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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Expanding Space & Contracting Time: Cross-species investigation of passage of time on our memories

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The Psychology Department houses multiple human testing facilities, including equipment such EEG, TMS, eyetracking and Virtual Reality (human and rodent), as well as animal testing facilities. 

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

The student will learn to utilize and interpret both human (EEG, VR) and animal (in vivo electrophysiology, VR) testing and analysis methods.

Project description

The “return-trip” effect is a common phenomenon in our everyday lives: the first time we travel down a new road, it feels a lot longer than on the way back. While neuroscience has made amazing strides at uncovering the neural mechanisms around memory consolidation, specifically how spatial memories are formed in the brain and utilised to facilitate behaviour to get from A to B (‘navigation’), we know very little about how and why our memories, and thus our perceptions of the world around us, change with time.

Empirical evidence from humans has shown that our perception of space changes with the passage of time (eg: we underestimate distances) and metrics of physical space (e.g distance to a goal) are represented in different brain areas depending on the recency of the memory. However complementary mechanistic evidence from invasive recordings in animals is lacking, with only a handful of studies investigating how novelty/familiarity affects neural representations of space, and no systematic investigation (in humans or animal models) into how this affects behaviour.

In this project, we will a) leverage the complimentary methodology of human and animal studies, by creating learning protocols that are matched across species in Virtual Reality environments; b) identify brain areas involved at the various time of the learning process using non-invasive EEG (electroencephalogram) in humans; c) investigate the communications between the neuronal networks among these areas using in vivo multi-electrode neuronal recordings in rodents as a result of exposure over time.

In addition to contributing to theoretical models, gaining insights of how neural representations of spatio-temporal experiences change over time will contribute to our understanding of dementia and other disorders of memory and will allow future studies to address diagnosis and rehabilitation options for patients, as in many cases damage to key regions (eg. hippocampus) inhibit the formation of new memories. 


This studentship is open to students applying for China Scholarship Council funding. Queen Mary University of London has partnered with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to offer a joint scholarship programme to enable Chinese students to study for a PhD programme at Queen Mary. Under the scheme, Queen Mary will provide scholarships to cover all tuition fees, whilst the CSC will provide living expenses for 4 years and one return flight ticket to successful applicants. 

Eligibility and applying

Applicants must:

  • Be Chinese students with a strong academic background.
  • Students must hold a PR Chinese passport.
  • Applicants can either be resident in China at the time of application or studying overseas. 
  • Students with prior experience of studying overseas (including in the UK) are eligible to apply. Chinese QMUL graduates/Masters’ students are therefore eligible for the scheme.

Please refer to the CSC website for full details on eligibility and conditions on the scholarship.

Applications are invited from candidates with, or expecting to be awarded, at least an upper-second class bachelors degree, or equivalent qualification,related to the project. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential. Familiarity with Matlab,R,Python (any) is desirable. 

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

The deadline for applications to Queen Mary is 30th January 2022. Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CSC scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CSC for the scholarship by the advertised deadline with the support of the project supervisor. For September 2022 entry, applicants must complete the CSC application on the CSC website between 10th March - 31st March 2022.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CSC can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online


  • Patai, E. Z., Javadi, A.-H., Ozubko, J. D., O’Callaghan, A., Ji, S., Robin, J., Grady, C., Winocur, G., Rosenbaum, R. S., Moscovitch, M., & Spiers, H. J. (2019). Hippocampal and Retrosplenial Goal Distance Coding After Long-term Consolidation of a Real-World Environment. Cerebral Cortex, 29(6), 2748–2758
  • Chen, G., Lu, Y., King, J. A., Cacucci, F. & Burgess, N. Differential influences of environment and self-motion on place and grid cell firing. Nat Commun 10, 630 (2019).
  • Chen, G., King, J. A., Lu, Y., Cacucci, F. & Burgess, N. Spatial cell firing during virtual navigation of open arenas by head-restrained mice. Elife 7, e34789 (2018).
  • Epstein, R. A., Patai, E. Z., Julian, J. B., & Spiers, H. J. (2017). The cognitive map in humans: Spatial navigation and beyond. Nature Neuroscience, 20(11), 1504–1513
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