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PhD, postdoc and RA opportunities

We are always looking for people who are interested in pursuing research with us as a PhD student or a postdoc or a research assistant.

Direct entry into PhD training is possible after a bachelor's degree (about 50% of recent studentships have gone to such students). Those who prefer to do a master's course first are encouraged to apply to MSc Psychological Research and carry out research placements and projects with members of the Language and Learning Group.

As for postdocs, we advertise our positions funded by our research grants in www.jobs.ac.uk. We are also keen to host postdoc fellowships (such as Marie-Curie Fellowships, Newton Fellowships, ESRC Future Research Leaders grants, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships etc.).

As for research assistants, we advertise our positions funded by our research grants in www.jobs.ac.uk. We sometimes have hourly-paid RA jobs, but they are not necessarily advertised; so, please ask us.

If you are interested (even if you do not have a concrete idea for a project), please feel free to get in touch with the following potential supervisors. If you are not sure whom to contact, please contact S dot Kita at warwick dot ac dot uk. Please see below for some illustrative project ideas.

Dr. James Adelman

Dr. George Dunbar

Prof. Thomas Hills

Prof. Sotaro Kita

Dr. Kate Messenger

Dr Simon Townsend

More information on PhD / MPhil / MSc degrees by research in Psychology


PhD co-supervision with Applied Linguistics

It is possible for a PhD student to be co-supervised by members of the Department of Psychology and of the Centre for Applied Linguistics. Example topics include cross-linguistic comparisons, language teaching/learning, interaction between culture and communication strategies. Please feel free to get in touch with us to discuss such possibilities further.


Examples of possible PhD projects

1. Lexical Individual differences in lexical quality (James Adelman)

2. Using network analyses and natural language processing to understand child language acquisition (Thomas Hills)

3. Gesture, language and thought (Sotaro Kita)

4. Word learning in children (Sotaro Kita)

5. Syntactic priming (Kate Messenger)

6. Other topics


1. Individual differences in lexical quality

Theoretical and empirical progress in reading research has often focused on the successful reader as a homogeneous target exemplified by the average of data collected from undergraduates, often modeled with a perfect vocabulary. However, undergraduates vary in reading ability and presumably in the cognitive skills and knowledge that underpin reading. Moreover, such individual differences permeate the development of reading and are a major focus of developmental research in reading. The concept of lexical quality — the extent to which orthographic, phonological and semantic elements of words are known and integrated — has underpinned more recent attempts to bring the gap between the tasks of adult word recognition studies and the developmental literature. The mechanisms of lexical quality have, however, yet to be fleshed out in the level of detail seen in models of word recognition.

A PhD project in this area would explore these mechanisms by some or all of the following means: (i) masked priming studies disentangling the relative contribution of positive and negative orthographic knowledge to individual differences; (ii) exploration of different measures of lexical quality and the modulation of effects at the level of the knowledge of spelling of individual vocabulary items; (iii) linking the use of phonology in spelling to lexical quality; and (iv) training studies. We are currently engaged in the development of new software for computational modeling designed to cater for both novice and expert needs; any student completing a project in this area would be involved in the user testing of this program (from the novice angle).

If interested, contact James Adelman.


2. Using Network Analyses and Natural Language Processing to Understand Child Language Acquisition

This project does what it says on the tin. In particular, it aims to use Big Data approaches to understanding the statistical properties of language and how these can be used to inform our understanding of language acquisition. The network analysis has much in common with social network analysis, except in this case we are interested in the relationships between words (either semantically, "is a dog like a cat?", or phonetically, "is a dog like a doll?"). This work has only been possible in the last decade as it requires smokingly fast computers and models of language comprehension that can read millions of words of text in an afternoon. There is much to be done here as well, e.g., in terms of looking at the large-scale statistical relationships of child language as children age, how this language is similar to what children hear in relation to patterns of child-directed speech, and how it might differ between monolingual and bilingual children.

If you're interested, please contact Thomas Hills.

Further Reading
Hills, T. (2012). The company that words keep: comparing the statistical structure of child- versus adult-directed language. Journal of child language, 1–19. doi:10.1017/S0305000912000165
Hills, T., Maouene, M., Maouene, J., Sheya, A., & Smith, L. (2009). Longitudinal analysis of early semantic networks. Psychological Science, 20, 729–739.


3. Gesture, language and thought

The project concerns gestures that people spontaneously produce during speaking and thinking. Possible research questions include the following. Why do people produce gestures that are communicatively useless (e.g., while talking on the phone)? Do gestures facilitate speaking and thinking? How does speech production influence gesturing (e.g., do speakers of different languages gesture differently)? How does seeing gestures influence the interpretation of a sentence? (For a wider range of questions, please see the Research section of this page: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/people/skita/skita/. Studies can be conducted with adults and children (including infants). Co-supervision with members of the Centre for Applied Linguistics is an option.

If you are interested, please contact Sotaro Kita.

Further Reading
Mumford, K. H., & Kita, S. (in press). Children use gesture to interpret novel verb meanings. Child Development.
Alibali, M. W., Spencer, R. C., Knox, L., & Kita, S. (2011). Spontaneous gestures influence strategy choices in problem solving. Psychological Science, 22(9), 1138-1144.
Chu, M., & Kita, S. (2011). The nature of gestures' beneficial role in spatial problem solving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140(1), 102-115.
Özyürek, A., Willems, R. M., Kita, S., & Hagoort, P. (2007). On-line integration of semantic information from speech and gesture: Insights from even-related brain potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 605-616.
Kita, S., & Özyürek, A. (2003). What does cross-linguistic variation in semantic coordination of speech and gesture reveal?: Evidence for an interface representation of spatial thinking and speaking. Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 16-32.


4. Word learning in children

The project concerns word learning in children. There are two important lines of questions. First, learning of the meaning of new words is a key component of language development. What cues do children use to infer the meaning of a new word? For example, how do "sound symbolism" (when a novel word sounds like what it means; e.g., "kipi" for a spikey object and "moma" for a rounded object) and gestures faciliate children's word learning? Second, how is word learning related to other cognitive development? For example, can gesture development predict later language development? (For a wider range of questions, please see the Research section of this page: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/people/skita/skita/. Studies can be conducted with adults and children (including infants). Co-supervision with members of the Centre for Applied Linguistics is an option.

If you are interested, please contact Sotaro Kita.

Further Reading
Mumford, K. H., & Kita, S. (in press). Children use gesture to interpret novel verb meanings. Child Development.
Matsuo, A., Kita, S., Shinya, Y., Wood, G. C., & Naigles, L. (2012). Japanese two-year-olds use morphosyntax to learn novel verb meanings. Journal of Child Language, 39(3), 637-663.
Kantartzis, K., Mutsumi, I., & Kita, S. (2011). Japanese sound symbolism facilitates word learning in English speaking children. Cognitive Science, 35(3), 575-586.
Iverson, J. M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science, 16(5), 367-371.


5. Syntactic priming

Speakers tend to repeat language that they have just heard. This can occur at the level of sentence structure (e.g. noun verb noun) and children and adults are sensitive to such syntactic priming effects. These effects are informative about children's developing knowledge of sentence structure or adults existing knowledge. Some potential areas for investigation are:
(1) priming effects tend to vary widely between individuals (children and adults) - what factors (linguistic or cognitive: language development, language complexity, memory, executive function, attention) can explain this variation?
(2) it is argued that priming effects are akin to implicit learning, which predicts that they should last beyond the initial prime trial - are priming effects long-lasting in both children and adults?
(3) syntactic priming can be used to investigate how speakers of two languages store and access each language - does priming occur between the two languages? Can hearing a sentence structure in one language prime the same sentence structure in the other language? What if the speaker is a second language learner - does priming depend on level of proficiency?

If you are interested, please contact Kate Messenger.

Suggested Reading:
Pickering, M. J., & Ferreira, V. S. (2008). Structural priming: A critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 427-459.


6. Other topics

There are many other possible topics for PhD projects that are not listed here. Please see potential supervisors' personal webpages to learn their expertise and discuss further possibilities with them.