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.

Funding and eligibility

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

Department for the Economy (DFE)

  • The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance of £15,609 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). The scholarship also provides £900 per annum as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation.
  • To be eligible for the full scholarship, applicants must meet UK residency requirements. This means that you must have been resident in the United Kingdom for the full three year period before the first day of the first academic year of the course.
  • EU nationals who do not meet UK residency are eligible to apply for a fees only award which will cover tuition fees (no maintenance support is provided).
  • Non-EU nationals must be ‘settled’ in the UK by the closing date of the application or have been ordinarily resident in the UK for purposes other than study for the past three years in order to be eligible for an award.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living

The Doctoral College at Ulster University