Research Internship - Population Genetics of Human Communication

Population Genetics of Human Communication

Functional characterisation of genetic variance structures:
A gene-set study of genetic associations between reading and maths abilities and their relationship with later-life health.

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands is offering an internship position in the population genetics of human communication group ( The host research group, led by Dr. Beate St Pourcain, investigates the genetic basis of social communication, language and interaction in large population-based cohorts and is embedded within the Language & Genetics Department at the MPI.

This research internship is open to MSc students who would like to gain experience in analysing "big data" from population-based cohorts.

Genetic influences underlying gene expression in brain during fetal and early infant development may impact on many complex postnatal abilities and behaviours, including reading and maths abilities during mid-childhood. In this project you will work with gene sets underlying the developmental transcriptome and use them to functionally characterise known genetic associations between reading and maths abilities and their relationship with later-life health.

You will work with defined gene sets as part of expression networks1 that contribute to early brain development and extend them to further gene sets for expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) based on data sets from Brainspan ( and others2–4. You will implement these gene sets into  Genetic-Relationship-Matrix Structural Equation Modelling (GRM-SEM)5,6 using the grmsem R package ( that has been developed in our lab as well as other state-of the-art statistical genetic analysis methods. You will also learn how to work within a linux environment and gain experience with coding in R and bash.

The internship will last at least 5 months, the starting date is negotiable. Note that the MPI is unable to remunerate any work carried out during this internship. Applicants should be enrolled within a master programme such as Cognitive Neuroscience, Medical Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Computing Science, Statistics or similar. Good knowledge about genetics and/or programming expertise and proficiency in English are a requirement. For further information please contact Dr. Beate St Pourcain (beate.stpourcain [at]

To apply, please send us a motivation letter (max. 1 page) along with a CV and contact details via the Haufe portal here. Applications will be reviewed until the position is filled. 

Relevant literature

1.            Parikshak, N. N. et al. Integrative Functional Genomic Analyses Implicate Specific Molecular Pathways and Circuits in Autism. Cell 155, 1008–1021 (2013).

2.            O’Brien, H. E. et al. Expression quantitative trait loci in the developing human brain and their enrichment in neuropsychiatric disorders. Genome Biol 19, (2018).

3.            Bryois, J. et al. Genetic identification of cell types underlying brain complex traits yields insights into the etiology of Parkinson’s disease. Nature Genetics 52, 482–493 (2020).

4.            Li, M. et al. Integrative functional genomic analysis of human brain development and neuropsychiatric risks. Science 362, (2018).

5.            Shapland, C. Y. et al. The Multivariate Genetic Architecture of Literacy-, Language- and Working Memory-related Abilities as Captured by Genome-wide Variation. Science of Learning (in press) (2021) doi:10.1101/2020.08.14.251199.

6.            St Pourcain, B. et al. Developmental Changes Within the Genetic Architecture of Social Communication Behavior: A Multivariate Study of Genetic Variance in Unrelated Individuals. Biological Psychiatry 83, 598–606 (2018).

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