PhD position in Chimpanzee Culture (1.0 FTE)

PhD position in Chimpanzee Culture (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
9 Nov 30 Nov Utrecht

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Come and join us to investigate whether chimpanzees have the ability and motivation to develop cumulative cultures! Intrigued? Apply and join our group!

Job description

The Animal Behaviour & Cognition research group is looking for a PhD candidate in animal behaviour for a full-time 4-year research position. The position involves 90% research time and 10% teaching activities within the group.

You will work in the newly formed lab on cultural evolution in non-human primates led by Dr. Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen supported by an ERC Starting Grant (CULT_ORIGINS). With a small team of PhD students, we will focus on the extent to which cultural processes determine social behaviour in primates, more specifically in macaques and great apes. You will focus primarily on studying 4 groups of semi-wild chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust (CWOT) in Zambia.

The CWOT houses chimpanzees in multigenerational groups under semi-natural conditions in a large forested private area in northern Zambia. The chimpanzees forage and sleep outside, and only come inside once per day for supplemental feeding. The setup is very suited for behavioral group-level experiments with relatively high ecological validity.

The aim of this PhD project will be to test whether chimpanzees have the capability and motivation to develop cumulative cultures – the process in which cultural innovations incrementally shape cultural expressions such that they become better suited for their envisioned purpose. You will study chimpanzees’ potential to create and maintain cumulatively established cultures by means of targeted experimental assays. Moreover, you will investigate whether chimpanzees’ social network properties are predictive of their potential to develop cumulative cultures with behavioural observations and network analyses.

In this position you will:

  • combine observational and experimental methods involving behavioural and cognitive measures;
  • work independently at a remote field-site in Zambia;
  • develop theoretical models of cumulative cultural evolution;
  • conduct advanced statistical and analytic analyses on behavioural data;.
  • supervise bachelor and master students (10% of your time).
We also would like to draw your attention to another PhD position that is currently available in our group and is advertised simultaneously posted on our website: PhD position in Primate Culture & Social Complexity (1.0 FTE). You are welcome to apply to both positions, in which case you may be invited for a joint interview so we can discuss which position best suits your interests and abilities.

The position is available immediately. The start date is preferably no later than June 2023.


Utrecht University


We are looking for an enthusiastic new colleague who is able to “think out of the box” and excited to become part of a committed group of researchers. Next to that we would like you to bring: 

  • a Master’s degree with a strong background in animal behaviour;
  • experience in conducting behavioural experiments and structural observations of animal social behaviour (preferably with primates);
  • proven proficiency with data analysis using R, preferably including network analyses;
  • the social skills to motivate people from different backgrounds and facilitate teamwork;
  • academic writing experience;
  • proficiency in English, both in speech and writing.

In particular, we are looking for a candidate with a strong conceptual mind aimed at understanding the intricacies of (the evolution of) social group patterning and formulating refutable hypotheses for empirical testing.

Conditions of employment

  • a full-time position for 4 years;
  • a full-time gross salary starting at €2,541 in the first year and increasing to €3,247 in the fourth year (scale P Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao));
  • 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the cao for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements, and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow. 
For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

At the Faculty of Science there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

You will be embedded in the Animal Behaviour and Cognition (AB&C) group where you will find theoretical and practical support for the study topic. This group is part of the Institute of Environmental Biology within the Department of Biology of Utrecht University. The AB&C group conducts research on animal social behavior and cognition, in particular primates and birds. The group has its own teaching line within the biology bachelor education and its own track Behavioural Ecology in the master Environmental Biology.

You will be supervised by Dr Edwin van Leeuwen. Professor Liesbeth Sterck will formally act as your promotor. These supervisors are leading scholars with regard to animal sociality, including animal culture and comparative cognition. The AB&C-group has connections with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany).


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 30—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1199784



Padualaan 8, 3584 CH, Utrecht

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