Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies

PhD Position in Animal Vocal Communication on "Signal Diversification"
60 %

With the launch of a new NCCR Evolving Language, which involves nearly 40 different research groups from a large variety of disciplines across Switzerland, we seek to fill a PhD position in animal vocal communication.

Our goal is to identify how animal communication and the use and structure of human language is constrained and shaped by pre-established structure-meaning signals, and how novel, arbitrary structures evolve and diversify under different social and ecological conditions. In this work package we carry out experimental research with animals and observational research on human language. Within this particular PhD project, we will investigate call flexibility and cognitive constraints in production and in perception on captive meerkats and seals, applying among other methods conditioning tests.

Your responsibilities

The successful PhD student in animal vocal communication will become part of an inter-disciplinary team of scientists at the University of Zurich tackling the topic of animal signal diversification reaching into language evolution. Research supervision of this work package will be assumed collectively by Profs Marta Manser (Animal Behaviour), Paul Widmer (Comparative Linguistics), Balthasar Bickel (Comparative Linguistics), Kentaro Shimizu (Genetics) and possibly others. The candidate will join the Animal Communication group at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, where she/he will become part of a team with expertise in animal vocal communication, bioacoustics, and animal cognition. The main task will be to design and perform experiments on captive animal populations to identify the cognitive and/or morphometric constraints on the production and perception of novel acoustically structured calls.

Your Profile

The successful candidate will have an MSc in Animal Behaviour, ideally with a specialization in animal vocal communication and conditioning methods, experience to work with animals, a strong interest in comparative cognition and linguistics, and a solid background in statistics (e.g. R, Python). We look for evidence of personal initiative and seek candidates who have excellent teamwork skills and are interested to go beyond disciplinary boundaries. The working language in the group is English, German skills are not essential.

What we offer

We offer varied and interesting work in an inspiring and socially relevant environment.
Diversity and inclusion are important to us. The NCCR places great emphasis on gender balance; we particularly encourage women to apply.

Place of Work


Start of employment

Start date: September 1, 2020

Please submit the following documents and information as a single PDF to Marta Manser (whom you may contact for further information) and Paul Widmer:
– cover letter emphasizing motivation to apply (1 page max.)
– curriculum vitae
– contacts of two referees
– writing sample (e.g. summary of MSc thesis; 2 pages max.)

The position is available until filled (first deadline: 29 May 2020).

Further information