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PhD position - Object Play, Tool Use, Material Culture in Macaques
Grad Positions
Posted Aug 29
Ph.D. position, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Mechanisms and Evolution of Object Play, Tool Use, and Material Culture in the genus Macaca
Hiring Organization:
University of Lethbridge
Date Posted:
Position Description:
We are seeking an independent, conscientious and highly motivated students to embark on a four-year Ph.D. program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Lethbridge, starting either in May or September 2021, under the supervision of Dr. Jean-Baptiste Leca.
Proposed research topic:
The Ph.D. student will investigatethe proximate and ultimate links between culturally maintained object play and tool use behaviors in macaques. More specifically, the research project will consist in testing the hypothesis that object play – or any other type of object-related manipulation which does not seem to be immediately instrumental or rewarded in a tangible way, including object exploration – facilitates the development, expression, and evolution of tool-assisted actions that are directly beneficial. Proximate causes will include developmental, motivational, cognitive, and cultural processes; investigating them will require training on the use of specific behavioral analyses (e.g., temporal structure analysis, movement analysis, social network analysis). Ultimate causes will include the functional significance of, and cross-species differences in, object-oriented behavioral propensities; investigating them will require training on the use of phylogenetic analysis.
To address these questions, field observational and experimental data will be collected and analyzed from captive and free-ranging populations in several macaque species, with different manipulative tendencies (e.g., Balinese long-tailed macaques, Japanese macaques, Taiwanese macaques, rhesus macaques, lion-tailed macaques, and bonnet macaques).
Work environment:
As part of the Ph.D. program, the successful applicant will likely do field research in different countries (e.g., Indonesia (Bali), Japan, Taiwan, India), with the help of several field research assistants. The Ph.D. student may also use a large existing video-recorded data set on object play, extractive foraging, and tool use behaviors in Japanese macaques and Balinese long-tailed macaques, already collected by our research team members. The Ph.D. student will probably work in collaboration with a M.Sc. student in our lab, each covering complementary research topics pertaining to the mechanisms and evolution of material culture in macaques.
Collaborative opportunities:
During the M.Sc. program, the successful applicant may benefit from already established collaborations between Dr. Leca and other researchers in various fields (e.g., Neuroscience, Kinesiology, Anthropology, and Ecology) and from different academic institutions:
·         University of Lethbridge:
o   Dr. Sergio Pellis, with expertise in play behavior and movement analysis
o   Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk, with expertise in phylogenetic analysis
·         Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Japan: Dr. Michael Huffman, with expertise in cultural primatology
·         National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan: Dr. Hsui-Hui Su, with expertise in primate behavioral ecology
·         National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India: Dr. Anindya Sinha, with expertise in primate behavioral ecology and evolution
·         University of Girona, Spain: Dr. Miquel Llorente, with expertise in social network analysis and social learning
Required – Applicants should:
·         have, or be working toward a Master’s degree in biology, ecology, psychology, or anthropology, with an emphasis on animal/human behavior (e.g., ethology, behavioral ecology, cognitive science);
·         have a solid GPA and some research achievements (e.g., publications or conference presentations) to be eligible and competitive for internal awards, scholarships, fellowships offered by the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Lethbridge;
·         have a previous field research experience collecting behavioral data from large groups of individually recognized free-ranging animals (preferably, but necessarily, primates);
·         have a detailed knowledge of, and hands-on experience in, behavioral data collection methods (e.g., focal and scan sampling techniques);
·         show a positive attitude in the face of long and tiring field work days and unforeseen challenges;
·         be physically fit to stand and walk several hours a day under a hot and humid weather, while collecting behavioral data;
·         feel comfortable walking around a large group of well-habituated monkeys, which may (occasionally) include getting a monkey jumping on the observer’s shoulders;
·         be mentally strong and emotionally mature to spend several months living under basic conditions and being far away from family and friends;
·         be able to communicate openly with our team about any problems that may arise;
·         possess strong social skills, which include enjoying working and communicating easily within a small team, sharing knowledge, and being teachable;
·         fluency in English (spoken and written).
Desirable – Priority will be given to applicants with:
·         good observation skills including patience, persistence and attention to detail;
·         a previous experience using handheld data loggers in the field (e.g., field computer/psion and video camera);
·         a previous experience with behavioral data scoring softwares (particularly The Observer XT by Noldus);
·         a previous experience with (or at least an interest in) behavioral analyses (e.g., temporal structure analysis, movement analysis, social network analysis);
·         a previous experience with (or at least an interestin) phylogenetic analyses;
·         a previous experience traveling and living in foreign countries and cultures.
The successful applicant will be selected on the basis of their eligibility and high probability to be fully funded by an internal funding package offered by the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Lethbridge. Indeed, provided a solid GPA and research potential, the future Ph.D. student will be competitive for a tuition award (covering Ph.D. tuition fees and other administrative fees at the University of Lethbridge), a fellowship award, a teaching assistantship, and a Dean’s scholarship. This package may be supplemented by a graduate research assistantship from the Ph.D. supervisor’s research grant, if necessary.
Field research expenses will be covered. This financial support will includeone round-trip international airfare (from Calgary to field research site(s)), administrative expenses incurred while in the field (e.g., visa, long-term stay permit, research permit, field site fees), and a monthly research stipend (covering basic local transport, accommodation, and food expenses).
Term of Appointment:
Depending on the successful applicant’s availability and the lifting of covid-related international travel restrictions, the four-year Ph.D. program at the University of Lethbridge will run:
·         either from early May 2021 to April 2025 (application deadline at the University of Lethbridge on February 1, 2021);
·         or from early September 2021 to August 2025 (application deadline at the University of Lethbridge on May 1, 2021).
Field data collection will generally occur from May to August (i.e., 4 months during which the successful applicant does not hold a teaching assistantship); however, this schedule (i.e., when and how long) may be change depending on the evolution of covid-related international travel restrictions.
Application Deadline:
Review of applications to join our lab will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.
Short-listed applicants will be contacted to schedule phone interviews as soon as possible.
Please submit the following documentation in ONE single PDF file saved with your last and first name in the file name (e.g., “Smith_John.pdf”):
·         Adetailed cover letter documenting your education, research experience, qualifications (among those listed above), and interest in this position, with an emphasis on your motivation to pursue your Ph.D. research on the topic described above. Please also indicate whether you will be available to start the Ph.D. program either in early May 2021or in early September 2021;
·         Your detailed CV, including all relevant degrees, diplomas, certificates, coursework, field courses, field experience, and possible publications/conference presentations;
·         A copy of your official undergraduate and graduate (M.Sc. or M.A.) academic transcripts, with the detailed list of courses taken and the corresponding grades;
·         Contact information (including email addresses) of THREE academic or professional references who can attest to your qualifications, including ONE reference who supervised you IN THE FIELD.
Applications that contain more than one file will not be considered.
Your application should be emailed to Dr. Noëlle Gunst (
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, and we shall get back to you as soon as possible, via email.
Contact Information:
Jean-Baptiste Leca, PhD
Noëlle Gunst, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge, AB
E-mail Address: