor, you should apply through the relevant University’s central PGR admissions system. If you are applying for a project and supervisor based at Salford, apply through the Salford PGR system: . If you are applying for a project and supervisor based at Goldsmiths, apply through the Goldsmiths PGR system:
  1. You must state that you are applying for LAURA funding in your application.
    1. If you are applying to Salford, use the drop-down list in the portal to select Leverhulme Scholarships in the Finance box.
    2. If you are applying to Goldsmiths, indicate Leverhulme funding in the portal.
  1. Your application via the portal must include:
    1. 2000-word PhD proposal
    2. Degree certificate
    3. Transcript
    4. A personal statement outlining your research training so far and how this will equip you for PhD research. (For example, your Masters might have included a Research Methods module, your dissertation project might have used relevant methods, etc.)
    5. Referee details

You can find advice on how to write your proposal at

  1. Informal enquiries about specific PhD subjects should be made to the supervisor. General enquiries about LAURA and the application process should be made to
  1. The closing date is 21 April 2024

If you are applying for a project and supervisor based at Salford, apply through the Salford PGR system:

Apply Now

If you are applying for a project and supervisor based at Goldsmiths, apply through the Goldsmiths PGR system

Contact Us

If you would like further information on The Leverhulme Doctoral Centre for Aural Diversity, then please contact us on this email address: