PhD "Genetic influences underlying sex differences in autism & autistic traits”

PhD "Genetic influences underlying sex differences in autism & autistic traits”

Published Deadline Location
24 Jan 15 Feb Amsterdam

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Autism is more commonly diagnosed in males than females. SCANNER is a large multidisciplinary study aiming to understand sex differences in autism occurrence and diagnosis, ultimately translating this knowledge into sex-sensitive diagnostic tools.

Job description

In this project, genetic data will be used to investigate if genetic differences (e.g., in type of genes or polygenic load) play a role in the prevalence differences. We aim to answer questions such as 'Do females with an autism diagnosis carry a larger genetic risk for autism than males?’, ‘Are genes involved in brain structure and function, that have been associated with an autism, expressed differently across sexes?’, ‘Is this difference attributable to the fact that either females are biologically more tolerant to a higher polygenic burden, or are there social biases that lead autistic females to go undetected or unrecognised?’, or ‘Is the interaction between environment and genetic factors sex-dependent in people with autism?’

You will work with large behavioural and genetic datasets to conduct a variety of statistical genetics analyses. This project will use genomics data from different (public) sources. Since the field of behavioural genetics is a dynamic, quickly evolving field of research, the project will take place in an international, diverse, and collaborative research environment.


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)


We are looking for candidates that hold, or will soon hold, a Research Master degree in (biological/developmental) Psychology, (behavior) Genetics, Neuroscience, Movement Sciences or related fields, with a strong interest and preferably experience in autism research, advanced skills in statistical analyses (e.g., R) and big (genetic) data, and a strong motivation to pursue a career in science. In addition, excellent social, communication and organizational skills are required.

Essential requirements
  • Good English speaking and scientific writing skills
  • Relevant research Master degree
  • Interest in autism research
  • Advanced skills in statistical analyses and programs (e.g., R)
  • Social, communication and organizational skills

Desirable requirements
  • Programming skills, e.g., R, Python, Unix
  • Experience with (behavioural-)genetic and/or causal inference modelling

As a university, we strive for equal opportunities for all, recognising that diversity takes many forms. We believe that diversity in all its complexity is invaluable for the quality of our teaching, research and service. We are always looking for talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This also means that we are committed to creating an inclusive community so that we can use diversity as an asset.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 1 year.

A challenging position in a socially engaged organisation. At VU Amsterdam, you contribute to education, research and service for a better world. And that is valuable. So in return for your efforts, we offer you:
  • a salary of € 2.770,00 (PhD) and maximum € 3.539,00 (PhD) gross per month in the fourth year, for a full-time employment
  • an employment contract of initially . If there is sufficient perspective, this will be extended to a total of 4 years. Your dissertation at the end of the fourth year forms the end of your employment contract.

We also offer you attractive fringe benefits and arrangements. Some examples:
  • A full-time 38-hour working week comes with a holiday leave entitlement of 232 hours per year. If you choose to work 40 hours, you have 96 extra holiday leave hours on an annual basis. For part-timers, this is calculated pro rata.
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge
  • contribution to commuting expenses


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Autism is a heterogeneous neurodevelopmental condition, characterized by social and communication problems, repetitive and stereotyped behaviours, sensory sensitivities, and high rates of co-occurring problems. There is no cure for autism, but adequate care can improve functioning, enhance quality of life, and reduce societal costs. One of the open questions in autism research is why males are more often diagnosed with autism than females. Currently, we do not know to what extent this is due to different biological mechanisms , or to bias in the diagnostic process.

SCANNER is a large multidisciplinary study that aims to close the knowledge gap underlying sex differences in autistic traits occurrence and diagnosis, and ultimately translate this knowledge into sex-sensitive diagnostic eHealth tools. The VU will contribute with two projects to the aims of SCANNER, for which we seek two excellent PhD candidates.

The VU part of SCANNER will be a close collaboration between genetic experts of the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) and autism experts of the Netherlands Autism Register (NAR). The NTR is a national register in which twins, multiples and their parents, siblings, spouses and other family members participate Since the 1980s the NTR has enrolled around 120,000 twins and their relatives, who take part in research studies of development, health and behaviour. The NAR is a unique and diverse clinical longitudinal cohort, including >3300 autistic individuals (aged 2 to 84 years) and over 700 controls. Since 2013, the NAR has included yearly measurements (see The NAR is well-known for its close collaboration with and dissemination to individuals with autism.

Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences
Developing knowledge for an active, healthy and meaningful life: that is our mission at the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences at VU Amsterdam. We maintain a broad focus on the fields of behaviour and health. Our teaching and research programmes are devoted to current developments in society. From healthy aging to e-health, and from training top athletes to social media as a teaching tool. We combine three academic disciplines: psychology, movement sciences and education. A multidisciplinary approach allows us to arrive at a better understanding of human behaviour and movement. Our aims are to help people live healthier lives, learn better and function better.

Are you interested in joining Behavioural and Movement Sciences? You are the kind of person who feels at home working in an ambitious faculty, with an informal atmosphere and short lines of communication. We offer you all the space you need for personal development. Together with your 630 colleagues, you will take care of about 4,200 students.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam stands for values-driven education and research. We are open-minded experts with the ability to think freely. - a broader mind. Maintaining an entrepreneurial perspective and concentrating on diversity, significance and humanity, we work on sustainable solutions with social impact. By joining forces, across the boundaries of disciplines, we work towards a better world for people and planet. Together we create a safe and respectful working and study climate, and an inspiring environment for education and research. Learn more about our codes of conduct

We are located on one physical campus, in the heart of Amsterdam's Zuidas business district, with excellent location and accessibility. Over 5,500 staff work at the VU and over 30,000 students attend academic education.

Diversity is the driving force of the VU. The VU wants to be accessible and receptive to diversity in disciplines, cultures, ideas, nationalities, beliefs, preferences and worldviews. We believe that trust, respect, interest and differences lead to new insights and innovation, to sharpness and clarity, to excellence and a broader understanding.

We stand for an inclusive community and believe that diversity and internationalisation contribute to the quality of education, research and our services.

Therefore, we are always searching for people whose backgrounds and experience contribute to the diversity of the VU community.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 3629


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)

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