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  Funded PhD - How do animals stay vigilant during sleep?

   School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience

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  Dr Alice French  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Sleep is vital for health and cognition yet is usually associated with unconsciousness meaning individuals are vulnerable to dangers in their environment and are unable to capitalize on resources should they become available (e.g food or a mate). In order to benefit from sleeps’ restorative properties yet mitigate the drawbacks inherent with going “off-line”, a level of vigilance is vital.

How do animals do this?

1) Some are capable of sleeping one side of the brain while the other remains awake (Uni- hemispheric sleep).

2) Others exhibit frequent awakenings to monitor their surroundings.

3) Many species sleep in groups and take it in turns to keep watch.

4) Lastly, some can wake rapidly upon detection of salient information.

This latter strategy is employed by animals ranging from humans to fruit flies and calls for the capacity to wake selectively to salient cues whilst ignoring innocuous ones. The first aim of this PhD is to explain how sleeping brains discriminate between stimuli and instruct waking or sleep continuation. To do this, the candidate will use a state-of-the-art video tracking system and associated modules to probe sleep in fruit flies using a panel of sensory stimuli. Recently published connectomes, optogenetic tools and calcium indicators are part of the arsenal that the student will use to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying valence encoding during sleep.

The second aim of this PhD project will be to determine whether flies can adapt their arousal thresholds or unconscious sensory acuity according to context (for instance when in proximity to a predator or subject to resource scarcity). By comparing vigilance in different species, under varied environmental conditions, the candidate will investigate the plasticity of this behaviour, as well as the evolutionary and ecological pressures driving it.

The scholarship

The studentship is funded by UKRI-EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, formerly an ERC-Starting grant).

The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, based on scientific excellence.

EPSRC invests in world-leading research and skills to advance knowledge and deliver a sustainable, resilient, and prosperous UK. We support new ideas and transformative technologies which are the foundations of innovations that improve our economy, environment and society.

How to apply  

The application deadline is 4pm 1/04/2024. 

For information on the programme and how to apply please see the link 

Please apply on the University of Bristol application portal: Start your application | Study at Bristol | University of Bristol and select "Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience (PhD)". In the funding section, please indicate “EPSRC Scholarship”.

Please ensure that you make a full application and provide all supporting documents as detailed on the Admissions Statement, in the "Entry Requirements" section.


Please contact Dr Alice French if you have any queries about the project - [Email Address Removed]

The Faculty of Life Sciences admin team is available to answer admin-related queries - [Email Address Removed].

Biological Sciences (4) Computer Science (8) Engineering (12) Mathematics (25)

Funding Notes

This project is available for a 4-year PhD. The studentship duration is four years, and it includes an annual stipend set at the current UKRI recommendation of £19,162.  Tuition fees for home students* and research costs are fully supported by the studentship.
*Overseas candidates will need to cover the difference between overseas and UK home fees, alongside any costs for moving to the UK, including student visa and healthcare surcharge if applicable.
An allowance for paid sick leave and parental leave is available as well, in addition to 5 weeks of paid leave each year.

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