Submitted: 16 April 2022
Department: Evolutionary Medicine
Institution: University of Zurich
Job type: Other
Apply by: 1 May 2022
Application email: [email protected]
Application URL:

The IEM’s Human Ecology Group, led by Prof. Adrian Jaeggi, is hiring two PhD positions as part of the Swiss National Science Foundation project “Darwinizing the ‘love hormone’: An evolutionary perspective on the human oxytocin system”. The positions are fully funded for four years, with a competitive salary of CHF 47’040 in the 1st year, CHF 48’540 in the 2nd year, and CHF 50’040 in the 3rd and 4th years, plus social security and pension contributions. Students will earn their PhD through the Evolutionary Biology Program. Review of applications will begin May 1st and continue until both positions are filled.

What we do: The Human Ecology Group studies how the environment and evolutionary history shape human biology and health, using the theoretical framework of behavioral ecology to understand variation as a response to socio-ecological conditions. Major current themes are the effects of the social environment on behavior, life history and health, and the evolution of individual differences (“personality”) and their relationship to psychopathology. We conduct field work among the Indigenous Tsimane’ of Bolivia in collaboration with the Tsimane’ Health and Life History Project. In addition, we also regularly engage in comparative research, including studies of non-human primates and phylogenetic comparative analyses.

What this project is about: The hormone Oxytocin (OT) originally evolved to facilitate birth and lactation, as well as mother-infant bonding. OT has also been related to various other social interactions, earning it the nickname ‘love hormone’. However, OT can also lead to antisocial behavior, resulting in confusion about its function. Our project attempts to resolve this confusion by studying OT in naturalistic contexts in a non-Western setting that can better reveal the selection pressures and tradeoffs that have shaped OT biology. The first PhD project will relate daily fluctuations in OT levels to social and behavioral context as well as to physiological arousal to better understand the evolved design and functions of OT biology. The second PhD project will relate stable individual differences in OT levels to personality, life history and health to reveal the fundamental tradeoffs that this hormone mediates. Both PhD students will spend a total of at least one year in the field to collect sufficient ethnographic experience, behavioral data, questionnaires, and urine samples. For more background on this project’s approach and the Tsimane’ Health and Life History Project see: Jaeggi AV, Trumble BC, Kaplan HS, Gurven M (2015) Salivary oxytocin increases concurrently with testosterone and time away from home among returning Tsimane’ hunters. Biology Letters 11:20150058 Trumble BC, Jaeggi AV, Gurven M (2015) Evolving the neuroendocrine physiology for human and primate cooperation and collective action. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370:20150014 Roney J (2016) Theoretical frameworks for human behavioral endocrinology. Hormones and Behavior 84:97-110 Gurven M, et al. (2017) The Tsimane Health and Life History Project: Integrating anthropology and biomedicine. Evolutionary Anthropology 26:54-73

What we look for: Successful candidates must have a Master of Science or equivalent to enroll in the PhD program. Your background should be in biology, anthropology, or a related field, you are interested in hormones and behavior, and you have proven skills in scientific writing and quantitative data analysis using R. The ideal candidate would also have a background and research experience specifically in behavioral ecology or human biology, have proven ability to conduct field work under challenging conditions, be a team player, and speak Spanish or have proven ability to quickly learn new languages. Field work will require camping in remote communities, often without medical care, phone/internet access, stores, running water, or other basic amenities. After initial training with Prof. Jaeggi and other project members the two students will be expected to conduct field work largely on their own, with the help of Spanish-speaking Tsimane’ research assistants and logistical support by project staff in a nearby town, hence ability to communicate either in Spanish or the Tsimane’ language as well as good physical and mental endurance will be essential.

What we offer: In addition to receiving competitive funding and working on an exciting project, the successful candidates will be embedded in an academic environment with many opportunities for professional growth and development. As members of the Human Ecology Group, the PhD students will benefit from strong training in behavioral-ecological theory and statistical methods. As part of the world’s only department dedicated specifically to evolutionary medicine, you will learn to better understand health and disease from an evolutionary perspective, and you get to interact with a highly interdisciplinary group of biologists, anthropologists, epidemiologists and medical doctors. Through the Evolutionary Biology PhD program you will be connected to relevant students and professors in other departments, such as the Department of Anthropology, or the Department of Evolutionary Biology. Together with major interdisciplinary initiatives like the URPP Evolution in Action or the NCCR Evolving Language, this makes the University of Zurich one of the world’s premier locations to study (human) evolutionary biology.

What to do if you’re interested: If you have any questions feel free to email Prof. Adrian Jaeggi ([email protected]). To apply, please send the following documents as pdf’s to the same email address, ideally before May 1st: (i) a cover letter describing your relevant background, experience, and interest in the project, including which of the two PhD projects is a better fit for you (max. 2 pages), (ii) a CV, (iii) a writing sample (e.g. your master thesis, or a first-authored publication), (iv) a transcript showing courses that you’ve taken and your grades, (v) names and contact information for two references. The anticipated start date of the project is September 1st and students should enroll in the PhD program by July, hence we will aim to make offers by June. However, the start date can be moved and the positions will remain open until filled. If you are interested in the project but cannot make a September 1st start date please do still get in touch!

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