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Interdisciplinary PhD in Cognitive and Network science at Aix-Marseille University

“Cognitive underpinnings of social network dynamics”

We are looking for a PhD candidate with a strong background in mathematical or physical sciences and an interest in cognitive science and animal behaviour to work on a project called “Cognitive underpinnings of social network dynamics” (COGNET) at Aix-Marseille University (France). The project is built on a collaboration between three researchers with complementary expertise, a specialist in evolutionary theory and adaptation (Nicolas Claidière), a specialist in human and non-human animal cognition (Joël Fagot) and a specialist in the theory, analysis and data-driven modelling of complex networks (Alain Barrat).

The PhD student will perform cognitive experiments with a group of non-human primates (see http://video.sciencemag.org/VideoLab/1556965049001/1), gather social network data from behavioural observations and proximity tracking systems and develop and use analytical and statistical tools to study complex networks, and in particular time-resolved contact networks (see http://www.sociopatterns.org/).

Funding is for 3 years and depends on the project being selected by the university and the subsequent success of the candidate at an interview (Date: 29/05/2017).

If you are interested in applying for this position, please send a one page cover letter, your CV and the name of two referees to nicolas.claidiere@normalesup.org by March 24th.

Involved scientists:


PhD project: Cognitive underpinnings of social network dynamics


Humans and non-human animals have to face important environmental and social transformations and a major scientific challenge is therefore to better understand how they adapt to these changes. Adaptation in animals can happen on at least two different levels: individuals use their cognitive capacities to flexibly adjust their behaviour, and the social organisation (network) of a group can adapt to new conditions. Studies often focus on only one of these aspects but recent evidence suggests that cognition and social network deeply interact. The goal of the PhD project is to shed light on this interaction and therefore to answer two main questions: how do cognitive capacities shape the social network of individuals? and how do changes in the social network influence individual cognitive abilities? The complexity of the project requires both a sophisticated experimental setup and powerful statistical models of the interaction between cognitive capacities and social organisation.

Scientific project:

1.         The PhD student will perform computerised cognitive experiments with a group of non-human primates in order to follow their cognitive performances across time.

2.         In parallel, he/she will also gather social network data from behavioural observations (focal follows and scan sampling) and a proximity tracking system. The observations will serve to validate the automatic recording of the social network through the proximity tracking system.

3.         Finally, he/she will also develop and use analytical and statistical tools to study complex networks, and in particular time-resolved contact networks, as well as their co-evolution with the cognitive performances.


1.    The applicant must have a strong background in maths or statistical physics and good programming skills. Experience with networks will be considered an advantage.

2.    The applicant must also have a keen interest in animal behaviour and animal cognition. Experience in these domains will also be considered an advantage.

3.    The successful candidate should be creative, with a strong ability to work in a problem oriented project. He/she should also enjoy interdisciplinary research and take keen interest in learning and working in teams.

4.    The applicant must have good English skills (writing/speaking).

5.    Candidates with a PhD degree or without an MSc will not be considered for the position.

PhD environment:

           Aix-Marseille University (http://www.univ-amu.fr/en/) is the largest French university and a French centre of excellence. It is located in the French Provence, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

           Salary: the position is remunerated according to the university’s salary scale and is approx. 1300€/month including taxes with an opportunity for an additional approx. 300€/month for teaching.

Additional information:

  • http://video.sciencemag.org/VideoLab/1556965049001/1
  • https://www.jove.com/video/52798/assessment-social-cognition-non-human-primates-using-network
  • Claidière, N., et al. (2015). "Using Automated Learning Devices for Monkeys (ALDM) to study social networks." Behavior research methods: 1-11.
  • Pasquaretta, C., et al. (2014). "Social networks in primates: smart and tolerant species have more efficient networks." Scientific reports 4.
  • Sallet, J., et al. (2011). "Social Network Size Affects Neural Circuits in Macaques." Science 334(6056): 697-700.
  • http://www.sociopatterns.org/
  • Mastrandrea, R., et al. (2015). "Contact Patterns in a High School: A Comparison between Data Collected Using Wearable Sensors, Contact Diaries and Friendship Surveys." PLoS ONE 10(9): e0136497.
  • Génois, M., et al. (2015). "Compensating for population sampling in simulations of epidemic spread on temporal contact networks." Nature Communications 6: 8860.
  • Barrat, A., Cattuto, C., Tozzi, A. E., Vanhems, P., & Voirin, N. (2014). Measuring contact patterns with wearable sensors: methods, data characteristics and applications to data-driven simulations of infectious diseases. Clin. Microbiol. Infect., 20(1), 10-16.


LabAix-Marseille University
Starts on01/10/2017
Deadline24/03/2017 0:00

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