EPILEPSY RESEARCH INSTITUTE DTC PROJECT: Decision making regarding the risks and benefits of ASM treatment: how do people with epilepsy make these decisions?



There is evidence that sexual and reproductive health counselling is often omitted or performed poorly for people with epilepsy. Fragmentation between neurology and other sexual/reproductive health providers is found for women with epilepsy (WWE) and men with epilepsy (MWE). WWE are reported to prefer their neurologists to initiate discussion on the topic and for discussion to start in adolescence. There is limited evidence of the sexual and reproductive needs of men with epilepsy and how best to meet their needs.   

The information needs of WWE and clinicians caring for women have been researched, and guidelines are in place. However, repeated patient surveys completed by the three main epilepsy patient organisations in the UK reveal that for women, knowledge deficits continue and there are reports of information not including the content recommended in practice guideline. Little is known of the sexual and reproductive health information needs of men and clinicians caring for men. There are new requirements for both men and women taking valproate during their reproductive years, likely to affect treatment decision-making, including the uncertainty of risks to male fertility and potential longer-term effects on children born to males taking valproate at conception and for women through pregnancy. The impact of receiving this information on ASM decision-making is unknown.

There is an evidence gap in how best to meet the needs of reproductive-aged people with epilepsy attending the epilepsy clinic where there might be competing interests and priorities between patients and healthcare professionals.


This mixed-methods study will explore the experiences of reproductive health and antiseizure medications decision-making for people with epilepsy.


Recruiting from both Liverpool and Manchester, the study will be composed of the following components:

1. A systematic review of reproductive decision making for people with epilepsy and antiseizure medications.

2. Qualitative in-depth interviews will be conducted with men and women aged 16-55 years who have recently attended a follow-up appointment with a consultant with a special interest in epilepsy to explore the influence of sexual reproductive health information on antiseizure medication decision-making.

3. A survey of sexual and reproductive health information needs will be developed for completion by people with epilepsy aged 16-55 years and healthcare professionals with a special interest in epilepsy.

4. Sexual and reproductive health information and decision aids will be co-produced through multistakeholder workshops.


Data generated via this project will directly and immediately influence clinical practice via enhancing the understandings of patient decision-making. The project impact will help enhance the use of new data available from the other projects. This information will be utilised by clinical teams to support of people with epilepsy of childbearing potential facing treatment decisions. 


You will join an active team of researchers who will supervise and support this study, including neurologists, epilepsy specialist nurses, and other health care professionals. This project is part of a larger network of research organised via the Epilepsy Research Institute Doctoral Training Centre (ERI DTC). The successful applicant will therefore be part of a community of PhD students conducting research into epilepsy.

Candidate qualities:

·        Essential qualities: Good (First/Upper Second Class) degree in a relevant subject area (e.g., psychology, human neuroscience, etc.), self-motivated, organised and interested in how people make decisions about their health. Applicants will also have experience in research with human participants and an ability to work effectively individually and as part of a team. Excellent computer skills.

·        Desirable qualities: Masters degree in a relevant discipline. Prior experience of mixed-methods research methodology. Experience in collecting patient data.

Informal enquiries may be made to Professor Marson: 

Interviews for this studentship will be held during week commencing 15th July 2024

How to apply

*Please note that candidates may apply for any number of Epilepsy Research Institute (ERI) projects at the University of Manchester and Liverpool for October 2024 entry. A maximum of 6 projects are available across the institutions

Please apply to the University of Liverpool’s Apply Yourself portal available at: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/how-to-apply//. Please ensure that you follow the following notes when completing this page:

Academic Information 1

In Admission Term, apply for 2024-25 entry

In Application Type, select Research Degree (MPhil/PhD/MD) – Full time

In Programme of Study, select Public Health – Doctor in Philosophy (PhD)

Education and Qualifications 1

Upload the relevant transcripts or certificates here

Research Degree Additional Information

In supervisors you can add the primary supervisor name/s for the project/s you are interested in

In research project or topic, add the project title/s you are interested in

In Are you applying for a studentship within an RCUK Centre for Doctoral Training, tick Yes

The Proposed Start Date is October 2024.

Supporting Information

Upload your CV and supporting statement here. A research proposal is not required; if a document is required you may upload a Word document simply stating the project title you are applying to.


Please insert the names and contact details of your referees in the application form.

Other information – Finance and Publicity

In Do you already have funding in place, tick No.

In What is your main source of funding, select Studentship.

In If you have been awarded funding or you are applying for funding (sponsorship, scholarship, studentship or award), please provide details, insert Studentship

In If you have selected studentship, please indicate the type of studentships (e.g. University of Liverpool studentship) and provide the reference number of this studentship, enter ERI DTC PhD Studentship – THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT

Each applicant to the ERI programme will be asked to complete an EDI data form in order to report to ERI on candidate characteristics. A request will be made to all candidates as part of the acknowledgement of their application, via email. 

For further information regarding the ERI, please see here: https://epilepsy-institute.org.uk/eri/research/research-portfolio/cognition-in-people-with-epilepsy-and-their-offspring-how-does-epilepsy-and-its-treatment-affect-brain-function/