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Dopamine, social cognition and bodily movement: unpacking a complex relationship (ERC-Funded)

   School of Psychology

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  Dr J Cook  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Apply here:

Application deadline:
25th May 2018

Studentship start date:
30th July 2018 or as soon as possible thereafter.

Applications are invited for a fully-funded (fees + stipend) Ph.D. to begin in July 2018. The successful candidate will work together with Dr. Jennifer Cook on a European Research Council (ERC)-funded project on the relationship between social cognition, bodily movement and function of the dopaminergic neurotransmitter system (ERC-StG-Brain2Bee).


Project description:
Studies of Parkinson’s Disease have typically focused on difficulties with bodily movement (e.g. difficulties with walking), and studies of Autism have tended to focus on social cognition. The co-occurrence of social and movement symptoms is thus critically underappreciated; Parkinson’s Disease patients exhibit social symptoms, and motor challenges (e.g. difficulties with handwriting) are common in Autism. At present, the biological basis of co-occurring social and motor symptoms is unclear. Notably, both Autism and Parkinson’s Disease have been associated with atypicalities in the function of the dopaminergic neurotransmitter system. This Ph.D. project aims to improve understanding of the complex relationship between social cognition, bodily movement and the dopamine system. This aim will be achieved using psychopharmacology studies and behavioural training in typical individuals and in those with Autism or Parkinson’s Disease. Results from this package of work will help us to move closer to a cross-disorder understanding of factors underlying variation in social and motor ability.

The Candidate:

• at least a 2.1 in first degree
• a high level of motivation
• excellent interpersonal and organisational skills
• basic knowledge of statistics
• English language proficiency
• willingness to work as part of an interdisciplinary team

Desirable (but not essential):

• first degree (Bachelors) in Psychology/Cognitive Neuroscience /Clinical Neuroscience/ Neuroimaging or a related field
• experience of behavioural experimental methods (e.g. via an undergraduate project, or through volunteering in a lab.)
• experience working with a clinical population
• ability to communicate complex information clearly
• evidence of being able to disseminate research findings (e.g. via a talk/journal publication/poster presentation/journal club participation)
• basic programming skills (e.g. Matlab)

The School:
The School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham ( is one of the largest and most successful in the UK, currently ranked in the top 5 schools in the country (REF 2014). Our school has a thriving research culture and collaborative ethos, we routinely host cross-College seminars and there are multiple formal and informal opportunities for training in advanced methods. The School of Psychology has laboratories specially equipped for work in human brain sciences, psychophysiology, cognition, visual and auditory perception, psychopharmacology, social psychology, child development, and clinical and forensic psychology. In addition, the School is home to the Centre for Human Brain Health and the Institute of Adolescent Mental Health, both world-class interdisciplinary Centres which bring together researchers from the broader Life, Medical and Social Sciences at the University to explore the basic underpinning science of healthy brains and mental wellbeing as well as clinical applications to specific neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions.

Application procedure:
Prospective candidates are required to apply first using the University of Birmingham on-line application system. In order for the application to be processed quickly, candidates should submit a personal statement, CV, 2 references, and transcript of grades.

A copy of the on-line application form and guidance notes can be found at the following website:

Please indicate in the funding section of the application form that this is an ERC-funded studentship and e-mail [Email Address Removed] to indicate you have applied.

After shortlisting, applicants that have progressed to the next stage will be invited for an interview with Dr. Cook. In order to prepare for the interview candidates should think about a) their motivation for applying for this Ph.D. position, b) ways in which their previous experience has prepared them for this particular Ph.D. project, and c) other experiences / personality characteristics will help them in their Ph.D studies.

Further Information:
If you would like to find out more information about the above project, please contact Dr. Jennifer Cook, [Email Address Removed]

For any enquiries about the application process please contact the Graduate School Administrative Officer (Tel: +44(0)121 414 2864/4906; Email: [Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Funding Notes:
This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. International Students from outside the EU may apply, but may be liable for the difference between UK/EU and International (Overseas) tuition fees.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3 years of full-time study to commence on 30th July 2018, or as soon as possible thereafter.

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