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Synergy of reinforcement learning and inhibitory control: From neuroscience to safety applications

Neuroscience Institute

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Dr R Schmidt , Dr Aditya Gilra No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Reinforcement learning is a powerful learning algorithm that is employed by both artificial and biological systems to operate within environments. Inhibitory control is a core executive function that allows animals to suppress unwanted or even dangerous thoughts, memories, and actions. While reinforcement learning is widely used in artificial intelligence, the quick suppression of actions is usually not considered. In contrast, action suppression has been thoroughly characterized in psychology. In this project you will incorporate psychological theories and neural mechanisms of action suppression within a reinforcement learning paradigm to obtain a synergistic explanation of animal behaviour as well as improve to the capabilities of artificial agents.

You will develop and study properties of reinforcement learning algorithms applied to inhibitory control systems and of computational models of the corresponding neural networks. The results will provide insights on cognitive control of human behaviour, predictions for the underlying neural circuits, and new cognitive architectures for autonomous systems and robots.

Applicants should have an excellent degree in computational neuroscience or a related discipline, with relevant experience in computer programming and neuroscience. The project will be supervised by Dr. Robert Schmidt, Lecturer in Cognitive Science and Computational Modelling, and Dr. Aditya Gilra, Lecturer in Machine Learning. Both supervisors share research interests in computational neuroscience, decision-making, and roles of dopamine in learning and cognitive control.

Applications are open to students from both the UK and overseas, though we note that due to funding constraints the availability of positions for students with overseas fee status will be more limited. We anticipate competition for these studentships to be very intense. We would expect applicants to have an excellent undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline. We would also expect applicants to have completed or be undertaking a relevant master’s degree to a similar very high standard (or have equivalent research experience).


Please complete a University Postgraduate Research Application form available here:

Please clearly state the prospective main supervisor in the respective box and select ‘Neuroscience’ as the department.

After the application closing date, we will shortlist applicants for an online interview. We expect to carry out interviews (each lasting approximately 30 minutes) on Tuesday 27th April (am, GMT) and Tuesday 4th May (pm, GMT). If you are shortlisted for interview, we will aim to inform you of this no later than the end of Friday 23rd April. If you are unable to attend at the specified times, please let us know if we confirm that we would like to interview you.

Funding Notes

• 3.5 years PhD studentship commencing October 2021
• UKRI equivalent home stipend rate per annum for 3.5 years
• Tuition fees for 3.5 years
• EPSRC studentships come with a £4,500 Research Training Support Grant over the course of the award.

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