PhD Position: Transgenerational effects of stress on vocal learning

Transgenerational effects of stress on vocalPhD student wanted! Australian Research Council (ARC) project Transgenerational effects of stress on vocal learning.

Based at Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology with ARC Future Fellow Professor Kate Buchanan, Professor Andy Bennett & Dr Ondi Crino.

We are seeking an outstanding, highly motivated PhD candidate to work on the ARC Future Fellowship research project “Transgenerational effects of stress on vocal learning”. Previous work has demonstrated the fundamental impact of early life stressors on vocal learning in songbirds. The aim of this PhD research program is to assess the extent to which such effects are mediated across generations and test the possible mechanisms for any transgenerational effects using Zebra Finches as a model systems. The PhD student will work in a vibrant and productive research team testing the role of early developmental stress for song learning and neural development. They will conduct behavioural assays, bioacoustics analyses, neural sectioning and image brain sections for gene expression to assess vocal learning.

Stipend: AUD26,000 p.a. (tax exempt) for 3 years (for overseas students, waivers to overseas tuition fee are potentially available).

PhD Project content: The student will join a productive ARC-funded team testing the effect of early life stress on vocal learning and neural development. The student will have responsibility for recording song, carrying out playback experiments, collecting neural tissue and imaging the brain for gene expression, and will receive training in all these aspects. The research will involve collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany and travel there may be possible. Although the project involves clear aims to meet the ARC-funded objectives, we seek a student who is keen to develop their own interests and consequently find their own individual niche within the project.

For a description of the research groups see the following sites:

Some recent relevant publications by the group on this topic include:

  • Crino, O.L., K. L Buchanan, L.A Trompf, M. C Mainwaring, S. C Griffith (2016) Stress reactivity, condition, and foraging behavior in zebra finches: effects on boldness, exploration, and sociality. General and Comparative Endocrinology doi 10.1016/j.ygcen.2016.01.014.
  • Woodgate, J.L, K.L. Buchanan, A.T.D. Bennett, C.K .Catchpole, R. Brighton & S. Leitner. (2013) Environmental and genetic control of brain and song structure in the zebra finch. Evolution 68, 230- 240.
  • Buchanan, KL, J. Grindstaff and V.V. Pravosudov (2013) Condition-dependence, developmental plasticity and cognition: implications for ecology and evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28, 290-296.

The Research Environment: The successful candidate would be based in the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) at Deakin University’s Geelong campus 50 minutes from Melbourne CBD, and 20 minutes from Bells Beach, Torquay. Deakin hosts one of the largest ornithological research groups in the southern hemisphere, and in the recent ARC Research Assessment exercise it received the highest possible rating of 5 in Zoology. Excellent facilities are available for the project, including a 300m2 new aviary, modern lab and offices, well equipped 4WDs for fieldwork, excellent statistical support and established sites for fieldwork on zebra finches.

The CIE has over 60 postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, many from overseas, with multiple weekly seminars and paper discussion sessions, and the research group has 6+ postdocs and regular lab group meetings fostering a lively research culture. We strongly encourage PhD students to present at national and international conferences, and over $3000 is support for conference attendance is provided for each PhD.

Who should apply? The scholarship would suit a highly motivated and able student with strong interests in avian evolution, ecology, behaviour or neurobiology. Essential requirements include: Masters or first class honours (or equivalent in a relevant field); excellent written communication skills; high levels of enthusiasm, motivation; an ability to work independently and as part of an interdisciplinary team. A driver’s licence is essential, as field work may be required. The student needs to be able to take on the collection and analyses of neural tissue, after training. Experience in field work with birds and/or bioacoustics or neural analyses are desirable but not essential. The position will be based in Geelong, but with opportunities for work and visits to other labs. Selection will be based on academic merit and prior experience.

Application deadline is 1st August 2016.

For further information or to apply contact Dr Ondi Crino ( or Professor Andy Bennett (

To apply, please send a statement of your interest in the project, a detailed CV and contact details for two referees.