We are looking for an eager and enthusiastic PhD student to join our team at the University of Dundee and conduct ground-breaking research into diagnostic brain signatures of Parkinson’s disease (PD). The project will provide ample opportunities to work both in cognitive neuroscience and clinical environments and aims to develop a diverse skill set, including – but not limited to – neuroimaging brainwaves using EEG, neuro-cognitive assessment of Parkinson’s patients, computational modelling and data analysis, and the scientific dissemination of findings. The project is fully funded for 3 years, with a starting date of September/October 2024.

The project

PD can have devastating effects on the quality of life of patients, as well as their loved ones and caretakers. Individuals suffering from neurodegenerative PD experience both motor (i.e., tremor) and non-motor psychological symptoms (i.e., depression, apathy, dysphoria, thought and memory impairments). Diagnosis of PD is complicated and often requires differential diagnosis, usually at an advanced stage of the disease, after observable symptoms present. However, early interventions can meaningfully delay neurodegeneration and help managing symptoms. Hence, it is critically important that widely applicable and accurate techniques for early diagnosis are developed.
Recent studies point to brainwaves, measured by electroencephalography (EEG), as a promising candidate, even in early stages of the disease. We will capitalise on the latest advances in the analysis of brain waves (EEG) and statistical modelling to sensitise and push the boundaries of EEG-biomarker based PD diagnosis. Using existing EEG data from healthy controls, we will build the most comprehensive model to date of resting-state EEG activity expected over the lifespan in the absence of disease. We will then compare how strongly EEG activity from PD patients differs from this normal distribution. This method has recently been successful in accurately mapping unique patterns of brain structure differences in various disorders.
Moreover, the patients will perform a reinforcement learning task whilst their EEG is recorded. This task tests decision-making abilities affected by the non-motor symptom apathy in PD. An age matched healthy control group will perform the same task for comparison. By comparing PD-patient and healthy-control EEG in a decision-making situation, we will cast a new light on altered neural activity underlying apathy in PD patients, opening new avenues of intervention for the often-overlooked non-motor symptoms of PD.

Funding and workplace

The project is fully funded by Tenovus Scotland and will begin in September/October 2024 with a runtime of 3 years. The funding includes an annual maintenance grant at the UKRI rate, and fees covered at the standard institutional home rate. The students can also draw on project-specific funding for conference travel (£1,000 per year), as well as a pooled PGR Support Grant available to all SHSL PhD students, usually up to a maximum of £500 per year.
The student will be based in the Division of Psychology within the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law (SHSL), situated in the accessible Scrymgeour building on the main city campus of the University of Dundee, and supervised by Dr Christopher Benwell, Dr Christian Keitel, Dr Tom Gilbertson (School of Medicine) and Professor Douglas Steele (School of Medicine). Patient data collection will involve traveling to Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, as required. City campus and Ninewells are well connected with frequent bus services.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Our research community thrives on the diversity of students and staff which helps to make the University of Dundee a UK university of choice for postgraduate research. We welcome applications from all talented individuals and are committed to widening access to those who have the ability and potential to benefit from higher education.
Contact: For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Christopher Benwell (c.benwell@dundee.ac.uk) and/or Dr Christian Keitel (CKeitel001@dundee.ac.uk).
For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact doctoralacademy@dundee.ac.uk

Other information
For more information on working at Dundee, please visit https://www.dundee.ac.uk/work-for-us

Eligibility criteria:

Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:
Essential Criteria

  • First Class/2:1 Honours degree in appropriate discipline (e.g., Psychology, Neuroscience, Biology – enquiries welcome if uncertain) or an equivalent Master’s level qualification. For international qualifications, please see equivalent entry requirements here: www.dundee.ac.uk/study/international/country/.
  • A strong enthusiasm for advancing a career in clinical neuroscience/neuropsychology.
  • Ability to establish rapport and interact effectively with colleagues and participants (including elderly patients).
  • Evidence of excellent English oral and written communication skills.
  • Evidence of ability to set and meet deadlines.

Desirable Criteria

  •  Experience working with vulnerable groups such as patients and/or elderly individuals.
  •  Knowledge and experience with experimental neuroimaging research (particularly EEG).
  • Ability to use standard programming environments for advanced data analysis (e.g., R, MATLAB, Python).
  • Ability to prepare and set up experiments for human participants, including knowledge of software to deliver experimental stimulation (e.g., Psychtoolbox).
  • Experience with Student / Research Assistant supervision.

Application process:

Step 1: Email Dr Christopher Benwell (c.benwell@dundee.ac.uk) sending (1) a copy of your CV, (2) a cover letter explaining how you meet the essential (and desirable) criteria for the studentship and (3) contact information for 2 referees. The deadline for emailing this information to Dr Benwell is 14th May 2024, 11:59pm.
Step 2: Formal interviews will take place for shortlisted candidates via Microsoft Teams, likely on either the 23rd or 28th May 2024.
Step 3: The successful candidate (after interview) will be invited to submit a formal application for a PhD studentship via the University of Dundee direct application system. We will provide exact instructions.