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Identifying the unique impact of schooling on children’s neurocognitive development

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Eva Rafetseder
    Dr Yee Lee Shing
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Giving children the best possible start into their school life is one of the main interests and challenges that parents, educators, and policy makers face. Scientifically we are only beginning to understand the direct impact that school-entry has on children’s development. This studentship will conduct innovative research to unravel effects of early schooling on children’s cognitive control (the ability to orchestrate thought and action in accordance with internal goals) and its related changes in the brain. Recent work led by Dr. Yee Lee Shing showed that, due to increased demands on sustained attention, one year of being in the first-grade leads to quite specific changes in children, namely improved cognitive control, as well as an increase in the activation of right posterior parietal cortex, a brain region important for sustained attention. As the next step, we will test the notion that inter-individual difference in intra-individual changes on cognitive control and corresponding brain circuitry may reflect how adaptive a child is when transitioning from preschool to primary school.
The research questions that this studentship will tackle include:
1) To what extent do schooling-specific neurocognitive changes predict academic outcomes over time?
2) Are there predictors of schooling-specific neurocognitive changes, stemming from individual characteristics to socioeconomic background of the child?
3) Do late schoolers, due to being older when entering school, show larger schooling-specific neural changes compared to early schoolers?

Responsibilities of Studentship Holders:
The successful applicant will join the research team working on this project (Dr Eva Rafetseder, Professor Yee Lee Shing, and Dr Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar). The studentship holder will play a key role in this project in designing and running the study (funded by the Jacobs Foundation). It is expected that the successful applicant will initiate a research program that combines an experimental approach with longitudinal assessments of brain functions (using fNIRS), cognitive abilities, and academic performance in a sample of children similar in age but differ in year of school entrance. This is possible in Scotland because parents of children born in January and February can chose to defer their child’s entry and these requests are automatically approved, with around 45% of these children deferred in previous years. In the studentship, children born in these months who are identical in chronological age, form two groups that are interesting for comparison – those who enter school and those who stay in kindergarten but enter school one year later. The studentship will require intense periods of testing (May until August 2018, 2019, 2020) at the children’s homes using cognitive test batteries and neuro-imaging technique. The successful candidate will also be encouraged to work with the team of Professor Yee Lee Shing at Goethe University Frankfurt through regular visits and short-term research stays.

Application Requirements:
• Eligible applicants must hold at least a Bachelor (hons.) degree of either first or upper second class in Psychology or another related discipline. A relevant MSc qualification would be desirable.
• Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as well as organizational skills are essential, as successful applicants will be working as part of a research team, and responsibilities will include interaction with research participants (i.e., children and their parents), and building relationships with external organisations (i.e., schools; ethics committee).
• Relevant research experience (e.g. in developmental cognitive neuroscience such as use of fNIRS and work with children) would be highly desirable.
• A driving license (category B) is essential for making home visits to test the children
• Some experience of programming (e.g., MATLAB, Python, R), using participant testing software (e.g. PsychoPy, E-Prime), and/or a strong motivation to develop such expertise, would be desirable.


To apply please include:
(i) One A4 page covering letter outlining your suitability, why you are interested in pursuing a PhD in this area, and any other information relevant to the application.
(ii) One A4 page outlining whether (and how) you think longitudinal, intra-individual changes in brain functions can contribute to our understanding of children’s academic attainment.
(iii) Your academic CV with contact details for two academic referees.
(iv) Copies of your academic transcripts

Please apply online via ‘Research Degree in Psychology’: http://www.stir.ac.uk/postgraduate/how-to-apply/.

Once you have started the application process, please email [Email Address Removed] to ask to be exempted from the ‘find-a-supervisor’ process.
For informal enquiries please contact Dr Eva Rafetseder ([Email Address Removed]) or Linda Cullen ([Email Address Removed] Tel: +44 (0) 1786 466854).

The PhD studentship will be supervised by Dr Eva Rafetseder.

Deadline for applications: 13 December 2017.
It is expected that interviews will be held on 9th January 2018.


Funding Notes

The studentship is available for three-years, and includes a tax-free stipend of approximately £14,553 p.a. Tuition fees will be met by the University at the home rate. Subject to satisfactory progress review at the end of the first year, the studentship will be renewed for a second year and thereafter for a third year. The studentships will have an anticipated registration date of 1 February 2018.



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