Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Psychology

Durham, United Kingdom
£33,797 - £40,322
05 Nov 2020
End of advertisement period
10 Dec 2020
Academic Discipline
Social Sciences, Psychology
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Psychology

Grade 7: - £33,797 - £40,322
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 36 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 10-Dec-2020, 7:59:00 AM

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

The Department of Psychology at Durham University is an outstanding research environment, and the successful candidates will play a significant role in maintaining its reputation as a world-class department for comparative affective science, social and cognitive psychology. Founded in 1952, the Department of Psychology is consistently ranked as one of the very best in the UK with an outstanding and growing reputation for excellence in research. We are currently ranked in the top 100 of Psychology Departments world-wide according to the QS World Rankings. The department is extremely well-equipped for research, including excellent facilities for comparative affective science, eye-tracking, virtual reality, EEG/ERP and biophysiological recording. The department benefits from full IT and mechanical research support from departmental technicians and is a member of a large inter-disciplinary network across the University. The successful candidate will join the vibrant Developmental Science Research Group who host regular meetings and activities, as well as have the opportunity to join a host of exciting inter-disciplinary networks in the University such as Durham Primatology Group; Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre and Behaviour Ecology Evolution Research Centre. The Department is proud to be a Silver Athena Swan Award holder, recognising our commitment to advancing women's careers in STEM and promoting equality/diversity.

The Role

A 36-month fixed-term full time Postdoctoral Research Associate (PDRA) position is available at the Department of Psychology at Durham University. The successful candidate will join the research project NewSense led by Prof Marko Nardini and funded by the European Research Council. The project is studying people’s abilities to learn to use new sensory signals to augment their perceptual and motor skills.

Overview of the whole project: Advances in wearable displays and networked devices lead to the exciting possibility that humans can transcend the senses they were born with and learn to ‘see’ the world in radically new ways. Genuinely incorporating new signals in our sensory repertoire would transform our everyday experience, from social encounters to surgery, as well as having crucial applications to people with sensory loss. However, current additions to sensory streams such as navigating with GPS are far from being incorporated into our natural perception: we interpret them effortfully, like words from a foreign menu, rather than feeling them directly. This project will use a ground-breaking new approach to test how new sensory signals can be incorporated into the fundamental human experience. We will train participants using new immersive virtual-reality paradigms1, which give us unprecedented speed, control and flexibility. We will test what is learned by comparing different mathematical model predictions with perceptual performance1,2. This model-based approach uniquely shows when new signals are integrated into standard sensory processing. We will compare neuroimaging data with model predictions3 to detect integration of newly-learned signals within brain circuits processing familiar signals. We will test predictions that short-term changes to normal visual input can improve adult plasticity4, and measure age-changes in plasticity by testing 8- to 12-year-old children. In a wide-ranging design allowing for domain-general conclusions, we will work across modalities (visual, auditory, tactile) and across two fundamental perceptual problems: judging spatial layout (‘where’ objects are)1 and material properties (‘what’ they are made of). The work will provide fundamental insights into computational and brain mechanisms underlying sensory learning, and a platform for transcending the limits of human perception.

The experimental approach: The approach is to train naïve participants with new sensory skills (e.g. using sound to judge distance1) in a range of settings and time scales. These range from lab visits (as in Ref 1), to daily self-administered at-home training and carefully-supervised training during short-term visual deprivation (previous studies showed that major short-term deprivation, e.g. 5 days of blindfold-wear, promotes representation of non-visual signals in ‘visual’ cortex4). To understand how perceptual computations are changed by learning to use new signals, we will use a combination of behavioural testing (psychophysics), neuroimaging, and comparison of behavioural and neuroimaging data with the predictions of different mathematical models. Such comparisons let us determine, for example, whether new signals are being efficiently combined with existing perceptual abilities1,2, and whether such combination is happening in low-level sensory areas3 or elsewhere in the brain. The two systems we investigate (perceiving “where” objects are and “what” they are made of) are operationalised using highly-controlled tasks also amenable to fMRI scanning – in the first instance, judging depth / distance to an object (“where” it is) and judging the material (density) of an object (“what” it is made of).

The project team and the role of this post-doc: The PDRA will work as part of a team including Research Assistants, a PhD student, and a second PDRA, together with the PI and collaborators with expertise in neuroimaging3 and TMS5, low vision and multisensory plasticity6, and computational modelling7 (Dr Tessa Dekker, UCL; Dr Lore Thaler, Dr Ulrik Beierholm, Prof Amanda Ellison, Durham). Depending on their previous skills and experience, there is scope for the PDRA to develop their own area of focus and, where needed, to gain training in additional techniques. As part of a 5-year €2m project, the PDRA will have access to outstanding resources including equipment, scanning time, and travel for conferences and collaboration.

The successful candidate will have a strong academic track-record, including experience in designing, carrying out, analysing and interpreting high quality quantitative research on human perception.

Experience with any of the following topics and approaches will be a strong advantage:

  • fMRI (including MVPA), TMS
  • model-based analyses of behavioural or neuroimaging data
  • multisensory perception, visual depth perception, material perception
  • virtual reality, kinematic / force measures, perception and action
  • perceptual learning, training and follow-up protocols
  • low vision, vulnerable populations

Please see the person specification below for a full list of Essential and Desirable requirements.

Expectations: The successful applicant will be expected to co-design, run and analyse novel research protocols and studies, with input and assistance from the PI, research team, and collaborators as appropriate. The successful applicant will also be expected to prepare results for publication and present them to academic audiences at conferences, as well as (as appropriate) to non-academic audiences. Standard PDRA responsibilities and specific requirements are listed in more detail below.


  1. Negen, J., Wen, L., Thaler, L. & Nardini, M. Bayes-Like Integration of a New Sensory Skill with Vision. Sci. Rep. 8, 16880 (2018).
  2. Ernst, M. O. & Banks, M. S. Humans integrate visual and haptic information in a statistically optimal fashion. Nature 415, 429–33 (2002).
  3. Dekker, T. M. et al. Late Development of Cue Integration Is Linked to Sensory Fusion in Cortex. Curr. Biol. 25, 2856–2861 (2015).
  4. Merabet, L. B. et al. Rapid and Reversible Recruitment of Early Visual Cortex for Touch. PLoS One 3, e3046 (2008).
  5. Ellison, A., Battelli, L., Cowey, A. & Walsh, V. The effect of expectation on facilitation of colour/form conjunction tasks by TMS over area V5. Neuropsychologia 41, 1794–1801 (2003).
  6. Thaler, L., Arnott, S. R. & Goodale, M. A. Neural correlates of natural human echolocation in early and late blind echolocation experts. PLoS One 6, (2011).
  7. Beierholm, U. R., Körding, K. P., Shams, L. & Ma, W. J. Comparing Bayesian models for multisensory cue combination without mandatory integration. Adv. Neural Inf. Process. Syst. 20, 1–8 (2008).


  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include: research sponsors, academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives.
  • To conduct research studies under the direction of the Principal Investigator.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in supervision of students and Research Assistants.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by membership of departmental committees and group meetings as appropriate and by attending relevant training and development courses.

This post is fixed term for 36 months. This is set by the level of funding provided for this post by the sponsor, the European Research Council.

The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by another colleague. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out fully independent research in their own right, the expectation is that they will contribute creatively to the direction of the project, through the development of their own research ideas and adaptation/development of research protocols.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post around March 2021, but the start date is flexible.

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact marko.nardini@durham.ac.uk. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above
  • Please include copies of any relevant journal publications you would like to highlight that cannot be found online (e.g. submitted / under revision / accepted).

Next Steps

The assessment for shortlisted candidates will be an interview, including a short presentation on candidates’ previous research. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment on a date tbc, likely in early January 2021. Interviews are expected to take place remotely (e.g. using zoom).

The Requirements


  1. Qualifications
    • A good first degree in a scientific discipline.
    • PhD (or close to submission) in Experimental Psychology, Psychophysics, or a related discipline.
  2. Experience
    • Experience in designing, carrying out, analysing and interpreting high quality quantitative research on human perception.
    • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked journals.
  3. Skills
    • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
    • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research.
    • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.


  1. Experience
    • An outstanding academic track-record as evidenced e.g. by high grades, prizes, strong record of publication in peer-reviewed journals and presentation at international conferences, commensurate with stage of career.
    • Track record of high-quality research with one or more of: fMRI / MVPA, TMS, model-based analyses of behavioural or neuroimaging data, multisensory perception, visual depth perception, material perception, virtual reality, kinematic / force measures, perception and action, perceptual learning, training and follow-up protocols, low vision, vulnerable populations.

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.