Skip to main content Skip to navigation

PhD Fellowship in Language and Learning

PhD Fellowship in Language and Learning in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick

Supervisor: Dr Suzanne Aussems (Language and Learning)

Project: Communicative Development in the Early Years

This PhD project is in the broad field of cognitive development with a focus on communication. Potential topics include (but are not limited to) gesture, language learning, word learning strategies, generalization, communicative development, and social interactions.

A particular area of interest is word learning in infants and young children. For example, how can we stimulate children’s vocabulary growth before they reach the school age? And which contextual cues (e.g., information from pictures or from sentences surrounding the novel word) and nonverbal cues (e.g., gestures produced by adults) can help children to learn and generalize novel words? What are the mechanisms that underly the beneficial effects of such cues on children’s word learning? The project will focus on typically developing English-speaking children between 0 and 4 years of age. The work will draw on theory from gesture studies and psychological theory, as well as insights from first language acquisition research and psycholinguistics. Although the primary methodology will be experimental, there is scope to also explore other methods such as observational methods and surveys. This area of research is not only intellectually exciting but may have the potential for impacting policies and practices in early years education. Please see the list below with publications related to this topic.

Although the role of gesture in children’s word learning is currently a major focus of Dr. Aussems’s research, other topics within her general areas of expertise could be suitable for a PhD project, particularly cross-situational learning, sound symbolism, and iconicity. Please refer to Dr Aussems’s webpage for more information or contact her via email to discuss alternative topics in more detail.

The University of Warwick is world-class institution, which is internationally recognized as an intellectual hub for research in language and learning and gesture studies, with extensive collaboration and research events across Psychology and state-of-the-art infant and child testing facilities on campus. PhD students are fully integrated into the wider intellectual life of the department, and the post-holder would be encouraged to collaborate with other faculty members in areas of mutual interest.

Requirements: We seek a highly motivated student with an interest in interdisciplinary work and experimental methods. Experience with advanced statistics and experimental design are highly valued assets. Experience with eye tracking or gesture coding are desired assets. Experience with working with young children would be appreciated, but it is not a requirement. Applicants should, as a minimum, have an Upper Second-Class undergraduate degree, but preferably a First-Class undergraduate degree or a master’s distinction in Psychology, Cognitive Science, Psycholinguistics, or a related field. To apply, please include your CV (2 pages maximum) and a cover document (2 pages maximum) detailing why you are a suitable candidate, any relevant background or research experience, and a description of your research interests.

How to apply:

Applicants without an existing PhD application with us should apply online through the Graduate School online form:

Applicants who already have an existing PhD application with us should instead complete the online form:

If you have any questions related to this PhD project or would like more details, please contact Dr Suzanne Aussems at s dot aussems dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk For more information on research interests and publications, visit:

Related Publications:

Aussems, S., Mumford, K. H., & Kita, S. (2021). Prior experience with actions facilitates 3-year-old children’s verb learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication.

Zuniga-Montanez, C., Kita, S., Aussems, S., & Krott, A. (2021). Beyond the shape of things: Infants can be taught to generalise nouns by function. Psychological Science, 32(7), 1073-1085.

Aussems, S., & Kita, S. (2021). Seeing iconic gesture promotes first- and second-order verb generalization in preschoolers. Child Development, 92(1), 124-141.

Aussems, S., & Kita, S. (2019). Seeing iconic gestures with action events facilitates children’s memory of these events. Child Development, 90(4), 1123-1137.

Aussems, S. (2019). How seeing iconic gestures facilitates action event memory and verb learning in 3-year-old children. Language Acquisition, 27(1), 68-70.