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PhD students

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The Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London invites applications for PhD studentships starting in the academic year 2017/18. 

Our research strengths

The department has an active and expanding postgraduate research community, is well-equipped for research, and is situated on a beautiful campus close to London. We were ranked sixth out of 82 UK Psychology departments in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), with 93 per cent of our research classified as world-leading or internationally excellent.

Research in the department spans a breadth of topics across psychological sciences and neuroscience and is supported by excellent facilities. These include a research-designated functional neuroimaging unit (fMRI), EEG and TMS labs, tDCS, a psychophysiology lab, a psycho-linguistics lab, eye-tracking, and a baby lab. You can find out more about our research environment on our Pure profile and the research interests of individual staff on our directory.

Departmental scholarships

Each year our department offers a number of scholarships in specific areas that will enhance our research capabilities.

Our department is also part of two prestigious doctoral training centres: the ESRC SeNSS Doctoral Training Partnership and the Leverhulme Magna Carta scheme

Develop your skills

We're committed to providing excellent training and career development opportunities for our PhD students. Successful applicants engage in departmental training to develop both their research-related and transferable skills. You can tailor your  own experience, choosing from a wide variety of courses covering career development, communication skills, and specialised research methods.

You're  strongly encouraged to attend and contribute to research group seminars, departmental colloquia and our annual Postgraduate Convention. In addition to departmental training, research students can take advantage of the College-led Researcher Development Programme. 

How do I apply?

All PhD positions (whether self-funded or not) may be applied for only after consultation with a proposed supervisor. That is, before you make an application you will need to find a supervisor by contacting a member of academic staff (with research interests similar to yours), to discuss your proposal. For some funding types, potential supervisors will be detailed below. If you find a member of academic staff who is prepared to supervise you, then they will able to answer any questions that you have and help you with your application.

Studentships are available from several sources, which may vary, from time to time, in terms of eligibility and application procedures.

Note: we are currently advertising four types of studentship, click on the relevant tab below to view:-

Psychology Department Studentship - click on tab 1 below to view our Department      Studentship

Research Council UK Funded Studentship - click on tab 2 below to view our TECHNE Studentship

Leverhulme Magna Carta Studentship - click on tab 3 below to view our Leverhulme Studentship

Matched College Funding Studentship - click on tab 4 below to view our Macular Society PhD Studentship

Applicants may also have alternative sources of funding and international students may receive direct support from overseas organisations, such as the Pakistan Higher Education Commission.

From time to time, funding is available for PhD studentships funded by the College and allocated to the Department of Psychology. This year, applications are invited in specific areas (see below for list) that will enhance our research capabilities and develop new collaborations across research areas. If you are interested in pursuing one of these PhD projects, please contact the relevant primary supervisor to discuss the possibility of submitting an application. One studentship is available. 

The studentship provides a stipend of £15,500 per annum for three years, and also covers the tuition fees for UK and EU students. International applicants are welcome to apply but would be required to pay the difference between UK/EU and international tuition fees. There may be opportunities to compete for scholarships to cover part of the overseas fees. 

The deadline for all applications was Monday 17 July 2017 (NOW CLOSED)

Eligibility

Applicants should have the equivalent of a 2.1 honours in Psychology, or a related discipline, and meet College requirements for English (for international students). The chance of obtaining a studentship are increased for applicants holding a first class Bachelor’s degree and/or a relevant MSc. International applicants are welcome to apply but would be required to cover the difference between UK and international tuition fee rates.  

How to apply

Step 1

Take a look at the advertised project areas and read the profiles of the associated staff members. If you are interested in applying for one of the project areas, please contact your intended supervisor and find out whether they would be prepared to supervise you. You can then start to carve out your specific ‘research plan’ with advice from your potential supervisor. We expect a one-to-one match between student and project, so each primary supervisor can only support one project/student and each student can only prepare an application with one supervisor. 

Step 2

Your application must be submitted through Royal Holloway Direct, the College’s online applications portal. The online application system provides a lot of detail, including a list of documents that are required for each PhD application. You will need to nominate two referees, neither of which should be your proposed supervisor. They will be contacted by the College directly, but it is always a good idea that you contact referees before you submit your application to make them aware of your plans, and so they can respond to the College request swiftly.

As part of your Royal Holloway Direct application you will need to provide: 

  • An up-to-date CV

  • A degree transcript (plus certificate if available) and copies of any other qualifications

  • Copies of English language qualifications (if English is not your first language)

  • Contact details for two references

  • Your Research Proposal

  • A detailed financial plan (drawn up with your potential supervisor

  • A supporting statement from your potential supervisor (a letter, which you must attach to your online application).

Once you have carefully checked your application press the submit button. Your application is on its way! 

Closing date: was extended to 5pm on Monday 17 July 2017 (NOW CLOSED).

What happens next?

After completeness and validity checks, your electronic submission will be sent to the Department of Psychology, together with the references obtained by the College. Once the department is happy that all the required information is attached to your application, it is passed to the Postgraduate Research Committee, along with those of other applicants, for their consideration. The Committee may, at this stage, request further information from individual applicants. 

If you are unsuccessful at this stage you will be notified via email. If you are shortlisted then, you may be invited to an interview, which under certain circumstances may be done by video link.

More guidance on some of the requested documents

Research Proposal (to be completed by applicant with input from potential supervisor) - maximum 10,000 characters including spaces and references. 

The research proposal should include: 

  • A brief introduction of the research topic, including a review of the relevant literature, and a description of the main research questions to be addressed

  • A methods section stating how this question will be investigated (design, techniques, analysis)

  • A succinct outline of the first studies, including contingency plans showing how potential problems will be addressed, such as recruitment of participants, obtaining external ethical approval, development of new equipment and methods etc

  • A timeline showing how the planned research can be completed within a three year timescale (six years if part-time study).

Note, it is important that the expertise of your potential supervisors and the facilities available at Royal Holloway (e.g. specialist equipment) are highlighted in relation to your research proposal. 

The financial plan (completed by potential supervisor with applicant):

This should be detailed in nature and as accurate as is possible because awareness of project costs will play a crucial part in the department’s decision making process. The financial plan should include, as a minimum, the following: 

  • How you intend funding yourself (your day to day living expenses and tuition  fees) during the three year period (six years, if part-time) of study. In this instance it will be via a departmental studentship (annual maintenance grant plus UK/EU fees waiver) and

  • A statement from your intended supervisor showing how any specific costs      associated with the research project (such as participant payments, travel costs, MRI scanning, or other equipment costs) are to be met during the study period. 

supporting statement completed by your potential supervisor:

Your potential primary supervisor will need to indicate, in writing, their willingness to supervise you. If there are any specific issues to be addressed (such as using techniques outside the supervisor's area of expertise) then some indication of how this will be achieved must be included. Their statement should include their academic record and the relevance of his/her research to the proposed project, and to the departmental research strategy.  

Available supervisors and project areas

For this department studentship competition, applicants must apply for one of the projects listed below through the College application process, in collaboration with the associated supervisor. If an applicant wishes, they may explore more than one project with the associated supervisors but they would not be eligible to apply for more than one project. They may, however, be eligible for other schemes.  

Dr Joshua Balsters ​​                         

The impact of motivation on social interaction in Autism Spectrum Disorder​​​​​​​​​​

Deficits in social interaction are at the core of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, the maladaptive neural and computational mechanisms that drive social deficits in ASD are still unclear. I previously proposed that difficulties in social interaction may arise from disruptions of a specific brain mechanism known as socially-specific prediction errors. Prediction errors (PEs) are a well-established brain mechanism from theories of reward and motivation that signal the discrepancy between our own expectations and the actual outcomes of an action (i.e. earning a reward). Social PEs shift the frame of reference from the first person to the third person perspective by comparing actual outcomes with the perceived expectations of another person. Converging neuroscientific evidence from both human and non-human primates has suggested that the gyrus of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACCg) produces social PEs. As such, I hypothesised that ASD individuals would have a disrupted social PE signalling when tracking the expectations of others and this would be linked to abnormal activity in the ACCg. I recently supported this hypothesis, demonstrating that: 1) social symptom severity in ASD is linked to brain signals in the ACCg, and 2) ACCg signalling is modulated by reward regions in typically developing (TD) individual.

Dr Rebecca Brewer​                        

Emotional and interoceptive abilities in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Feeding and Eating Disorders

This PhD project will focus on the abilities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Feeding and Eating Disorders (EDs) to recognise others’ emotional states. Many individuals with ASD and EDs have co-occurring alexithymia (a condition characterised by difficulties identifying and describing one’s own emotions), but this is not a universal characteristic of ASD or EDs, nor required for diagnosis. Previous research has shown that alexithymia, rather than ASD or EDs per se, is responsible for difficulties recognising others’ facial expressions of emotion (Cook, Brewer, Shah, & Bird, 2013). This project will extend these findings, investigating the impact of alexithymia, ASD and EDs on emotional abilities, such as recognition of others’ emotions from facial, vocal, and body cues, expression of emotion, emotion regulation, and empathy.

This project will also investigate the role of alexithymia, ASD and EDs in non-emotional interoception (the ability to perceive and recognise the internal state of one’s body, such as arousal, hunger, fatigue, and temperature). The project will use psychophysical behavioural methods to determine the relative contribution of alexithymia and disorder presence and severity to recognition of internal bodily states. Findings will have an impact on the conceptualisation of ASD and EDs, in both research and clinical fields.

Dr Charles Efferson ​                       

The Gene-Culture Coevolution of Group Identities

When people learn from others, cultural evolution occurs at the aggregate level. Cultural evolution at the aggregate level, in turn, can influence natural selection on the social cognition that controls how people learn from others. This is the basic idea behind gene-culture coevolution. It has been widely invoked to explain diverse cultural phenomena from the spectacular technological progress of human societies to harmful traditions like female genital cutting and wasteful displays of wealth. 

The basic idea behind the Ph.D. research I am proposing is specifically to examine the cultural evolution of group identities from a gene-culture perspective. Unlike existing research, which tends to focus on the imitation of others, the research should place a particular emphasis on additionally examining when people use others as examples of how not to behave. Using others as negative examples in this way can create especially stark differences between groups, differences sometimes referred to as oppositional identities. Questions of interest include the following:

  • What specific forms of cultural transmission create and stabilise group-level differences in norms, beliefs about the world, identities, and behaviours? 

  • Under what conditions do these forms of cultural transmission evolve, and

  • How do stable differences between groups feedback to affect the evolution of human social behaviour more broadly?

Methods for the research include both empirical work and evolutionary modelling.  

Dr Nicholas Furl​                               

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to study how the brain represents the social reward value of faces when making decisions

Neuroeconomics research often studies decision making by combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with choice tasks that are incentivised using money. Using this approach, much has been learned about how the striatum, several areas in frontal cortex, and intra-parietal sulcus work together as a network to predict reward value, compute decision variables, compare relative option values and elicit actions to obtain rewards. However, secondary reinforcers, like money, are only tokens that are later exchangeable with primary reinforcers.

Our goal is to study the mechanisms employed by the decision making network, but using reinforcers that elicit direct social rewards. Indeed, humans appear hardwired to gather social reward signals from human faces in the form of (for example) perceived facial attractiveness and emotional expression. This PhD aims to use fMRI, combined with decision making tasks adapted from neuroeconomics research, to better understand the neural mechanisms contributing to choices among socially reinforcing facial stimuli.

Dr Petra Vetter​​                

How audition shapes vision

Our brain constantly integrates information from all senses into one coherent percept so that we can interact with the world. The goal of this project is to investigate how audition influences vision in the human brain. In particular, this project will focus on identifying the type of information that is transferred from audition to vision and the neural mechanisms of this transfer. Furthermore, we will study how audition can potentially enhance visual perception. This will be investigated by using different types of sounds and looking at how and where they are represented in visual cortex. We will use neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in combination with brain decoding techniques and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

REMINDER: The deadline for applications was 5pm on Monday 17 July 2017 (NOW CLOSED). 

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) National Productivity Investment Fund award 

Applicants are invited to apply for a TECHNE AHRC funded PhD studentship between the Department of Psychology and the Media Arts department.

Royal Holloway is the lead member of the TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership, which offers Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) awards for those commencing doctoral study in September 2017.  

Project title: Using depth of field to guide attention and convey narrative structure

Supervisors: Dr Szonya Durant (Department. of Psychology) and Mr Adam Ganz (Department. of Media Arts)

View full details of this studentship.

How to apply


Step 1

Take a look at the advertised project. To discuss your application and whether you might be considered a suitable candidate for this TECHNE award, please contact szonya.durant@royalholloway.ac.uk or adam.ganz@royalholloway.ac.uk  who will be the supervisors. They will also be able to answer any questions that you might have about the project.
Read Szonya’s research profile and Adam’s research profile.

Step 2

If they agree that you are a suitable candidate for this TECHNE award, submit a university application form via Royal Holloway Direct by 5pm on Tuesday 1 August 2017. 
Note, as this is a pre-determined project you will not be required to submit a Project Proposal with the application form, however you should provide a summary (one page) describing your research interests and skills and why this particular project is of interest to you.

You will need to nominate two referees, neither of which should be your proposed supervisors. They will be contacted by the university directly, but it is always a good idea that you contact any referees before you submit your application to make them aware of your plans, and so they can respond to the university request swiftly.

As part of your Royal Holloway Direct application you will also need to provide: 

  • An up-to-date CV

  • A degree transcript (plus certificate if available) and copies of any other qualifications

  • Copies of English language qualifications (if English is not your first language). Note, international students are not eligible for AHRC awards

  • Contact details for two references

  • A one page summary of your research interests describing why this project is of interest to you.

Closing date: 5pm on Tuesday 1 August 2017

What happens next?


After completeness and validity checks, your application plus your references will be passed to the Postgraduate Research Committee, along with those of other applicants, for their consideration.The Committee may, at this stage, request further information from individual applicants. 

If you are unsuccessful at this stage you will be notified via email. If you are shortlisted then, you may be invited to an interview, which under certain circumstances may be done by video link.

Interviews will be held between 7 and 18 August 2017. 

The selection panel will decide after the interviews which applications will then be put forward to TECHNE for final approval.

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ESRC SeNSS Doctoral Training partnerships

The Department of Psychology is part of the South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), which unites research-intensive universities in south east England by providing outstanding postgraduate training through ESRC funding. More information about the Network can be found here

This competition has its own (additional) application portal. However, all applications will be submitted by the participating institution, not by the individual. Therefore, all applicants interested in applying to this scheme should apply to the department using the process described for "department studentships", by the same deadline. 

The Postgraduate Research Committee will decide which applications will then be put forward to the SeNSS DTP competition. 

Please note that you may submit an application for a project not listed within the "departmental studentships" and ask that it be considered for the SeNSS DTP competition only, however it would not be eligible for a department studentship. You must contact the proposed supervisor(s) in advance to ensure they are prepared to supervise you, and so that they may provide input to your project proposal and application.

Applications for a September 2017 start date closed on 9 December 2016.  If you're interested in pursuing one of these studentships in the future, please keep checking this website as the studentships for September 2018 entry will be posted here in the autumn term, 2017.  

Royal Holloway hosts the Leverhulme Magna Carta doctoral programme, details of which can be found here. Specific projects will be advertised below, as they become available. 

Project title:

The risk of unknowingly disclosing personal information through eye tracking and webcam technology

Supervisors:

Dr Szonya Durant (Department. of Psychology), Dr Dawn Watling (Department of Psychology) and Dr Zhiyuan Luo (Department of Computer Science)

View full details of the studentship.

How to apply

Step 1

Take a look at the advertised project. To discuss your application and whether you might be considered a suitable candidate for this Leverhulme Magna Carta studentship, please contact szonya.durant@royalholloway.ac.ukdawn.watling@royalholloway.ac.uk or zhiyuan.luo@royalholloway.ac.uk who will be the supervisors. They will also be able to answer any questions that you might have about the project.

Read Szonya’s research profile, read Dawn's research profile and Zhiyuan's research profile.

Step 2

If they agree that you are a suitable candidate for this Leverhulme Magna Carta studentship, submit a university application form via Royal Holloway Direct by 5pm on Tuesday 1 August 2017 (this date may be extended if not enough applications are received for the September 2017 start date). 

Note, as this is a pre-determined project you will not be required to submit a Project Proposal with the university application form, however you should provide a summary (one page) describing your research interests and skills and why this particular project is of interest to you.

You will need to nominate two referees, neither of which should be your proposed supervisors.  They will be contacted by the university directly, but it is always a good idea that you contact any referees before you submit your application to make them aware of your plans, and so they can respond to the university request swiftly.

As part of your Royal Holloway Direct application you will also need to provide: 

  • An up-to-date CV and personal statement
  • A degree transcript (plus certificate if available) and copies of any other qualifications
  • Copies of English language qualifications - if English is not your first language; 
  • Contact details for two academic references (see above) and
  • A one page summary of your research interests describing why this project is of interest to you.

Once you have carefully checked your university application press the submit button. Your application is on its way! 

Closing date: 5pm on Tuesday 1 August 2017

What happens next?

After completeness and validity checks, your application plus your references will be passed to the Postgraduate Research Committee, along with those of other applicants, for their consideration. The Committee may, at this stage, request further information from individual applicants. 

If you are unsuccessful at this stage you will be notified via email. If you are shortlisted then, you may be invited to an interview, which under certain circumstances may be done by video link. Interviews will be held between 7 and 18 August 2017 (can be flexible around existing commitments). 

From time to time the university provides matched funding for a PhD studentship and UK/EU fees if a partner is found from industry or the charity sector. Any such studentships will be advertised below.

1.     Macular Society PhD studentship

Please click here to view full details of this studentship.

Closing date: was extended to 5pm on Monday 10 July 2017 (NOW CLOSED).

How to apply

Step 1

Take a look at the advertised project. If you are interested in applying and have any questions about the project, please contact robin.walker@royalholloway.ac.uk who will be the supervisor. Robin’s research profile can be found by clicking here

Step 2

Your application must be submitted through Royal Holloway Direct, the College’s online applications portal. The online application system provides a lot of detail, including a list of documents that are required for each PhD application.

Note, as this is a pre-determined project you will not be required to submit a Project Proposal. You should however provide a summary (one page) describing your research interests and skills and why this particular project is of interest to you.

You will need to nominate two referees, neither of which should be your proposed supervisor.  They will be contacted by the College directly, but it is always a good idea that you contact any referees before you submit your application to make them aware of your plans, and so they can respond to the College request swiftly.

As part of your Royal Holloway Direct application you will need to provide: 

  • An up-to-date CV and personal statement

  • A degree transcript (plus certificate if available) and copies of any other                  qualifications

  • Copies of English language qualifications (if English is not your first language)

  • Contact details for two references

  • A one page summary of your research interests describing why this project is of interest to you.

Once you have carefully checked your application press the submit button. Your application is on its way! 

Closing date: was extended to 5pm on Monday 10 July 2017 (NOW CLOSED).

What happens next?

After completeness and validity checks, your electronic submission will be sent to the Department of Psychology, together with the references obtained by the College. Once the department is happy that all the required information is attached to your application, it is passed to the Postgraduate Research Committee, along with those of other applicants, for their consideration. The Committee may, at this stage, request further information from individual applicants. 

If you are unsuccessful at this stage you will be notified via email. If you are shortlisted then, you may be invited to an interview, which under certain circumstances may be done by video link. The date has changed and interviews will now be held on Wednesday 26 July 2017. 

 

 

 

 

Any questions?

Please contact Professor Johannes Zanker,  Director of Graduate Studies or 

Dr Catherine Sebastian, Deputy Director of Graduate Studies

 

 

 


 
 
 
 

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