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Postdoctoral Position to research the brain mechanisms of musical expertise

The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, investigates the attentional, cognitive, and affective mechanisms of aesthetic perception and evaluation.
The Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology invites applications for a
Postdoctoral Position
to research the brain mechanisms of musical expertise
fixed term (36 months), salary scale 13 TVöD

Headed by Prof. Dr. Fredrik Ullén, the Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology at the MPI for Empirical Aesthetics uses music as a model to analyze the brain mechanisms underpinning human expertise, skill learning, and creativity. We provide a dynamic and enthusiastic research environment in which a broad range of techniques are employed, from structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging to psychological and physiological experiments to behavior genetic analyses of gene–environment interplay. For more information about the department, please visit our website.

The present postdoctoral project is a collaborative one that will be co-supervised by Prof. Robert Zatorre, PhD, of the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University, in collaboration with the International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS) in Montreal, one of the leading research centers in the world for the cognitive neuroscience of music and auditory processing, and the Center for Research in Brain, Language, and Music (CRBLM), an umbrella organization that brings together a large number of Montreal researchers and trainees.

Becoming an expert in a field such as music is a process of specialization that requires many years of goal-directed practice. This long-term training adapts the brain for optimal processing of domain-specific information, and it allows for the acquisition of the complex skills that underlie expert performance. Music has proved to be an excellent model domain for studies of skill learning and expertise, and much progress in this field has been made in recent years. Still, there are many unresolved questions at the research frontier; the overall aim of the present postdoctoral project is to advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms of expertise, using fMRI studies of musicians and control participants. Specifically, we have a strong interest in expert working memory, i.e., the expanded working memory capacity for materials specific to a domain of expertise along with its underlying brain mechanisms, which are as yet poorly understood. However, the successful candidate is invited to formulate research questions relating to other aspects of musical expertise as well.

Requirements for this position are a PhD in cognitive neuroscience or related field, as well as a high proficiency in spoken and written English. A solid methods background in statistics and prior experience with fMRI are required. Experience with using machine learning-based analysis techniques (MVPA, RSA, etc.) as well as with programming in Python and MATLAB are highly desirable. Basic experience with playing a musical instrument or singing is useful, but not required.

The selection process will continue until the position is filled. Salary is based on the pay scale of the Max Planck Society.

Research will be conducted primarily at the MPI for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, with research visits of several months to the laboratory of Prof. Zatorre at the MNI in Montreal, Canada. The MPI facilities are supported by experienced IT and physics staff. Analyses will be undertaken on the Institute’s high-performance cluster.

The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics provides a highly interdisciplinary and international scientific environment, with English and German being the languages spoken in the laboratories. It is located in an attractive location with excellent infrastructure in Frankfurt’s Westend neighborhood. You can expect a modern workplace with a pleasant and inspiring working atmosphere. The laboratory of the Montreal Neurological Institute provides brain stimulation techniques (TMS, tDCS, tACS) with simultaneous EEG, and MRI-compatible musical instruments (piano, cello). Additionally, the candidate will have access to the MNI’s Brain Imaging Center which houses 3T and 7T MRI and MEG, and will also benefit from the many activities sponsored by BRAMS and CRBLM.

The Max Planck Society strives for gender equality and diversity. We are also committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in our workforce. Therefore, applicants of all backgrounds are welcome.

Your application should include: your detailed CV, including list of publications; a cover letter that explains why this research project interests you, and how your skills and abilities are suitable for it; a short summary of your previous research work, and the research questions you would be interested in pursuing during this postdoctoral project; copies of relevant degrees and/or certificates; names and contact information of two referees who have previously agreed to be contacted.

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