PhD Studentship: Manipulating Behavioural Control with Ultrasound (Donders Institute, Netherlands)

Closing Date
3 Jul 2020
€ 2,972 per month
Nijmegen, the Netherlands
4 years

We are looking for

We urge ourselves out of bed in the morning, decide to have yoghurt or toast for breakfast, stop for a red light on our way to work. Human cognition is characterised by a high degree of behavioural control. This ability relies on a set of deep brain nuclei known as the basal ganglia. This core complex of human cognition is often affected in psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as addiction and Parkinson's disease.

How do the basal ganglia coordinate human behavioural control? To better understand the causal mechanisms by which this circuit controls actions and decisions, we need to modulate neural activity and measure its impact. Such an interventional approach is especially important in a clinical context. However, current neuromodulation techniques are either highly invasive (e.g. deep brain stimulation in patients), or restricted to the surface of the brain (e.g. TMS, tDCS). In this project we will use transcranial ultrasound neuromodulation, a novel approach that, for the first time allows us to safely modulate deep brain circuits in humans. As such, we will probe long-standing hypotheses that were not possible to test in humans to date.

In a series of experiments, you will develop a set of approaches for transcranial ultrasound. You will then combine these interventions with behavioural tasks, EEG, and fMRI to disentangle the functions of basal ganglia routes in action and decision-making, and their interaction with the prefrontal cortex.

This project builds on earlier work using similar tasks and techniques, for example:


We ask


  • An MSc in Neurocience, Biology, Artificial Intelligence, Physics, or a related field.
  • Professional skills to contribute to team work and culture.
  • Independent problem-solving abilities.
  • Technical proficiency and affinity with scientific coding.
  • A keen interest in cognition and neuromodulation


  • Experience with neuroimaging and/or neuromodulation.
  • Affinity with technical lab work.
  • Good knowledge of statistics and quantitative methods.

We are

The Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour is a world-class interfaculty research centre that houses more than 700 researchers devoted to understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of the human mind. Research at the Donders Institute is focused around four themes: 1. Language and communication2. Perception, action and control3. Plasticity and memory4. Neural computation and neurotechnology. Excellent, state-of-the-art research facilities are available for the broad range of neuroscience research that is being conducted at the Donders Institute. The Donders Institute has been assessed by an international evaluation committee as excellent and recognised as a 'very stimulating environment for top researchers, as well as for young talent'. The Donders Institute fosters a collaborative, multidisciplinary, supportive research environment with a diverse international staff. English is the lingua franca at the Institute.

You will join the Cognitive Neuromodulation Lab, headed by Dr Lennart Verhagen. We study human action and decision control, using cognitive neuroscience approaches that bridge psychology, biology and engineering. We are one of the pioneering labs for transcranial ultrasound stimulation, a groundbreaking tool for non-invasive deep brain stimulation. We use neuroimaging (fMRI, dMRI, EEG, MEG) and neuromodulation techniques (TMS, TES, TUS), supported by computational modelling of ultrasound and cognition.

We will work closely with the Learning and Decision-making Lab headed by Dr Hanneke den Ouden. The LDM lab aims to unravel the cognitive building blocks of flexible behaviour, combining behavioural, neuroimaging, psychopharmacology and computational modelling.

We will further collaborate with the Sensorimotor Lab headed by Prof Pieter Medendorp, studying the computational and functional basis of sensorimotor control, using imaging, psychophysics and modelling.

Radboud University

We want to get the best out of science, others and ourselves. Why? Because this is what the world around us desperately needs. Leading research and education make an indispensable contribution to a healthy, free world with equal opportunities for all. This is what unites the more than 22,000 students and 5,000 employees at Radboud University. And this requires even more talent and collaboration. You have a part to play!

We offer

  • Employment: 32 - 40 hours per week.
  • The gross starting salary amounts to €2,325 per month, and will increase to €2,972 in the fourth year (salary scale P).
  • In addition to the salary: an 8% holiday allowance and an 8.3% end-of-year bonus.
  • Duration of the contract: 4 years
  • The intended start date is 1 September 2020.
  • You will be able to make use of our Dual Career Service: our Dual Career Officer will assist with family-related support, such as child care, and help your partner prepare for the local labour market and with finding an occupation.
  • Are you interested in our excellent employment conditions?
  • You will be part of the Donders Graduate School for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Please address your application to Lennart Verhagen and submit it, using the application button, no later than 3 July 2020, 23:59 Amsterdam Time Zone.   

Your application should include the following attachments:

  • Letter of motivation.
  • CV.

The first round of interviews will take place on Monday 13 July or Wednesday 15 July.

Contact Details

For more information about this vacancy, please contact:
Lennart Verhagen, Associate Principal Investigator

Hanneke den Ouden, Principal Investigator