PhD Studentship: Neural Mechanisms of Language Learning

Royal Holloway, University of London - Department of Psychology

Supervisors: Prof. Kathy Rastle (primary) and Dr Jakke Tamminen.

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship starting in January 2018. The studentship includes a stipend of £16,553 (plus fees at home/EU rates) for three years.

Project description: Reading acquisition requires individuals to learn information not only about specific items (e.g. cat, rat) but also about underlying regularities in the writing system. For example, through exposure to words like ‘cat’, ‘sat’, and ‘rat’, children discover that the letter ‘t’ is pronounced /t/. Similarly, through exposure to words like ‘cleaned’, ‘jumped’, and ‘watched’, children discover that the letters ‘-ed’ indicate the past. Recent work in the Rastle lab has sought to understand the mechanisms that underpin these forms of learning, using methods in which adults are trained to read in an artificial language over a period of time. Using these same methods, the present project will focus on how the nature of instruction impacts on the information acquired. Specifically, we will be investigating how learning changes when participants are given prior explicit information about the material to be learned, as opposed to learning the underlying regularities implicitly. We will use behavioural and MRI approaches to probe the nature of the acquired representations. This studentship will work alongside an ESRC grant investigating how sleep impacts on these forms of learning. It will be possible for the successful student to shape this project within the general outline of the project provided here.

Both PhD supervisors are based in the Department of Psychology, which has an active and expanding postgraduate research community and is well-equipped for research. The Department was ranked 6th out of 82 UK Psychology Departments in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), with 93% 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 - further information on the research environment can be found here.

The Department is situated on a beautiful campus close to London.

Applicants should ideally hold, or be predicted to achieve, a first class undergraduate degree or equivalent in Psychology or related disciplines (minimum requirement: 2.1). An MSc in a psychology or related subject is desirable but not essential. The ideal candidate will have strong skills in experimental design and statistical analysis, and some laboratory research experience (outside of a taught programme) would be advantageous. 

Informal enquiries about the project should be directed to: Prof. Kathy Rastle or Dr Jakke Tamminen.

Full details on how to make an application are shown on our Departmental Website (select “tab 1 – Psychology Department Studentships”) and in the College Webpages.

For further details on the application process please contact: Sharon Clutterbuck on

Closing date: 5pm on Monday 16th October 2017.

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