Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Anthropology

Durham, United Kingdom
£33,797 per annum
16 Jun 2021
End of advertisement period
14 Jul 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Anthropology

Grade 7: - £33,797 per annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 33 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 14-Jul-2021, 6:59:00 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 Anthropology Department at Durham University has an outstanding international reputation for teaching, research and student employability. We are one of the largest Anthropology Departments in the UK, with nearly 40 permanent academic staff working across social, evolutionary and health anthropology. The Department of Anthropology has a vibrant research culture with many visitors, seminars, global conferences and workshops. We provide an intellectually inclusive environment, fostering the academic freedom and confidence to work at both the core and boundaries of anthropology in exciting and innovative ways. We were the top-ranked integrated Anthropology department in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014); fifth in the UK for overall GPA (Times Higher Education); first equal for world-leading and internationally-excellent Impact and Research Environment, and second equal for world- leading publications.

Each year, we welcome over 100 undergraduate students onto our single honours programmes with their flagship residential field course and ~30+ students onto our joint honours degrees with the Department of Archaeology and the Department of Sociology, and from October 2021 the Department of Psychology. Our postgraduate taught and research degrees attract ~70 students from around the world each year. We provide a supportive, friendly and inclusive environment with a strong sense of community.

Of note, for this PDRA role is the outstanding research environment offered at Durham by the Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group (EARG), as well as the cross-faculty Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre (DCERC), Primatology Group, Behavioural Ecology & Evolution Research Centre (BEER), and the Comparative & Cross Cultural Psychology Group (C3PG).  All of these groups have regular meetings including discussion of ongoing research, journal clubs and internal/external speakers. The PDRA will also have access to the excellent research environment offered by the Psychology Department at St Andrews University, specifically the Living Links Centre to Human Evolution and the Budongo Research Unit at Edinburgh zoo.

The Role

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate in evolutionary anthropology/comparative psychology with a particular emphasis on cognitive evolution in primates  The position is funded by the John Templeton Foundation as part of the grant ‘Transforming the field of cultural evolution and its application to human futures’. The bulk of this grant is to run a funding competition and associated activities (including applied workshops, conferences, public outreach etc.). This grant also funds the research post advertised here. Specifically, the post holder would take a leading role in the conduct of a project on the evolution of sequence cognition in primates.

The project, that the successful candidate would drive, is led by Prof Rachel Kendal, Prof Rob Barton (at Durham) and Dr Amanda Seed (at St Andrews). Converging evidence from observations of ape behaviour in the wild, phylogenetic comparative evidence of brain evolution, and from cognitive neuroscience, suggests the hypothesis that “syntactical cognition’, the capacity to comprehend and organise complex sequences, was a key aspect of cognitive evolution in humans and other apes (Endress et al 2009; Barton & Venditti 2014; Byrne 2016; Ghirlanda et al 2017; Pu et al. 2020).

This cognitive capacity is implicated in language, extractive foraging and tool use, as well as social learning and cumulative culture, all capabilities that are particularly developed in humans. In collaboration with the research team, the successful applicant will research, plan and execute a comparative experimental investigation to test the hypothesis that ‘behavioural syntax’ is a key and specific element of ape cognitive evolution. It is anticipated that a variety of primate species will be involved in the study beginning with capuchin and squirrel monkeys at the Living Links Research Centre, chimpanzees at the Budongo Trail Research Unit, and children visiting Edinburgh Zoo (UK) or the Centre for Life (Newcastle, UK). The research participants will voluntarily take part in sequential learning tasks, which may involve touch screens, eye tracking, sequential extractive foraging/tool transport puzzles understanding of social sequences, etc.

The PDRA will also have the opportunity to collaborate on Rachel Kendal’s ongoing projects and will be expected to contribute to the wider Templeton grant activities, as appropriate. Although a Project Manager and a Research Communications Lead will run the funding competition, the PDRA will have a unique opportunity to acquire diverse experiences of academic life should they wish, as well as bespoke training in research communication techniques. All research expenses are covered, and the successful candidate will be funded to attend and present at 3+ conferences as well as engage in public outreach etc.


  • 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 or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of Rachel Kendal, Rob Barton, and Amanda Seed.
  • 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 Rachel Kendal, Rob Barton, and Amanda Seed 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 (e.g. to expand the primate species investigated).
  • 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 student supervision, as appropriate (e.g. those engaging in projects related to the research programme), and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • To engage in wider citizenship regarding the Templeton grant, in the process enhancing career development (e.g. contributing to conference organisation, public outreach, giving an early career researcher perspective to grant activities).
  • 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 participation, as desired, in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.​

This post is fixed term for 33 months as the funding is available for the period of 10th December 2021 to 9th September 2024 only.  

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 independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 10th December 2021. 

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Rachel Kendal using rachel.kendal@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 disabled individuals, women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

What to Submit

  • A CV
  • Covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the essential and desirable requirements set out above; 

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include consideration of the extent to which the candidate meets the essential and desirable requirements.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment in mid-July 2021

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University. We are committed to equality: if for any reason you have taken a career break or periods of leave that may have impacted on your career path, such as maternity, adoption or parental leave, you may wish to disclose this in your application. The selection committee will recognise that this may have reduced the quantity of your research accordingly.

When appointing to this role the University must ensure that it meets any applicable immigration requirements, including salary thresholds which are applicable to some visas.

The Requirements



  • A good first degree in anthropology, psychology, zoology, biology or a related subject.
  • A PhD (or be close to submission) in evolutionary anthropology or psychology,  or a related subject, with a clear focus on cognition.


  • Experience in conducting high quality academic research.
  • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked journals.
  • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at national and/or international conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.
  • Experience in hypothesis testing and experimental design to investigate cognition, in particular learning.
  • Experience of conducting experimental investigation of cognition, in particular learning.
  • Experience of statistical analysis and appropriate data analysis software (e.g. R).


  • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
  • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, in particular to ensure excellent working relationships with collaborators.



  • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
  • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings and to the public,  commensurate with stage of career.
  • Demonstrable ability to develop research proposals for funding in collaboration with other academics.
  • Experience of overseeing students with respect to the development of their practical/research skills e.g. acting as a demonstrator; supervising student projects/practicals.
  • Experience in hypothesis testing, experimental design, and carrying out comparative experiments to investigate learning in a range of primates (children, other apes, monkeys).
  • Knowledge of relevant academic literature, such as behavioural syntax, cognitive evolution, comparative cognition, tool use, cultural evolution and cumulative culture, and language.
  • Experience of Open Science practises (e.g. pre-registration).
  • Programming experience, such as Python or Matlab, for task creation (e.g. using touch screens).


  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 
  • Demonstrable ability to maintain excellent working relationships with animal housing facilities, zoos, schools, or public visitor centres, to ensure research goals are met.

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.