The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience Amsterdam: PhD candidate Social-Cognitive Neuroscience of Peer Relationships (1.0 FTE)

Are you interested in researching the factors and brain-mechanisms that contribute to optimal youth development? Consider joining the Growing Up Together in Society (GUTS) consortium as a PhD student and gain the skills and knowledge to conduct cutting-edge research on young adult behavioral, computational modeling and neuroscience as part of a dynamic interdisciplinary team. If you are curious, like finding patterns in complex datasets and wish to work in a vibrant, multi-center, interdisciplinary and highly collaborative environment, then this position might be ideal for you.

Work description

As a PhD you are part of a sub-team of the GUTS project that operates in Amsterdam and collaborates closely with Leiden University. The aim is to include groups of young adults that form close-knit social networks (ages 16-25-years) and use a range of measurements including self-report and peer-report (sociometric) questionnaires, behavioral testing, and brain imaging (fMRI sessions) to study factors that contribute to successful social development of emerging adults.

During your PhD, you will mainly focus on understanding the role of affective empathy in developing successful social interactions, in a cohort of young adults, and how the individual is influenced by its peers in the social network and how they in turn influence their peers. Affective empathy will be mainly measured through fMRI as activity in response to the emotional state of other individuals. Social behavior will be measure through social behavioral tasks and interviews. During your PhD you will have the opportunity to:

  • study the role of affective empathy combining behavioral data, computational modeling and neuroscience;
  • setting up and recruit the cohort of young adults together with the PIs, a postdoc and two other PhDs;
  • collect and analyze fMRI and behavioral data regarding empathy tasks and social discounting using a combination of advanced analysis and computational modeling approaches;
  • access and analyze previously acquired large cohorts data to develop a brain signature to be used to predict behavior in newly acquired cohort;
  • closely collaborate and coordinate with other members of the GUTS consortium at different seniority levels;
  • publish your findings in open access scientific journals;
  • actively participate in the communication with young people about their perspective on the study and relevant assessments, as well as the clinical and societal impact of your research findings.

Your profile

We are looking for an enthusiastic, societal engaged researcher at the start of their career, with

  • strong affinity for human neuroscience and computational analyses;
  • a research master in the field of cognitive neuroscience, medicine or behavioural sciences;
  • the ability to function well both in a team as well as independently, and good communication skills;
  • proven experience with statistics and statistical software, such as JASP and R;
  • fluent in English. Because of the target population and your active role in recruitment of the cohort, knowledge of Dutch is preferable;
  • experience with fMRI scanning is a plus;
  • It is important that you are flexibly available, including evenings and weekends, given that we accommodate the needs of our participants. It goes without saying that these working hours are compensated during the week, as we strongly value a healthy work-life balance.

You should expect from us

In this 4-year-project, you will have the opportunity to learn state of the art research skills from leaders in the field. You’ll enjoy working in a close-knit team of scientists that values an open culture where everybody feels free to ask questions and make suggestions. In particular, you can expect to:

  • Learn a highly valued skill: the ability to make sense of large dataset using cutting edge data analysis strategies;
  • Acquire the skills to communicate within and manage a challenging, varied project with major scientific and societal impact;
  • The opportunity to work with leading researchers from a wide variety of different disciplines;
  • Within GUTS, you’ll be part of a larger community of PhD students with a specific training program;
  • Guidance, support and mentoring from at least two PIs;
  • A contract for 4 years for 1.0 fte conform the CAO UMC for PhD students;
  • Additional benefits including an 8.3% end-of-year bonus and 8% holiday pay.


The Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience: This will be your main home, in which your main supervisor, Prof. Christian Keysers, and one of your co-supervisor Dr. Valeria Gazzola will be working on a daily base and where you will work closely with another PhD student working on a related project within GUTS. The Social Brain Lab is the results of the joint venture of the research groups of Christian Keysers and Valeria Gazzola, aiming at shedding light on the neural mechanisms of empathy by combining studies in humans and rodents. The SBL is funded by multiple European (ERC, Marie Curie) and Dutch (VIDI, VICI, Gravity, XL) grants, and is characterized by an unusually diverse environment, with members from all over the world, backgrounds (ranging from philosophy to engineering with an emphasis on biology and psychology), and neuroscientific techniques (spanning from ultra-high field fMRI in humans to single-cell recordings in rodents). The SBL is appreciated for its collaborative, enthusiastic and supportive environment, where people strive to become successful, recognized and appreciated scientists.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Leiden University: this will be your second home, where scanning is likely to happen, where your second supervisor, Prof. Berna Güroğlu, will be located, and where you’ll have a chance to interact with a research assistant, a postdoc and a phd student (see Vacancy text here) also appointed within the same team within GUTS. For more information see

Terms of employment

The appointment will initially be for 12 months and if evaluated positively extended with 3 years and must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis. The salary ranges from €2.541,- gross per month in the 1st year up to €3.247,- gross per month in the 4th year based on a fulltime employment in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities plus an additional holiday (8% of annual salary) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 % of annual salary). The preferred starting date is the 1st of September 2023.

The KNAW, of which the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience is a part, offers its staff an excellent package of secondary benefits. A package that meets the different needs of employees depending on their stage of life, lifestyle or career ambitions. For example, by working an extra two hours a week, it is possible to increase the number of days off from 29 to 41 days a year (with full-time employment). For a complete overview of the terms of employment, please refer to the web page: werken bij de KNAW.

Diversity & Inclusion

The KNAW considers a working environment in which everyone feels welcome and appreciated of great importance. A working environment in which attention is paid to individual quality and where development opportunities are paramount. Together we strive for an inclusive culture in which we embrace differences. We would therefore like to invite candidates who want to contribute to this through their background and experience. In the event of equal suitability, preference will be given to the candidate who thus enhances diversity within the Academy.

Information about the procedure

Please submit online your application via the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, and read more about the application procedure.