Are you interested in working at the intersection of decision and affective neuroscience?

Do you want to develop computational models of decision making and subjective feelings and use neuroimaging and smartphones to explore the causes of mood disorders like depression? We are looking for you!

We are pleased to accept PhD applications to start in Fall 2020 in the Department of Psychology at Yale. The application deadline is December 1.

What is happiness? We are interested in describing the factors that determine subjective affective states like happiness. We build computational models that link affective states to ongoing experience (e.g., rewards, expectations, effort, uncertainty, agency) and quantitatively relate feelings and behavior. We use neuroimaging, pharmacology, and smartphone-based data collection to study the relationship between decision making and emotion across the lifespan and in people with psychiatric disorders. Through ongoing collaborations, we are evaluating individuals with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. We are also collecting data in other samples including post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease where depressive symptoms are common.

We are particularly interested in students enthusiastic about the following research directions:

  • Computational models of happiness: What are the factors the determine how conscious affective experience changes from moment to moment? How does how we feel influence what we do? What are the neural circuits that underlie those relationships?

  • Neuromodulatory influences on decision making and happiness: How do neuromodulators like dopamine and serotonin contribute to what we do and feel?

  • Longitudinal smartphone-based data collection in mood disorders: Can we predict how symptoms will change over months in samples of hundreds of people with depression or anxiety? How do those changes relate to the structure and connectivity of the brain?

Yale is an ideal environment for studying these kinds of questions. Many of the faculty in the psychology department have overlapping interests and an interest in decision making, emotions, and mood disorders. Just a few of the faculty working on closely related problems include Sam McDougle, Molly Crockett, Maria Gendron, Avram Holmes, Dylan Gee, Paul Bloom, and Laurie Santos. Other colleagues working on related topics in the psychiatry department include Ifat Levy, Hedy Kober, Phil Corlett, Ilan Harpaz-Rotem, Alan Anticevic, John Murray, and John Krystal.

Our department is exceptionally well equipped for training the next generation of scholars who want to apply cutting-edge methods to the study of human behavior. There is a brand-new research-dedicated neuroimaging center. Nick Turk-Browne offers training in advanced neuroimaging methods and Julian Jara-Ettinger teaches a wildly popular graduate statistics course for fully reproducible data analysis in R. Our lab is committed to reproducibility and we strive to incorporate principles of open science in our research, including sharing our data and code.

We believe that our science is better with a diverse team. We embrace and encourage our lab members’ differences in age, color, disability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, ability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status, and other characteristics that make our lab members who they are.

In general, Dr. Rutledge will be unable to Skype with prospective students until after all applications have been submitted and evaluated. If you are interested in working with Dr. Rutledge as your primary advisor, please be sure to make that clear in your application, and also list any other faculty you would be interested in collaborating with. We prefer to admit students whose interests fit with at least two faculty in our department. The Rutledge Lab will accept students primarily through the Cognitive and Neuroscience areas. If you anticipate using neuroscience methods in your research, you should apply through the Neuroscience area.

Admission to our program is highly competitive, and this means that regardless of how well you fit the program, nothing can be guaranteed and you are encouraged to apply to more than one school. If the application fees are prohibitive, know that you can often request a waiver.

You can maximize your chances by writing an outstanding research statement. We will be looking for evidence that you have read some of our work and have thought deeply about how your interests fit with our research program and that of other faculty at Yale. Please also be sure to emphasize your technical abilities and experience in your application, including experience with computer programming and data analysis in scientific computing languages (e.g., Matlab, R, Python, HTML/CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL, etc.) and any experience that demonstrates your mathematical abilities.

Yale has a very generous funding package for PhD students. However, we encourage all applicants to consider applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and the NDSEG Graduate Fellowship. Please mention in your application if you have applied for any funding.