Decision making is a hallmark of intelligence and a basic building block for cognition that is essential to almost all our mental activities. Consequently, its disruption is central to the cognitive impairments associated with a wide variety of brain disorders. Hence, delineating the key neural mechanisms and computations through which decisions are formed are central to our understanding of intelligence and diagnosis of cognitive deficits. However, the key mechanisms the brain utilises for making abstract decisions are still unclear.

The aim of this 3-year PhD project is to develop computational modelling techniques to understand brain and behavioural data across primate species, and to apply techniques in computational neuroscience particularly biologically based neural network modelling to elucidate the mechanisms underlying abstract decision making. This PhD project is part of an ambitious externally funded 5-year research project proposes to break new ground by integrating data from multimodal human and non-human primate neurophysiology with computational modelling to gain convergent insights into how and where abstract decision mechanisms take place in the human and monkey brain, and provide an unprecedented, detailed view on the brain’s decision making machinery.

This project is a collaboration among leading researchers at Columbia University (New York, USA), Northwell-Hofstra School of Medicine (New York, USA), Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, Republic of Ireland), University College Dublin (Dublin, Republic of Ireland), and Ulster University (Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland). This timely and exciting project is available in the Computer Science Research Institute and is tenable in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at Magee Campus.

The successful PhD candidate will benefit from the expertise of Ulster’s Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, Machine Learning, and Computational Biology communities, and will interact closely with experimental collaborators. The student will gain valuable skills and knowledge in computational and mathematical modelling, biological signal processing, machine learning, high-performance computing, mathematics/statistics, and brain sciences.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Research proposal of 1500 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project
  • A demonstrable interest in the research area associated with the studentship

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 70%
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Applicants will be shortlisted if they have an average of 75% or greater in a first (honours) degree (or a GPA of 8.75/10). For applicants with a first degree average in the range of 70% to 74% (GPA 3.3): If they are undertaking an Masters, then the average of their first degree marks and their Masters marks will be used for shortlisting.

This project is funded by: Ulster University matched funding for US-Ireland research grant

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to:

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

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I received the bachelor’s of engineering degree in computer science and technology from Shangrao Normal University, Jiangxi, China, in 2013; and the master’s degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. When I was pursuing a PhD degree at Ulster University, I continued my research on face recognition and image representation.This long journey has only been possible due to the constant support and encouragement of my first supervisor. I also like to thank my second supervisor for his patience, support and guidance during my research studies. My favourite memory was the days of exercising, gathering and playing with my friends here. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be "submit more papers to Journals instead of conferences".

Xin Wei - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics

Profile picture of Jyotsna Talreja Wassan

In the whole PhD ordeal, my supervisory team played a tremendous role:- they are three in a million. They are perfect supervisors who perfectly know which milestones or pathways to be taken during research initiatives, and they understand the roles of virtually all stages in the journey of PhD. They showcased superior abilities in managing and motivating me evoking high standards; demonstrating a commitment to excellence. Jane and Haiying guided me as their daughter and Fiona turned out to be the best of friends.I heard from “Eleanor Roosevelt” that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The dream with which I grew up to become a Doctor one day, has finally come true. In the journey of PhD, I embraced that a PhD is not just the highest degree in Education but rather it is a life experience where perseverance is the key. I can never forget words from my external examiner Prof Yike Guo, from Imperial College London. His words

Jyotsna Talreja Wassan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics