Human Nutrition Research Centre

Staff Profile

Dr Nicola O'Brien

Senior Research Methodologist


Nicola O'Brien (née Hobbs)


I am a chartered health psychologist and my research focuses on developing evidence-based behaviour change interventions to promote health of individuals and populations. I am particularly interested in developing scalable interventions that use physical activity for primary and secondary prevention of age-related musculoskeletal conditions. I have expertise in co-design methods for intervention development and in n-of-1 methods to test health behaviour theory and interventions at the individual level.

In 2012 I was granted an International Society of Behavioral Medicine Early Career Award. 

I am a research advisor for the NIHR Research Design Service NE. I provide first contact advice to health professionals and academic staff wishing to apply for national peer-reviewed funding for health and social care research. I advise on study design, methods and funding sources, and facilitate links to specialist support. 


Stage 2 Qualification in Health Psychology, British Psychological Society (2011)

PhD Health Psychology, University of Stirling (2010)

MSc Health Psychology, University of Sussex (2003)

BSc Joint Honours Psychology and Philosophy, University of Leeds (2002)

Previous Positions

Research Associate (health psychology), Newcastle University (2010-2015)

Qualitative Research Fellow, Cancer Care Research Centre, University of Stirling (2010)

Health Psychologist (pain management), Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala, Guatemala (2004-2007)


Health Professions Council (Health Psychologist)

British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology

European Health Psychology Society

UK Society for Behavioural Medicine


English and Spanish


Research Interests

Co-designing, developing and evaluating behaviour change interventions

Using an n-of-1 (single case) methodology to test theory and interventions at the individual level

Physical activity and disability behaviours in people with musculoskeletal and other chronic illnesses

Pain and pain management

Postgraduate Supervision

Current PhD, Rebecca Brown (MRC-Arthritis Research UK)

2016 PhD, Suzanne McDonald (MRC)

2016 Stage 2 Qualification in Health Psychology, Suzanne McDonald (British Psychological Society)

I am interested in hearing from potential PhD or Stage 2 Qualification in Health Psychology students regarding supervision.

Esteem Indicators

International Society of Behavioral Medicine Early Career Awardee (2012).


Taylor J-P, Killen A, Flynn D & O’Brien N. Feasibility and acceptability of a dementia with lewy body support and information group (2017-2019). The Lewy Body Society. £50,000

Moffatt S, Penn L, O’Brien N. Ways to Wellness (2016-2017). National Institute of Health Research School for Public Health Research Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme. £51,609

Moffatt S, Wilson, Drinkwater C, Gibbon, Lowe, Martin, O’Brien N & Penn L. Ways to Wellness Management (2015-2016). Cabinet Office. £99,813

Jakovljevic D, O’Brien N, Avery L, MacGowan G. Personalised home-based physical activity intervention in older adults with Heart Failure: advancing towards an effective clinical therapy (2015-2016). National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre. £39,551

Hobbs N, Sniehotta F, Cuthbertson D, Mathers J. A systematic review of the effect of lifestyle interventions on musculoskeletal function in older adults: which behaviour change techniques are most effective? (2013-2014). Medical Research Council-Arthritis Research UK. £28,663

White M, Adamson A, Adams J, O’Brien N, Stead M, Vale L, Stockton D, Brown H & Halligan J. Phase 2 research to support the evaluation and implementation of adult cooking skills interventions in the UK: pilot RCT with process and economic evaluation components (2013-2014). Department of Health Public Health Research Consortium. £255,364

Hobbs N, Mathers J, Cuthbertson D. Impact of physical activity and vitamin D supplementation in obese older adults with musculoskeletal pain: a cross-sectional study and randomised clinical trial (MRes/PhD studentship) (2012- 2016). Medical Research Council-Arthritis Research UK. £120,000   

Isaacs J, van Laar J, Ng WF, Rapley T, Kay L, Blamire A & Birrell F (O’Brien N named collaborator). Newcastle Biomedicine Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre: Translational research engagement programme to explore the attitudes of key stakeholders towards translational, early phase and invasive research. (2012-2017). Arthritis Research UK. £375,000


I deliver a session on coding behaviour change techniques for the Public Health Intervention module of the MSc Public Health and Health Services Research.  

I supervise PhD, MSc and MRes students and Stage 2 Qualification in Health Psychology candidates.