Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now

  Sensory processing and signal assessment during communication, Biosciences – PhD (Funded)

   Department of Biosciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr L Kelley, Dr J Troscianko  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


Dr Laura Kelley, University of Exeter

Dr Jolyon Troscianko, University of Exeter

Location: Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus, Cornwall

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation is inviting applications for a PhD studentship fully-funded by the Royal Society and the Faculty to commence on 23 September 2024 or as soon as possible thereafter. For eligible students the studentship will cover Home or International tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £19,237 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.

Project Description:

Many animals use signals of colour or size as indicators of quality in mate choice and male-male conflict. It is often assumed that these signals are processed linearly, where an increase in signal size results in a commensurate increase in perceived quality. However, signals are often not perceived linearly, due to sensory processes such as visual illusions, signal categorisation, and proportional processing. This project aims to quantify these processes in poeciliid fishes, with a particular focus on sensory processing during mate choice and male-male interactions. By investigating how these processes are affected by biotic and abiotic environmental factors, we will determine how sensory processes and signalling environment can affect signal form, behavioural outcomes, and the evolution of visual signals.

Using discrimination tasks, automated fish tracking and artificial evolution experiments, this project will address fundamental questions about the importance of perceptual processing during signal assessment. The successful candidate will have an interest in visual ecology, sexual selection and animal behaviour, previous experience working with fishes is not essential.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. 

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the required level as per our guidance at

For further information adn how to apply - see this link: Award details | Funding and scholarships for students | University of Exeter

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• CV

• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 12th May 2024.  

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed] or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers) Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

For eligible students the studentship will cover Home or International tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £19,237 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study


Bullough, K., Kuijper, B., Caves, E. M. & Kelley, L. A. (2023) Weber’s Law. Current Biology, 33, R992-3
Caves, E. M. & Kelley, L. A. (2023) Proportional processing of a visual mate choice signal in the green swordtail, Xiphophorus hellerii. Ecology Letters
Kelley, L. A. & Kelley, J. L. (2014) Animal visual illusion and confusion: the importance of a perceptual perspective.Behavioral Ecology, 25, 450-463.

Where will I study?