[Comp-neuro] PhD position in theoretical and experimental neuroscience

Nicolas P. Rougier nicolas.rougier at inria.fr
Mon May 4 15:39:31 CEST 2020

PhD position in theoretical and experimental neuroscience
Application deadline: 30/05/2020

What:  PhD position in theoretical and experimental neuroscience
Where: Bordeaux, France
When:  September 2020 (3 years duration)
Who:   Nicolas Rougier (Inria) & Arthur Leblois (CNRS)

A PhD position is available at the Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest center and the
Institute of Neurodegenerative Disease in Bordeaux, France.

Candidate profile

The future PhD candidate must have a ​strong experience at both the theoretical
and experimental level​. In particular, the following qualities and skills will
be highly valued, if not required:

* Solid bases in maths and/or physics;
* Previous experience in experimental neuroscience;
* Programming experience (Python or similar coding language);
* Experience in machine learning or data mining is a plus;
* Independence and ability to manage a project;
* Good English reading/speaking skills.

How to apply

Please send your application (CV, letter of motivation, and the names and email
addresses of one or two persons who can provide recommendation letters) to
Dr. Nicolas Rougier (nicolas.rougier at inria.fr) and Arthur Leblois
(arthur.leblois at univ-bordeaux.fr) before the 30th of May 2020.

Proposed research

Temporally precise movement patterns underlie many motor skills and innate
actions, yet the origin of temporal control in motor behaviors remains
unclear. While cortical motor regions traditionally have been viewed as
encoding features of motor gestures, these models do not address how sequences
of motor gestures are produced or appropriately timed. Recently, a number of
studies have suggested that, beyond just representing features of motor output,
motor regions may have intrinsic oscillatory dynamics or sequential dynamics to
act as their own pattern generators. However, in the order of milliseconds, the
neural and anatomical correlates of time processing are still largely unknown
because the dominant model, which is based on internal clock fails at giving
account on experimental data. Understanding the neural dynamics underlying the
acquisition and performance of complex sensorimotor tasks has been hindered by
the complexity of the underlying brain networks in common animal models used in
neuroscience (e.g. rodents or primates). In particular, the complex
interactions between cortical areas (primary and secondary motor cortex in
rodents, motor, premotor and supplementary motor areas in primates) related to
many different sensorimotor associations and motor skills is
daunting. Conversely, in birds, the sensorimotor skill of song production and
its learning has a dedicated set of interconnected brain nuclei known as the
“song system”, making them an outstanding model to study the neural mechanisms
of vocal learning and more generally, of sensorimotor learning. Songbirds
indeed rely on learned vocalizations to communicate during courtship or
aggressive behaviours. Just as speech learning in humans, vocal learning in
young birds requires the coordination of vocal muscles to reproduce previously
experienced adult vocalizations. Song learning is also limited to a critical
period during development and heavily relies on auditory feedback.

The proposed research lies at the interface of neurophysiology, cognitive
science, applied mathematics, and theoretical physics. The concepts and methods
that will be used will draw on single neuron physiology, electrophysiological
studies in behaving animals, statistical mechanics, dynamical system theory,
and stochastic differential equations. To this end, we will combine a
theoretical approach (development of a mathematical model of the timing system)
and an experimental one (chronic neural recording in awake birds, behavioural
manipulations). Therefore, a collaboration with a team of physiologists at the
Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases, and in particular with Arthur Leblois
who has a long-established expertise in the neural mechanisms underlying vocal
learning in songbirds. The model will be designed under the supervision of
Nicolas Rougier who has extensive experience in computational modelling.
Predictions of the model will then be tested experimentally by measuring
neuronal activity in the brain areas controlling song timing in songbirds under
the supervision of Arthur Leblois. Chronic electrophysiological recordings in
singing birds are routinely performed in the lab of Arthur Leblois, and will be
implemented in a protocol allowing the induction of plasticity in the duration
of song syllables in young adult birds over short periods of time.

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