The Faculty of Science / the Institute for Biology is looking for a : PhD candidate in Animal Cognition, Biases in auditory perception: a cross-species comparison; Vacancy number: 23-007

Project description  
What we hear, feel, see, smell and taste is strongly influenced by perceptual biases. Such biases create a difference between the physical sensory input and our perception thereof. Whilst certain biases differ between individuals, others seem to be more universal. It is hypothesized that the influence of biases on human auditory perception, might have been crucial in the evolution of language and music.

This project aims at understanding the presence, nature and evolutionary impact of auditory perceptual biases by comparing several bird species (zebra finches and budgerigars) and primates (incl. humans and marmosets). This comparative approach will result in a structured, systematic comparison of auditory pattern perception abilities amongst these different animal species, which will yield essential insights in the contribution of such biases to the evolution of human language and music.

The PhD candidate will work in an international research team with experts on bioacoustics, animal communication, and language evolution. This project is supervised by dr. Michelle Spierings.

Key responsibilities:

  • Plan and conduct research activities with different bird (and potentially primate) species
  • Write manuscripts for publication, resulting in a thesis.
  • Present research at workshops and international conferences
  • Co-supervise undergraduate and graduate student projects

Selection Criteria

  • MSc degree in biology, cognitive biology, behavioural neuroscience or a related field.
  • Practical experience in behavioural experiments and experimental design
  • Theoretical knowledge of Animal behaviour
  • English conversation, writing and presentation skills
  • Ability to work in an interdisciplinary collaborative team   

Research at our faculty
The Faculty of Science is a world-class faculty where staff and students work together in a dynamic international environment. It is a faculty where personal and academic development are top priorities. Our people are committed to expand fundamental knowledge by curiosity and to look beyond the borders of their own discipline; their aim is to benefit science, and to make a contribution to addressing the major societal challenges of the future.

The research carried out at the Faculty of Science is very diverse, ranging from mathematics, information science, astronomy, physics, chemistry and bio-pharmaceutical sciences to biology and environmental sciences. The research activities are organised in eight institutes. These institutes offer eight bachelor’s and twelve master’s programmes. The faculty has grown strongly in recent years and now has more than 2800 staff and almost 6000 students. We are located at the heart of Leiden’s Bio Science Park, one of Europe’s biggest science parks, where university and business life come together.

The Institute for Biology
The research within the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL) aims to work on the science base of biodiversity and health, which is reflected in our leading principle Harnessing Biodiversity for Health. We perform innovative curiosity-driven research to answer fundamental questions, and solutions-driven research to help solving major societal challenges. The latter include protecting nature’s biodiversity, creating sustainable biotechnology and agriculture and increasing good health.

Our research focuses on four Research Themes: Bioactive Molecules, Host-Microbe Interactions, Development & Disease and Evolution & Biodiversity. Located in a thriving scientific environment with our Faculty of Sciences,  Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, the Leiden University Medical Centre and the Leiden Bioscience Park, IBL offers an exciting, internationally oriented and inclusive place to work and study.  

Terms and conditions
We offer a full-time position for initially one year. After a positive evaluation of the progress of the thesis, personal capabilities and compatibility the appointment will be extended by a further three years. Salary range from € 2.541 to € 3.247 gross per month (pay scale P in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %), training and career development and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.

All our PhD students are embedded in the Leiden University Graduate School of Science, Our graduate school offers several PhD training courses at three levels: professional courses, skills training and personal effectiveness. In addition, advanced courses to deepen scientific knowledge are offered by the research school.

Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.

Enquiries can be made to Michelle Spierings ( ). If you have any questions about the procedure, please contact Sylvia Maas (

To apply for this vacancy, please send an email to Please ensure that you upload the following additional documents (combined in a single PDF file) quoting the vacancy number:

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Cover letter with motivation
  • Names of two professional references

Only applications received before 27-02-2023 can be considered.

Apply now

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