PhD positions: Reading the mind's eye

PhD positions: Reading the mind's eye

Are you interested in working within a dynamic team to investigate the neural representations and computations underlying visual mental imagery? Do you want to understand why the experienced vividness of mental images is so different across individuals? Then join the ERC-funded project 'MINDSEYE' as a PhD student.


Job Description

Despite extensive research, we still do not have a comprehensive computational understanding of the mechanisms of the mind’s eye: How do we create mental images? And why are some people better at it than others? How do the various brain regions involved in mental imagery contribute to the unified percept in our mind's eye? Why do we experience imagery so differently ranging from no to extremely vivid mental images?


In the Advanced ERC project "Reading the mind's eye - AI-inspired personalised brain models of mental imagery" of Prof. Rainer Goebel, a novel perspective on mental imagery is proposed, viewing it as a personalised computational process that takes into account individual brain characteristics. The task of this computational process is to progressively transform abstract object descriptions (semantic input) into visual representations (sensory-like output) through feedback connections in the brain’s processing hierarchy. 


To unravel the stages of this conversion process, the team will employ ultra-high field fMRI (7 Tesla and beyond) to measure neural activity across the brain at an unparalleled level of detail. This allows to relate mental imagery and its experienced vividness to individual characteristics of cortical layers in feedback and feedforward pathways. Together the team will integrate the sub-millimetre fMRI data into personalised AI-inspired neural network models, test causal contributions of relevant brain areas to mental imagery, and develop a brain-computer interface to train the vividness of mental imagery. While all team members interact and collaborate on all aspects of the project, your work as a PhD student will mainly focus on one approach:  

  • Ultra-high field fMRI to measure activity in feedforward and feedback pathways. You will design psychophysics and fMRI experiments to investigate mental imagery. Besides that you will become a certified user to run ultra-high field fMRI experiments
  • Non-invasive brain stimulation with TMS to assess the contribution of specific areas to mental image generation. You will design psychophysics, TMS and fMRI experiments to investigate mental imagery. Besides that you will become a certified user to run 3 Tesla fMRI and TMS experiments.
  • Development of personalized AI inspired brain models informed by fMRI and TMS data. You will develop “text-to-image” generative neural network models of mental imagery. Besides that you will develop laminar neural network architectures separating cortical feedforward and feedback processing streams. 
  • Creation of brain-computer interfaces to recreate mental images and to develop a vividness neurofeedback training program. You will develop a BCI that creates mental images from 7 Tesla laminar fMRI data. Besides that your will become a certified user to run closed-loop ultra-high field fMRI experiments.


You will be part of the ERC ‘MINDSEYE’ team which will be embedded in a very open and cooperative group of colleagues and Pis forming the "Vision" lab (also known as the ‘computational architecture of visual processing streams’  section), which is led by Rainer Goebel. The Vision lab is embedded in the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience at Maastricht University. The Vision lab as well as the whole department work in the spirit of team science, in a very cooperative, collegial, and interdisciplinary work climate. We value and actively engage in local, national and international collaborations. With our empirical, theoretical and computational expertise we aim to contribute to our understanding of the psychological and neural mechanisms of the mind.


Within your chosen project you will have the following responsibilities: 

  • Develop your research experiments/ models. 
  • Analyse obtained data.
  • Contribute in and integrate your data in AI-inspired models. 
  • Present at international conferences.
  • Write scientific papers.
  • Teach in master and bachelor level courses.
  • Contribute to a nice and open group atmosphere.

The ideal candidate is excited to link behavioural and fMRI data with AI-inspired computational modelling. Besides that you: 

  • Have a master’s degree in a relevant field (e.g., cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, biomedical engineering, cognitive psychology)
  • You are excited about research and wish to pursue a career in science
  • You have experience with programming languages such as Python (preferred) or Matlab.
  • You like working in a team and have good communication skills
  • You have an excellent command of written and spoken English
  • Depending on the project you chose you have experience in
    • acquiring and analysing fMRI data; experience with ultra-high field imaging is a plus.
    • acquiring and analysing TMS data.
    • in implementing DNNs using frameworks such as PyTorch and TensorFlow; experience in linking fMRI data to DNNs is a plus.
    • with fMRI BCIs / neurofeedback.


What we offer
As PhD positions: Reading the mind's eye at Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, you will be employed by the most international university in the Netherlands, located in the beautiful city of Maastricht. In addition, we offer you:

  • Good employment conditions. The position is graded in scale P according to UFO profile PhD, with corresponding salary based on experience ranging from €2770,00 and €3539,00 gross per month (based on a full-time employment of 38 hours per week). In addition to the monthly salary, an 8.0% holiday allowance and an 8.3% year-end bonus apply.
  • An employment contract for a period of 12 months with a scope of 1,0 FTE. Upon a positive evaluation, an extension of 3 years will follow.
  • At Maastricht University, the well-being of our employees is of utmost importance, we offer flexible working hours and the possibility to work partly from home if the nature of your position allows it. You will receive a monthly commuting and internet allowance for this. If you work full-time, you will be entitled to 29 vacation days and 4 additional public holidays per year, namely carnival Monday, carnival Tuesday, Good Friday, and Liberation Day. If you choose to accumulate compensation hours, an additional 12 days will be added. Furthermore, you can personalize your employment conditions through a collective labor agreement (CAO) choice model. 
  • As Maastricht University, we offer various other excellent secondary employment conditions. These include a good pension scheme with the ABP and the opportunity for UM employees to participate in company fitness and make use of the extensive sports facilities that we also offer to our students. 
  • Last but certainly not least, we provide the space and facilities for your personal and professional development. We facilitate this by offering a wide range of training programs and supporting various well-established initiatives such as 'acknowledge and appreciate'. 

The terms of employment at Maastricht University are largely set out in the collective labor agreement of Dutch Universities. In addition, local provisions specific to UM apply. For more information, click here.

Maastricht University
Why work at Maastricht University?
At Maastricht University (UM), everything revolves around the future. The future of our students, as we work to equip them with a solid, broad-based foundation for the rest of their lives. And the future of society, as we seek solutions through our research to issues from all around the world. Our six faculties combined provide a comprehensive package of study programmes and research.

In our teaching, we use the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) method. Students work in small groups, looking for solutions to problems themselves. By discussing issues and working together to draw conclusions, formulate answers and present them to their peers, students develop essential skills for their future careers.

With over 22,300 students and more than 5,000 employees from all over the world, UM is home to a vibrant and inspiring international community.

Are you drawn to an international setting focused on education, science and scholarship? Are you keen to contribute however your skills and qualities allow? Our door is open to you! As a young European university, we value your talent and look forward to creating the future together.

Click here for more information about UM. 

Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience
The Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience (FPN) is an international faculty with students and staff from various cultural backgrounds, who are connected by their shared curiosity about human behaviour and our brains.   

This curiosity inspires us to explore the wide field of psychology from different perspectives (such as a biological and cognitive viewpoint). By using small-scale and student-centred methods, such as problem-based learning and project-based learning, we encourage a similar kind of curiosity in our students, as we provide them with the tools to discover the world of the human brain.  

Department of Cognitive Neuroscience
The Cognitive Neuroscience (CN) department in Maastricht combines research in human perception and cognition with the development of advanced methods in neuroscience. Various brain imaging methods are employed to describe and predict behaviour, such as single cell recording, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electro- and magneto-encephalography (EEG and MEG). Furthermore, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and neurofeedback are being used to manipulate behaviour. The research is embedded in the Maastricht Brain Imaging Center (M-BIC).

Are you interested in this exciting PhD position but still have questions? Feel free to contact Prof. Dr. Rainer Goebel: for more information.


Or are you already convinced and ready to become our new PhD positions: Reading the mind's eye? Apply now, no later than August 1, for this position.


Describe in your motivation letter your preferred subject and why you like it. Use the following questions as a guideline:

  • Which master degree do you have?
  • Which project do you prefer (see bullets with the options in ‘Requirements’)
  • Why do you prefer this project?
  • Do you have already experience with one of the methods used in the project? If so, describe your experience shortly


The preferred starting date of this position is between September and December 2024, and will be determined in consultation with the successful candidate.

The vacancy is open for internal and external candidates. In case of equal qualifications, internal candidates will be prioritized.

Maastricht University is committed to promoting and nurturing a diverse and inclusive community. We believe that diversity in our staff and student population contributes to the quality of research and education at UM, and strive to enable this through inclusive policies and innovative projects led by teams of staff and students. We encourage you to apply for this position.


Maastricht University

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Deadline: 2024-08-01
Location: Netherlands, Maastricht
Categories: Psychology, Biomedical engineering, Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, PhD,


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