The Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) enrolls Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students from a wide range of disciplines to undertake a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Master of Philosophy (MPhil).  

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree enables you to undertake a substantial piece of independent and sustained research on an original topic under academic supervision. The research is expected to make a significant and innovative contribution to the discipline.

HDR students have the opportunity to work with professors and senior researchers on advertised ISSR PhD Projects, existing research projects or choose projects relating to the Institute’s research clusters.

As the largest social science research institute in Australia, with a track record of high-quality, high significance engaged research, the Institute is uniquely placed to offer high quality research training and HDR advising.

Institute staff currently advise over 60 research higher degree (PhD and MPhil) students across a range of scientific disciplines including: sociology, public policy, psychology, statistics, criminology, mathematics, political science, anthropology, and architecture.

Work in the Institute is distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • A concern with significant “real-world” questions and problems that have relevance beyond disciplines and beyond the academy
  • A multidisciplinary perspective that recognises the importance of social structures, cultures, institutions, individual differences and human/environment interactions in shaping outcomes and processes
  • A commitment to advanced theories and methods of social enquiry
  • A reliance on large-scale high quality empirical data
  • High levels of engagement in research, research training and other activities with Australian and international researchers, government, industry and the not-for-profit sector
  • Opportunity to work on existing large-scale externally funded research projects
  • Work on applied social research and analysis of policy in social context
  • Research support funding and internship opportunities
  • A seminar program where Institute staff and international visiting experts deliver seminars on cutting edge research

ISSR aims to provide its students with a distinctive study experience which is characterised by applied research, teaching and commercial opportunities. To support this, the Institute requires our students to sign a Student Intellectual Property and Confidentiality Agreement (SIPCA) as a condition of enrolment, pursuant to UQ’s policy on Intellectual Property for Staff, Students and Visitors. Independent legal advice is available to students free-of-charge through the UQ Student Union (see

HDR students are encouraged to link their research to either existing ISSR research projects, projects relating to the Institute’s research areas, or to apply for an advertised ISSR PhD Project.

The strategy of linking to an existing project or theme has a number of advantages over “curiosity-driven” solo projects, as it:

  • Provides students with experience of “real-world” research on significant topics and questions that are of interest and importance to different stakeholders and end-users
  • Allows access to levels of project resourcing that exceed what can be offered to students working on solo projects
  • Replicates actual research processes in universities, industry, government and the not-for-profit sector
  • Allows for training in team-based and multi-disciplinary research, and transferable skills such as grant and tender preparation, budgeting and project management, time management, and the meeting of deliverables and milestones
  • Provides opportunities for interaction, engagement and networking with researchers, partners and stakeholders
  • Aligns the interests and students and advisors in ensuring good HDR outcomes, because these outcomes are central to the success of the advisors’ research projects.

ISSR Director of Research Training, Dr Francisco Perales Perez,

The Institute for Social Science Research is a national leader in advanced interdisciplinary social science and evidence based policy research. ISSR researchers address some of the most important issues and challenges facing Australia today in areas such as education, employment, housing, social wellbeing, homelessness, sustainability, and Indigenous studies. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, our scholars work closely with policy makers and frontline development workers to ensure our research directly impacts upon policy and practice and contributes to systemic institutional change.

The ISSR Research Higher Degree Subcommittee is responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring ISSR policy and procedures for Research Higher Degree programs (PhD and MPhil). 

ISSR is committed to providing the highest quality experience for PhD students. Students who undertake a PhD with staff at ISSR will interact with leading social science researchers and have access to the country's most advanced social science research infrastructure.

In recent years, PhD graduates supervised by ISSR staff have won the Jean Martin Award for the Best PhD Thesis in Sociology, and the Australian and New Zealand Regional Science International Award for the best PhD thesis in Regional Science.

Research project topics

Research topics on the following, or gain inspiration from our list of projects:

Disadvantage, poverty and welfare

  • Inequality and social mobility - Prof Western
  • Innovative strategies to engage disadvantaged communities - Dr Povey


  • Socio-economic background, student engagement and academic performance in school - Dr Tomaszewski
  • The links between disadvantage and educational and labour market outcomes over the early life-course - Dr Tomaszewski
  • Pathways into higher education of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds - Dr Tomaszewski
  • Principal leadership for Parent-school-community engagement in disadvantaged schools - Dr Povey
  • School leadership, school climate and parent engagement: predicting student outcomes - Dr Povey
  • Intergenerational transfer of education aspirations and attitudes as a means to close the disadvantage gap - Dr Povey
  • The impact of academic socialisation on student outcomes - Dr Povey
  • Exploring parent and school perspectives on homework - Dr Povey
  • Culture-fair assessment/evaluations - Dr Povey

Family, gender and sexuality

  • Family structure and child wellbeing - Dr Perales
  • Family dynamics (including cohabitation, marriage, divorce, fertility, child development and relationship satisfaction) - Prof Baxter
  • Gendered consequences of life course transitions - Prof BaxterDr Perales
  • Gender inequality (including domestic labour, links between paid & unpaid work) - Prof Baxter
  • Gender role attitudes - Prof Baxter
  • Sexual identity and life outcomes in contemporary Australia - Dr Perales

Life course

Survey methods

  • Innovative survey methods to reach hard-to-reach population groups - Dr Povey

HDR training

ISSR is committed to providing the highest quality experience for HDR students that foster the development of independent research skills.

ISSR’s research training and professional development initiatives are designed to create a nationally distinctive and internationally recognised Social Science HDR graduate. We believe that we can offer students a program that is informed by an evidence-based understanding of the diverse pathways into the Research Higher Degree, the diverse jobs and employment arrangements graduates subsequently experience, and the HDR experiences and training that most effectively equip graduates for research and employment in these diverse settings.

Overall the ISSR HDR training program provides opportunities for:

  • High level training in key aspects of research methodologies
  • Broad disciplinary training rather than narrow focus on a thesis topic
  • Formal interactions and networking with established researchers
  • Working closely with supervisors and peers in disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research teams
  • Presentation of research findings at national and international conferences
  • Internships and research experience with potential employers
  • Training and experience in transferable research skills such as writing for academic and non-academic audiences, project management, project budgeting, tender and grant preparation
  • Experience engaging with stakeholders and end-users in government, industry and the not-for-profit sector
  • Professional development & targeted training courses

HDR resources

HDR students have access to:

  • Research support funding to help with costs of fieldwork, conference attendance, data management and collection, specialised software and fees for specialised training
  • Resources commensurate with the requirements of the research project and thesis preparation
  • Shared office accommodation
  • ISSR seminar/training room
  • Onsite IT facilities and computers with statistics software
  • Expertise in data analysis
  • Existing large-scale data sets

The Institute has some of the most advanced social science research infrastructure in the country, including:

  • Quantitative and qualitative social science data archives that are part of the Australian Data Archive, Australia’s national repository for social science data
  • Hardware and software for advanced social science data management and analysis