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Sensory processing during mate choice, Biosciences – PhD (Funded)

   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr L Kelley, Dr B Kuijper  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Biosciences, Penryn Campus, Cornwall

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation is inviting applications for a PhD studentship funded by the Royal Society and the College to commence in September 2022. For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based in Biosciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Project Description:

Many animals use size-based visual signals as indicators of quality (where larger signals indicate higher quality) in mate choice and male-male conflict. When assessing such signals, sensory systems may compare signals based on their relative rather than absolute difference, known as proportional processing. This predicts that animals are less able to discriminate differences between signals as their overall magnitude increases.

When choosing between two potential mates, female green swordtails (Xiphophorus helleri) adhere to proportional processing and express stronger preferences for the larger male when both males are small, compared to when both males are larger. This project will investigate the implications of proportional processing for mate choice, signalling behaviour, and the evolution of signal form.

This project will 1) quantify proportional processing in other signal components such as sword length; 2) examine how males may adjust their signalling behaviour to exploit proportional processing during mate choice; 3) determine how proportional processing varies across closely related species; 4) use theoretical models to incorporate proportional processing into quantitative genetics models of mate choice.

Using discrimination tasks, automated fish tracking and theoretical modelling, this project will address fundamental questions about the importance of perceptual processing during signal assessment. Overall, this project will generate novel insights into an underexplored area of visual signalling.

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend. 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.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

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.

This project would be ideal for a candidate with interests in sensory ecology and theoretical modelling.

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

How to Apply:

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 7th March 2022

Interviews will be held in the week commencing 4th April 2022.

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, Laura Kelley [Email Address Removed], website

Funding Notes

For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.
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