Post Doc in Primate Communication and Cognition

University of Zurich Department of Comparative Linguistics


Department of Comparative Linguistics

PhD or Postdoc Position in Primate Communication and Cognition
60-80 %

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 4-year PhD or postdoc position at the University of Zurich. Our goal is to make progress in detecting call combinations, particularly compositional structures (where the meaning of a larger structure is systematically related to its parts) in non-human primate communication systems. To this end, we plan to carry out a set of studies which involve applying Machine Learning methods from computational linguistics to primate vocal data, to determine the point at which a sequence of elements becomes a compositional, integrated unit.

Your responsibilities

The entire project will encompass research with chimpanzees and marmosets and will include analysis of long-term existing data sets to identify compositional structures and follow-up playback experiments, in the wild and captivity, to probe their function and meaning.

The successful candidate will become part of a larger interdisciplinary team of scientists under the leadership of Profs. Simon Townsend and Balthasar Bickel in Zurich (Department of Comparative Language Science) and Prof. Paola Merlo in Geneva
(Computational Linguistics Group). The primary work place will be in Zurich but the successful candidate is expected to also spend time in Geneva.

Experimental research with chimpanzees will be conducted at the Budongo Conservation Field Station (Uganda); with marmosets it will be undertaken with a captive colony at the University of Zurich.

Your profile

Successful candidates will have a strong academic background in a relevant discipline, such as biology, zoology, anthropology, psycholinguistics or psychology, ideally with a strong statistical background and prior field experience. The chimpanzee research project will be conducted in collaboration with NCCR co-PIs Prof Klaus Zuberbuhler (University of Neuch√Ętel) and the marmoset work with Prof. Judith Burkart (University of Zurich). The project will require a strong commitment to working under difficult field conditions for a total period of around 12 months.

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

Zurich / Geneva

Start of employment

For consideration please compile the following documents into a single PDF labelled 'WP
Compositionality-PC - YourSurname.pdf' and submit them via the UZH job portal:
  • cover letter (motivation, qualifications, 1 page max);
  • curriculum vitae;
  • contacts of two referees; writing sample (2 pages max).
The positions are available until filled but we start reviewing applications on June 15. For questions contact Prof. Simon Townsend.

Further information

Prof. Simon Townsend

Apply now

In your application, please refer to


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