Universiteit Leiden

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PhD Candidate Spatial Cognition and STEM learning

Vacancy number
Function type
Academic staff, PhD positions
Hours (in fte)
External/ internal
Placed on
23 February 2021
Closing date
14 March 2021

16 more days to apply

The Institute of Education and Child Studies at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences of Leiden University is looking for a

PhD Candidate Spatial Cognition and STEM learning 

Project description
The Institute of Education and Child Studies of Leiden University and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (MSCA-ITN) project SellSTEM offers an Early Stage Researcher (ESR and PhD Student) position at the intersection of educational sciences and developmental cognitive psychology.

Spatially Enhanced Learning Linked to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (SellSTEM) is an international research and training network funded by MSCA-ITN under the European Unions Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It aims to find new ways to raise the spatial ability levels of boys and especially girls across Europe so they are better prepared for the cognitive demands of STEM education.  SellSTEM has 15 ESR positions spread across three work packages.  The SellSTEM network consists of 10 universities and 8 non-academic partners in Europe.  SellSTEM will implement best practice in doctoral training through a carefully developed and comprehensive training programme and secondment of ESRs to different SellSTEM partners.  For more details visit sellstem.eu.

Background and objectives of the thesis project: the PhD project at the Institute for Education and Child Studies lies at the intersection between educational sciences and developmental cognitive psychology. The overarching goal of this project is to examine the relation between working memory, spatial cognition, and STEM learning, with a specific focus on primary school mathematics (3rd to 6th grade). The PhD candidate will examine developmental and individual differences in spatial ability and STEM learning in relation to measures of working memory. In addition, the PhD candidate will develop and test new learning materials that train domainspecific spatial working memory routines and strategies in managing working memory overload.

The PhD student will be part of the institute’s Educational Sciences group, an interdisciplinary group of researchers studying learning and development in the context of education. For more information about the research group, see the website.

Selection criteria

  • Have been, or are about to be, awarded a Master’s degree in Psychology or Educational Sciences;
  • Have a strong background within the fields of cognitive development, cognitive training and/or education;
  • According to the MSCA mobility rule, have resided in The Netherlands for less than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date (01 September 2021) and have not carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) In The Netherlands, unless as part of a procedure for obtaining refugee status under the Geneva Convention;
  • Be in the early stage of their research career, defined as having spent less than 4 years (full time equivalent) in a research position since graduating from a degree required for entry to doctoral education, and have not been awarded a PhD;
  • Have strong research skills, including solid knowledge of research methodology and statistics;
  • Display systematic and critical thinking;
  • Have the ability to work independently and in collaboration with others;
  • Have excellent oral and written communication skills in English;
  • Be available to start on September 1, 2021 and be prepared to spend several months on secondment to Germany;

Desirable criteria for the candidate:

  • Fluency in Dutch or willingness to learn Dutch is desirable for this position;
  • Experience with research with children is a plus.

Our organisation
The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences comprises five institutes: Education and Child Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Cultural Anthropology & Development Sociology and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies. The Faculty is home to 7,000 students and 850 members of staff. Our teaching and research programmes cover diverse topics varying from adoption to political behaviour. For more information, see the website.

All our PhD students are embedded in the Leiden University Graduate School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Our graduate school offers several PhD training courses at three levels: professional courses, skills training and personal effectiveness. In addition, advanced courses to deepen scientific knowledge are offered by the research school. Costs associated with research and training are covered under a separate budget allowance.

Terms and conditions

The successful candidate will be recruited by the university for 48 months (1.0 FTE, 38 hrs per week) and enrolled in a doctoral programme. Initially the employee will receive a one-year contract, with extension for the following 36 months on condition of a positive evaluation. The appointment must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis within these four years. Salary range from 2.395 (first year) to 3.061 (fourth year) gross per month for a fulltime appointment (pay scale for PhDs, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities). 

During the first 3 years of the appointment the candidate will have the status of Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow and salary will be augmented by a mobility allowance in line with the EC rules for Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant holders. 

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %) and training and career development. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions.  Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. For more information, see the website.

Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.

Enquiries about the position or the project can be made to Dietsje Jolles, email

The online application form and instructions on how to apply are available on the website. The deadline for applications is March 14, 2021.  The code for this position is ESR 7. The recruitment process will follow the European Charter & Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. 

Enquiries from agencies are not appreciated.


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