2 x Leverhulme Trust funded PhD studentships

Royal Holloway, University of London - Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London

Applications are invited for two PhD studentships starting in September 2018. Each studentship includes a stipend of approx. £16,000 plus fees (at home/EU rates) for three years. Overseas applicants are also welcome to apply but would be required to pay the difference between UK and overseas tuition fees.

Students will be working in the Royal Holloway Vocal Communication Laboratory on projects within a Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award held by Prof Carolyn McGettigan. The overall award, entitled “SONOVOX: The Social Neuroscience of Voices”, comprises a range of projects addressing the perception and production of the human voice, with a focus on identity processing, and includes the use of acoustic, behavioural, electrophysiological and neuroimaging approaches. The successful applicants will join a thriving team of postdoctoral researchers, research assistants and undergraduate students with a wide range of expertise in auditory processing, phonetics, and speech/voice perception and production.

Project descriptions

Project A: Perception of personally familiar voices

The study of familiar voice perception is often restricted to using vocal samples of celebrities or identities learned in the laboratory. However, this overlooks the role of personal relationships in the perception of vocal stimuli, which can evoke powerful emotional responses in the listener. Using a series of behavioural and functional MRI experiments, this PhD project aims to quantify the rewarding value of personally familiar voices, and to describe the relationship between the perceptual qualities of these voices and the neurobiological systems engaged when hearing them. We will also formally test the proposition that it “feels good” to hear a valued voice, using behavioural and electrophysiological studies of painful laser stimulation to test for analgesic properties of rewarding vocal stimuli.

Project B: Production and ownership of the self voice

The human voice offers a highly flexible tool for expression of the self in speech and other sounds. However, in some people, the ability to physically control the speech articulators is lost, for example through degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. There is evidence that this loss could be harmful to the self-concept. This PhD project will form the first behavioural and neurobiological investigation of how a new vocal identity – as would be provided to a patient through a test-to-speech synthesizer - is integrated into the concept of the self. Using behavioural, electrophysiological and functional MRI experiments, the student will investigate how the assignment of a novel vocal identity to the self affects its perceptual properties, and the engagement of self-related responses in the brain. This sub-project will form an important body of evidence in healthy participants that could form the basis for future work with patient users of synthesizers. To complement this work, funding is available for the student to complete a 1-month placement with VocalID in Boston, MA.

Although there is a core set of studies proposed for each project, it will be possible for the successful student to shape the PhD within the themes of voice perception and/or voice production and ownership. Candidates are therefore encouraged to propose their own ideas within the application for this position. It is strongly advised to contact Prof Carolyn McGettigan in advance with queries about the projects, and for informal discussion on ideas.

Eligibility requirements

Applicants for both projects should ideally hold, or be predicted to achieve, a first class undergraduate degree or equivalent in Psychology, or a related discipline (minimum requirement: 2.1). 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 highly advantageous. An MSc in psychology or a related subject is desirable but not essential.  It is essential that the candidates should be able to demonstrate their interest in vocal communication as relevant to the project(s) being applied for.

The PhD supervisor is based in the Department of Psychology, which is situated on a beautiful campus close to London. 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.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via Royal Holloway Direct. Guidelines on how to submit an application can be found on the College web pages here. When submitting an application, please include the following:

  • A personal statement (maximum 2 pages A4) describing why you want to do a PhD and your suitability for the position, including a statement of research interests relevant to the advertised project(s). Within this document please make clear which of the projects you are interested in (“SONOVOX A: Perception of personally familiar voices” or “SONOVOX B: Production and ownership of the self voice”) – you may apply for both.
  • Academic transcripts;
  • English language qualifications, if your first language is not English;
  • Two academic references;
  • Resume or CV; and
  • Evidence of ability to pay the difference between UK and overseas tuition fees, if you are an overseas applicant.

For further details on the application process please contact: Sharon Clutterbuck on psyoffice@rhul.ac.uk or visit the Psychology Department website by clicking here.

Closing date: 5pm (GMT) on Monday 12th February 2018

Interview dates: By mid-February 2018

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