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To persist or not to persist: revealing the mechanisms that control memory maintenance and inhibition

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Emiliano Merlo
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Memories are everyday miracles that we take for granted. We hope that the good ones last for our entire lives, but memory persistence is double-edged. Our brains can change memories when they are outdated or become irrelevant which results in better responses in an ever-changing environment. However, aberrantly persistent traumatic memories lay at the core of anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder or specific phobias. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the most frequent treatment for such disorders but is only effective in half the cases. Understanding the neural mechanisms controlling traumatic memory inhibition is essential to improve existing therapies, or develop novel therapies, for treating these disorders.

In this project we will use rodents to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying maintenance or inhibition of aversive memories. The experimental approach will include behavioural analysis, pharmacological interventions (including protein knockdown using antisense and/or CRISPR/Cas9 technology) and molecular biological analysis.

Doctoral Tutor role:
The successful candidate will also be offered a 3 year fixed term contract, as a Doctoral Tutor, to teach up to 165 hours per year (0.1FTE Grade 5.1 (currently £25,482 p.a. pro rata), covering contact time, preparation, and marking). Doctoral Tutors will begin teaching in the second term of their studies. They will be encouraged to study for a formal teaching accreditation (Associate of the Higher Education Academy), including enrolling on a ‘starting to teach’ module in the first term before they begin teaching. Candidates who demonstrate suitability for, and express interest in, the additional Doctoral Tutor role will be preferred.

• This award will only pay fees at the Home/EU rate.
• Candidates must have, or expect to obtain, a First or a high Upper Second Class Honours undergraduate degree, or equivalent qualification, and/or a Master’s degree in Psychology or a related discipline.
• The University of Sussex believes that the diversity of its staff and student community is fundamental to creative thinking, pedagogic innovation, intellectual challenge, and the interdisciplinary approach to research and learning. We celebrate and promote diversity, equality and inclusion amongst our staff and students. As such, we welcome applications from all, regardless of personal characteristics or background.

How to apply:
• Please submit your application online at for the ’PhD in Psychology’ programme for September 2019.
• In the ’Supervisor suggested by applicant’ section, please put ’Merlo’.
• In the ’Proposed source of funding’ section, please put ‘Psychology Doctoral Research Studentship’
• FAQs can be found in ’Applying for a PhD in Psychology at the University of Sussex for 2019 Entry’ at

Candidates should provide:
• A research proposal that outlines your knowledge of the research area, hypotheses that could be addressed in your PhD, and an outline of potential methods. Your answer should not exceed 2 pages including references, be set at minimum 10-font type with margins a minimum of 1cm.
• Current degree transcript(s) with full details of performance on all completed courses.
• Two academic references.
• An up-to-date CV.
• A document summarising any teaching experience you have and illustrating your suitability for a Doctoral Tutor role.

Contact us:
For queries with respect to the application process: [Email Address Removed]
To discuss the details of your research interests further, please contact Dr Emiliano Merlo: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be awarded a stipend for 3.25 years (tied to the UKRI studentship rates, currently £14,777 p.a.). UK/EU PhD fees and research/training costs are also covered.

The successful applicant will also be offered a 3 year fixed term contract, as a Doctoral Tutor, to teach up to 165 hours per year (0.1FTE Grade 5.1 (currently £25,482 p.a. pro rata), covering contact time, preparation, and marking).

International students may apply but must fund the difference between the Home/EU fees and International Fees (approximately £16,000 per year).


The School of Psychology is one of the largest centres for the study of psychology in the UK. We have nearly 50 academic faculty, about 100 research students and the same number of postgraduate students taking Master's degrees. Our undergraduate intake is about 400 a year, which gives us an academic community of over 1000 people working in a rich and supportive learning environment.

Psychology is a diverse discipline and our size means that we span major research areas in social, cognitive, biological, developmental and clinical psychology. Psychology at Sussex was rated 10th in the UK for research in the 2014 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). 91% of our research at Sussex is ranked as world-leading or internationally significant.

How good is research at University of Sussex in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 41.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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