PhD Studentship: Behavioural, Brain Stimulation and Imaging Investigations of Conceptual Processing

Fully funded 3 year PhD studentship

Closing date: July 6th 2018

Richard J. Binney PhD

Applications are invited for a three-year fully funded PhD studentship under the supervision of Dr. Richard J. Binney within the School of Psychology, Bangor University. The student will be a member of the School's thriving and highly collaborative Social Neuroscience and Language, Bilingualism, Cognitive Development research groups.  These groups meets regularly to present and discuss planned and on-going projects as well as important developments in the field. The studentship can commence any time between May and October 2018. This appointment will remain open until filled by a suitable candidate.

Bangor’s School of Psychology was established in 1963 and now has one of the largest student cohorts in the UK and a cosmopolitan feel due to the presence of staff and students from over 20 countries. It has consistently performed exceptionally well in the UK’s annual National Student Survey (Top 20 of 144 in NSS 2017), it has recently received the highest possible Gold rating under the Teaching Excellence Framework (2017), and is currently ranked in the UK’s top 20 for research activity (2014 Research Excellence Framework assessment) & Complete University Guide 2018.

Bangor University is situated among the breathtaking landscape of North Wales.  Bangor is a friendly and affordable university city, perched on the Irish Sea and with its back against Snowdonia National Park. There is easy access to beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers and beaches, while maintaining good transport links to some of the U.K.’s larger cities, including Manchester and London.


Richard Binney’s laboratory is broadly interested in semantic cognition, which refers to our ability to acquire and use knowledge that brings meaning to our environment and the other people within it. Their research operates under a theoretical framework that views conceptual processing as central to all human behavior and as emerging from complex interactions between multiple higher-level cognitive, language and perceptual systems. At present, we primarily study younger adult and older adult populations using classical behavioral testing methods, as well as functional brain imaging (fMRI) and non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (TMS/tDCS).

The advertised studentship may involve training in experimental psychology, fMRI and/or TMS. The individual projects are flexible depending on the candidate’s interests and expertise, but should broadly relate to the laboratory’s core interests in semantic cognition, language and other aspects of social behaviour. Two suggested topics are outlined below:

Project Area 1: A body of multi-method studies of semantic cognition, using both verbal (i.e., words) and nonverbal (e.g., pictures) stimuli, converges on a hypothesis that there are two principal interacting systems. The first serves a representational role (i.e., it stores knowledge), and the other is responsible for enacting executive ‘control’ processes that, for example, are brought to bear when stimuli have multiple possible meanings (e.g., ‘bank’). Similar hypotheses have been expressed in the context of other, arguably very different cognitive domains, including receptive processing of person identity, facial or vocal expressions of emotion, and attribution of mental states. Surprisingly, however, there have been few direct attempts to align these similar observations under a single unifying account. The project could involve developing and using new tests to explore commonalities among the cognitive mechanisms and neural correlates underpinning verbal (i.e., words) and nonverbal (e.g., facial expression, body posture) communication.

Project Area 2: Traditional cognitive models of semantic memory have emerged primarily from the study of concrete word knowledge, where ‘concreteness’ refers to the extent to which the referent can be seen, heard, touched and/or smelt (i.e., knowledge of tangible objects). Within these models, conceptual relationships (i.e., similarity) between items (e.g., dog, cat) are hypothesised to be primarily computed on the basis of shared features (e.g., ‘has four legs’). Our vocabulary, however, is full of words that refer to abstract constructs that cannot be directly observed through the senses, and that we would struggle to define in terms of constituent perceptual features (e.g., liberty, honour). By this nature, the basis on which relationships can be computed among abstract concepts is less understood. However, recent research has begun to uncover a rich multidimensional space that accounts for the organisational structure among both concrete and abstract concepts and highlights the importance of not only sensorimotor experience but that captured in terms of time, space, thought/language and emotion. The project could involve developing new tests to explore the relevance of some of these dimensions for different groups of ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ words (e.g., verbs, nouns, adjectives), and how they modulate engagement of the neural systems that support word comprehension.


Applicants are expected to have a first class or good upper second-class undergraduate degree in experimental psychology, neuroscience or a cognate subject, plus they should have or expect to obtain a relevant Masters-level qualification. Applicants should have excellent organizational skills, be highly motivated and creative, enjoy working in a collaborative research environment, and be able to communicate effectively, with evidence of strong scientific writing skills particularly important. Experience with human neuroscience techniques (particularly fMRI and/or TMS) and programming skills (e.g., in Matlab) are highly desirable.

Further information

Please visit the laboratory’s website ( for more information on our research activities, as well as links to publications. Informal enquiries should be directed to:

Residency requirements

This studentship is primarily aimed at UK and EU students. However, those who are interested, but are from outside of the UK/EU, should contact Dr. Binney to discuss the conditions for the funding of international students.

Application requirements

All applications submitted on Bangor’s online system must include a current CV, a 1-page cover letter explaining their motivation to apply for the PhD position, and a 3-5 page (12pt font; double line spacing) project proposal covering a topic relevant to the laboratory’s ongoing research. Applications that do not include all three of these elements will not be evaluated. The online application form is available here

General information

All PhD students are expected to contribute to teaching in the department. The initial appointment for the position will be for a period of one year, with an extension of 2 years after positive evaluation of capabilities and compatibility. The appointment must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis.

General enquiries

For administrative advice about how to apply and eligibility, please contact Everil McQuarrie: