Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Professor Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky

Main Campus

Applications Close
04 Jun 2024

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate

Tuition Fees:

All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
$32,500 p.a. (2024 rates) available to domestic applicants only

About this project

Generate findings on the connections between reward prediction error, sleep and declarative memory consolidation 

If you are excited about advancing your career in cognitive neuroscience and keen to get involved in cutting edge research into memory functioning, the University of South Australia – Australia’s University of Enterprise – is offering a hands-on project-based PhD within Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments (IVE).

Reward prediction error (RPE) describes the discrepancy between the expected and actual outcome of a decision (e.g. a student receiving a better-than-anticipated grade). Prior research has predominately focused on the influence of RPE on non-declarative memory – that is, processes that rely on habitual behaviour, such as the motor movement involved in writing. 

While recent studies have begun to look at declarative memory (i.e. memory of facts and events), it is not currently known how the neural representation of RPEs in declarative memory influences learning outcomes over time, nor how this process might be modulated by the differing effects of wakefulness versus sleep. 

During sleep, specific neural processes aid declarative memory consolidation. However, whether sleep plays a role in the consolidation of RPEs and their impact on memory remains elusive. Understanding the neural mechanisms underlying the role of RPE in declarative memory consolidation between wakefulness and sleep will illuminate how memories of rewarding experiences influence learning outcomes.

This project will use language learning as a test domain, focusing on how RPEs affect the explicit learning of complex linguistic knowledge (e.g. grammatical rules) and how this is modulated by sleep. 

Electrical brain activity (EEG) will be recorded throughout a (sentence-level) language learning task with an associated reward to examine the role of RPE in declarative memory formation. Polysomnographic recordings will be used to assess how this relationship is influenced by sleep versus wakefulness.

Our project will help to deepen our understanding of how prediction errors, reward processing and sleep facilitate adaptive learning and decision-making behaviours. This has the potential to lay the foundations for future research on how to foster language learning across the lifespan – an activity which is thought to be beneficial for healthy cognitive ageing.

What you’ll do

In this project-based research degree, you will undertake research using EEG and behavioural methods. You will participate in the research culture of the CNL via, for example, lab meetings and workshops on research methods and research activities offered through the IVE Research Centre (e.g. short summer courses, research seminars, workshops). 

You have the opportunity to present your work at national and international conferences which will help you to develop and hone your communication and networking skills. 

There is also potential for you to visit associate supervisor Dr Rauss’s laboratory at the University of Tuebingen in Germany (pending funding approval). To increase sample sizes and assess the reliability and generality of effects, a parallel experiment will be conducted in Dr Rauss’s lab. 

This international exposure and hands-on research experience will help you to grow your professional network and position you well for employment post-graduation.

Where you’ll be based

You will join the vibrant IVE and be located within the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory (CNL). The CNL encompasses a world-class laboratory facility at the UniSA Magill campus, and houses five state-of-the-art EEG systems, a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) system with neuronavigation, and two eye trackers. We are capable of supplementing EEG with physiological sensors (heart rate, GSR), behavioural testing and associated sleep recordings. You will have unrestricted access to all of these worldclass facilities and resources as well as experts and world leaders in their fields.  

IVE is responding to the challenge of increased demand for AR and VR technologies globally. Our researchers are leaders in many areas of AR and VR research including wearable computing, interface design, empathic computing, 3D visualisation, perception, and telepresence.
IVE is one of the largest concentrations of AR and VR research in Australia. Our vast experience in advanced manufacturing, Internet of Things (IoT), interactive art, and design for healthcare and defence allows us to work in collaboration with our industry partners to transform industry and solve large-scale societal challenges.

Supervisory team

Financial Support

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $32,500 per annum is available to Australian and New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents of Australia, including permanent humanitarian visa holders. Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants will be eligible to receive an increased stipend rate of $50,291 per annum. A fee-offset or waiver for the standard term of the program is also included. For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information.

Eligibility and Selection

This project is open to applications from Australian or New Zealand citizens, and Australian permanent residents or permanent humanitarian visa holders. International applicants are not invited to apply at this time.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally, applicants must meet the projects selection criteria:
  • Theoretical and practical knowledge within the field of cognitive neuroscience
  • Previous experience with EEG-based research including practical experience in data collection
  • Skills in data analysis techniques relevant to cognitive neuroscience, including prior coding experience (R and/or Python desirable) and an understanding of contemporary statistical methods used in this field
All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time and to be based at our Magill campus in the east of Adelaide.

Essential Dates

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer. Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close on Tuesday 4 June 2024.  

How to apply:

Applications must be lodged online, please note UniSA does not accept applications via email.

For further support see our step-by-step guide on how to apply , or contact the Graduate Research team on +61 8 8302 5880, option 1 or email us at You will receive a response within one working day.

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