Christine Leonards

Research Project Title: Altered neural activity as a marker of dysfunctional cognitive-affective processes and treatment response in depression.

Research Project Summary:
People with depression often experience cognitive-affective impairments, including in their decision-making ability. However, the neural mechanisms underlying these dysfunctional processes and how they may moderate treatment response are not fully understood. This PhD project will investigate task-related brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the neural mechanisms that underlie impaired cognitive-affective function in depression as well as assess the predictive quality of this activity with regards to treatment response.

Student Profile:
I completed my undergraduate degree with honours in psychology at Macquarie University, Sydney. It was during this time that I developed a strong interest in research, so I went on to complete a Master of Research (psychology) with the view to then continue on to a PhD. However, after completion, I was offered the opportunity to purse registration as a psychologist, so I took a break from research to complete a Master of Professional Psychology and work towards general registration which I received in 2019. Working in private practice and mental health hospitals with diverse populations presenting with a range of psychiatric disorders allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for the integration of clinical work and research, so I was keen to incorporate both of those in my PhD.

I am excited to be completing a PhD project that will produce new insights into the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive-affective disturbances in depression, and that can also be used to inform the effectiveness of treatments and treatment outcomes. I am grateful to be completing a joint PhD which I view as an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with international teams, expand my cultural and research horizons, and further develop my neuroscientific knowledge and skills as a researcher.

Project Duration: 3 – 4 years


University of Melbourne: Prof. Chris Davey, Prof. Ben Harrison

University of Bonn:  Prof Dr Alexandra Philipsen, Prof Dr Ulrich Ettinger, Prof. Dr. Bernd WeberProf Dr Silke Lux


How to apply


Applicants for STJU Melbourne Joint PhD projects should:

  • Identify a project of interest
  • Register your interest with the project supervisor based at the University of Melbourne, including the following information:
    • Name, contact details
    • Joint PhD project of interest
    • Cover Letter, CV and Transcript
    • Any supporting documentation


  • All applicants are required to meet the entry requirements for a PhD at both partner universities to be considered for the program.
  • All participants are required to complete 12 months’ residency at the partner institution.


Minimum entry requirements for a PhD at Melbourne are summarised on the course website of the relevant faculty of your University of Melbourne supervisor:



The successful candidates will be funded by either UoM Graduate Research Scholarship or Bonn. This funding includes a full scholarship, health insurance and mobility support.  Scholarship support will be available for up to 4 years.

Advanced interventions for mood disorders

Project summary:
Mood disorders are one of the greatest causes of disability in the community. Both major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder usually start during adolescence and early adulthood, and frequently recur, causing suffering and disability over a large part of the lifespan. Our firstline treatments for mood disorders – psychotherapy and medication – are helpful for many patients, but many do not get the help from them they need.

Our research seeks to find new treatments, and new treatment approaches, for mood disorders. We are studying new treatments in clinical trials, and using functional MRI to understand how they work, and which patients they help. We are also using functional MRI to help us better understand the disorders themselves.

Steward T, Davey CG, Jamieson AJ, Stephanou K, Soriano-Mas C, Felmingham KL, Harrison BJ (2021) Dynamic neural interactions supporting the cognitive reappraisal of emotion. Cereb Cortex 31(2):961–973.

Davey CG, Chanen AM, Hetrick SE, Cotton SM, Ratheesh A, Amminger GP, Koutsogiannis J, Phelan M, Mullen E, Harrison BJ, et al. (2019) The addition of fluoxetine to cognitive behavioural therapy for youth depression (YoDA-C): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre clinical trial. Lancet Psychiatry 6(9):735–744.

Davey, C. G. & McGorry, P. D. (2019). Early intervention for depression in young people: a blind spot in mental health care. The Lancet Psychiatry, 6(3), 267-272.

Davey CG, Harrison BJ (2018) The brain’s center of gravity: how the default mode network helps us to understand the self. World Psychiatry 17(3):278–279.

Davey CG, Breakspear M, Pujol J, Harrison BJ (2017) A Brain Model of Disturbed Self-Appraisal in Depression. Am J Psychiatry 174(9):895–903.

Davey CG, Pujol J, Harrison BJ (2016) Mapping the self in the brain’s default mode network. Neuroimage 132:390–397.

Principal Investigators

University of Melbourne: Prof Ben HarrisonProf Chris Davey

The University of Bonn: Prof Dr Alexandra Philipsen, Prof Dr Silke Lux

PhD candidate: Eva Halbe

Eva Halbe

Research Project Title:  The impact of somatic markers on the decision-making behavior in ADHD and Depression.

Research Project Summary:
Patients suffering from ADHD and depression are often impaired in their decision-making ability. Despite the high prevalence of co-occurrence of both disorders, the alternations in decision-making behavior diverge strongly and may be associated with possible defective formation of somatic markers. This project will investigate the basis of decision-making behavior and proof deficient cognition by using functional imaging, in order to verify transcranial magnetic stimulation as an alternative treatment method.

Student Profile:
I completed my bachelor thesis at the University of Bonn in the field of comparative neurobiology. To deepen my knowledge in human’s behavior, neurological diseases and imaging techniques, I decided to enroll in the master’s program ‘experimental and clinical neuroscience’ at the University of Cologne and achieved my master thesis in cooperation with the institute of aerospace medicine (German Aerospace Centre) in 2020. Due to my part-time job in the neuropsychology department of the University Hospital in Cologne and my study courses, I have developed a keen interest in the clinical orientated work and the research of mental disorders.

I see my joint PhD project as an opportunity to gain new insights into the neural basis of behavior, particularly with regard to the connections between cognitive and emotional deficits. In addition, I will have the chance to be involved in the development of new treatment methods that can be used as an alternative clinical intervention.

Project Duration: 3 – 4 years

University of Bonn: Prof Alexandra Philipsen, Prof Silke Lux

University of Melbourne: Prof Ben Harrison, Prof Chris Davey

Our Supervisors

Prof Carsten Murawski
Carsten Murawski is the academic lead of the Bonn and Melbourne Research and Graduate School of Decision Neuroscience. He is a professor in the Department of Finance and is the co-head of the Brain, Mind and Markets Laboratory at the University of Melbourne. Professor Murawski uses laboratory experiments in his research to study individual decision-making, in particular its neurobiological basis. The focus of his work is on determining in what ways information processing constraints in the brain affect decision-making, how they can explain the use of heuristics and emergence of cognitive biases, and in what ways mental illness impairs information processing and decision-making.

Prof Chris Davey
Chris Davey is a psychiatrist and researcher and is Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne. Professor Davey’s research focuses on studying effective treatments for mood disorders, and he has led large NHMRC-funded multicentre clinical trials. He is interested in using brain imaging to examine depression and social-affective processes.

Prof Dr Ulrich Ettinger
Ulrich Ettinger is the Bonn Academic Lead for the pilot International Research Training Group. He is the Head of the Section of Cognitive Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bonn. His research interests include inhibition and impulsivity, oculomotor control, experimental psychopharmacology as well as the schizophrenia spectrum. Professor Ettinger is the lead University of Bonn supervisor for two of the four research projects within the pilot IRTG.

Prof Ben Harrison
Ben Harrison is Professor of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience and holds dual appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre. Over the past decade, Ben has established the ‘Depression and Anxiety Neuroscience’ program: a research group devoted to the neuroscience of cognitive and affective processes and their role in mood and anxiety disorders – the most common form of mental illness.His team conducts experimental functional neuroimaging research in healthy and clinical populations and has a primary interest in the development of treatment-oriented imaging biomarkers.

Prof Christos Pantelis
Christos Pantelis is Foundation Professor of Neuropsychiatry and Scientific Director of the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Melbourne ( He leads a team of over 60 clinical and research scientists and students that have been undertaking neuroimaging and neuropsychological work in schizophrenia and psychosis, and other psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders since 1993 in Australia. Professor Pantelis established some of the first studies on cognition in psychosis, and first studies on neuroimaging in pre-psychosis individuals. His group was first to describe progressive brain structural changes at psychosis onset. He has a strong track record in establishing cross-disciplinary collaborative research and has received major funding from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). He is a Thompson Reuters highly cited researcher since 2014. Recent work examines the neurobiology of schizophrenia in clinical and preclinical studies. Relevant to the collaboration with Bonn, he has established cognitive and neuroimaging work in childhood schizotypal disorder.

Prof Dr Alexandra Philipsen
Alexandra Philipsen is a Professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the University of Bonn and the director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the University Hospital Bonn. Prof Philipsen has her main research focus in the field of clinical psychopharmacological and non-pharmacological trials in adult ADHD and psychiatric disorders with emotion dysregulation. She has led or has been involved in several clinical trials (including the “COMPAS” study). She also has comprehensive experience in conducting experimental neuropsychological studies using functional brain imaging methods, and has developed novel medical technologies for the assessment and treatment of adult ADHD (virtual reality scenarios, wearables). Her recent research includes experimental studies on the effects of physical exercise on cognitive functioning in ADHD.


Schizotypal symptoms in children and youth at high risk for psychosis

Project Summary:
Investigation of the course of schizotypal disorder in the early (childhood) developmental period, and tracking its long-term effects on behaviour and functional outcome.

A team at the University of Melbourne and University of Bonn have developed a program of work investigating decision making in the schizophrenia spectrum through exploring developmental trajectories, neural correlates and cognitive mechanisms. Decision making deficits occur in a number of psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, and present a problem with substantial implication for lifestyle and health choices. There is also evidence that people with high levels of schizotypy, a personality constellation reflecting risk for schizophrenia, to show altered decision making, supporting the hypothesis for a continuum between schizophrenia and subclinical expressions such as schizotypy. More information is available here: Bonn_UoM_Schizotypal project_Poster

Principal Investigators:
The University of Melbourne: Prof Christos Pantelis
The University of Bonn: Prof Dr Ulrich Ettinger