Internship in the population genetics of human communication group

Language and Genetics

Characterising genomic and phenotypic structures in individuals with autism spectrum disorder

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, is offering a 5-to-10-month MSc internship position in the population genetics of human communication group ( The host research group, led by Dr. Beate St Pourcain, is embedded within the Language & Genetics Department at the MPI. Research within the group focuses on (i) studying the genetic basis of social communication, language and interaction in population-based and clinical cohorts and (ii) developing statistical modelling approaches. The internship duration is flexible but lies between 5 to 10 months.


Job description

In this biostatistics research internship, you will disentangle differences in clinical phenotype presentations of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by studying the genetic and phenotypic factor structures in autistic individuals. ASD is a phenotypically and genetically highly heterogeneous neurodevelopmental condition with a substantial genetic component (twin heritability ~80%) (1). Core diagnostic features include difficulties in social communication and interaction and restricted, repetitive behaviour, as well as sensory abnormalities (1). Previous studies investigated heterogeneity in autism at the phenotypic level (2). Within our group, we study this heterogeneity at the genomic level (3), investigating aggregate variation across millions of markers as captured by genotyping chips. While phenotypic and genomic structures are often similar (4), this is not always the case (5). In this project, expanding previous work (3), you will apply different structural equation modelling approaches to identify phenotypic and genomic structures. You will study autistic individuals from a large US cohort and apply state-of-the-art statistical genetic analysis methods, such as GREML and GRM-SEM (6,7) (familiarity with these methods is not a requirement). You will also learn how to work within a Linux environment and gain experience with coding in R and bash.



  • MSc student enrolled on a master's programme such as Cognitive Neuroscience, Medical Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Computing Science, Statistics or similar
  • Good knowledge of undergraduate statistics and genetics
  • Good undergraduate programming expertise (e.g. R or Linux)
  • Good knowledge of English


What we offer you

  • Experience in modelling genomic and phenotypic structures as captured by "big genomic data" using SEM-software
  • A nice team


Application procedure

The internship will last at least five months; the starting date is negotiable. Note that the MPI cannot remunerate any work during this internship. Applications will be reviewed until the position has been filled.

To apply, please submit your motivation letter (max. 1 page) and a CV and contact details via this link. For further information, please get in touch with Dr Beate St Pourcain (beate.stpourcain [at]


The employer

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is a world-leading research institute devoted to interdisciplinary studies of the science of language and communication, including departments on genetics, psychology, development, neurobiology and multimodality of these fundamental human abilities.

We investigate how children and adults acquire their language(s), how speaking and listening happen in real time, how the brain processes language, how the human genome contributes to building a language-ready brain, how multiple modalities (as in speech, gesture and sign) shape language and its use in diverse languages, and how language is related to cognition and culture, and shaped by evolution.

We are part of the Max Planck Society, an independent non-governmental association of German-funded research institutes dedicated to fundamental research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

Our institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University and has close collaborative links with the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour and the Centre for Language Studies at Radboud University.  We also work closely with other child development researchers as part of the Baby & Child Research Center.

The MPI for Psycholinguistics recognises the positive value of diversity, promotes equality and challenges discrimination. We are committed to redressing systemic problems with diversity in science, and therefore welcome applications from individuals from minority groups and from groups that are otherwise under-represented.



  1. Lord C, Brugha TS, Charman T, Cusack J, Dumas G, Frazier T, et al. Autism spectrum disorder. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2020 Jan 16;6(1):1–23.
  2. Warrier V, Zhang X, Reed P, Havdahl A, Moore TM, Cliquet F, et al. Genetic correlates of phenotypic heterogeneity in autism. Nat Genet. 2022 Sep;54(9):1293–304.
  3. de Hoyos L, Barendse MT, Schlag F, Donkelaar MM van, Verhoef E, Shapland CY, et al. Structural models of genome-wide covariance identify multiple common dimensions in autism. medRxiv. 2022 Oct;
  4. Cheverud JM. A Comparison of Genetic and Phenotypic Correlations. Evolution. 1988;42(5):958–68.
  5. Williams CM, Peyre H, Wolfram T, Lee YH, Ge T, Smoller JW, et al. Characterizing the phenotypic and genetic structure of psychopathology in UK Biobank. medRxiv. 2023 Sep;
  6. St Pourcain B, Eaves LJ, Ring SM, Fisher SE, Medland S, Evans DM, et al. Developmental Changes Within the Genetic Architecture of Social Communication Behavior: A Multivariate Study of Genetic Variance in Unrelated Individuals. Biological Psychiatry. 2018 Apr 1;83(7):598–606.
  7. Yang J, Lee SH, Goddard ME, Visscher PM. GCTA: A Tool for Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis. The American Journal of Human Genetics. 2011 Jan 7;88(1):76–82.

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