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Post-doctoral Position Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience

Post-doctoral Position – Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience – Carnegie Mellon University

We are seeking a creative, energetic postdoctoral auditory cognitive neuroscientist to join our research team. The position will be supported by a new NIH-supported research project, Flexible representation of speech in the supratemporal plane, that weds the joint expertise of Drs. Lori Holt (Carnegie Mellon University) and Dr. Taylor Abel (Pediatric Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh) to advance how dynamic, flexible aspects of the mapping of speech input to phonemes are represented in the intracerebral response of human cortex.

A simple utterance like beach is distinguished from its near-neighbor peach by as many as 16 acoustic input dimensions. The details of how these dimensions are expressed varies as a function of whether beach is part of a story told by John or Mary, whether the talker speaks British or American English, and even whether the storytelling venue is quiet or noisy. Research directed at understanding speech comprehension has long grappled with how complex acoustic input relates to native-language representations for phonemes, the linguistically distinct units of sound that differentiate meaning like the [b] and [p] in beach versus peach. Intracranial neurosurgical techniques have rapidly advanced understanding of human cortical response to speech. There is now robust evidence that superior temporal gyrus (STG) plays a crucial role in extracting meaningful linguistic features from speech input, with consonant and vowel acoustic-phonetic dimensions apparent in the tuning of neural populations. This success can give the impression, at least implicitly, of a stable mapping from acoustic input dimensions to native-language speech representations, much like had been the starting point of traditional theoretical accounts. However, a rich behavioral research literature now demonstrates that the mapping of acoustic input dimensions to speech
representations varies substantially across listeners and is malleable according to listening context. This adaptive plasticity – the dynamic, flexible mapping of speech acoustics to perception – is not yet well integrated into models of cortical speech processing. Our goal is to advance understanding in this domain.

The research will capitalize on human intracerebral recording through Dr. Abel’s neurosurgical placement of stereoencephalographic (sEEG) electrodes in adolescent and young adult brains across the supratemporal plane. The successful postdoctoral candidate will assist with brining well-tested behavioral paradigms into the surgical monitoring unit and align sEEG recordings with scalp EEG measurements that will build an informative link across the measurements possible with typical listeners, and listeners undergoing neurosurgery. She or he will spearhead the analyses of sEEG recordings and communicate the results. The program of research will involve simultaneous noninvasive scalp EEG, intracranial sEEG, and behavior will establish the perceptual weights with which acoustic dimensions map to speech representations, and how these mappings are adjusted flexibly according to short term speech input regularities.

The candidate will join a growing and highly interactive Pittsburgh Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience (PCAN) collective committed to understanding human auditory behavior and is psychological and biological bases. Together, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh boast research strengths in human, nonhuman animal, and clinical approaches to understanding auditory behavior. The successful candidate will be welcomed into a thriving, interdisciplinary intellectual community. Researchers in this highly supportive environment seek to span disciplines and employ multiple methodologies in their research. Drs. Holt and Abel provide close interlaboratory collaboration, with many opportunities for professional development.

Pittsburgh, home to Carnegie Mellon University, is consistently rated among the most livable cities in America. With low cost-of-living, a thriving restaurant scene, a wealth of outdoor activities, and an accessible cultural district, there are ample opportunities to cultivate good work-life balance while advancing your scientific goals.

• A PhD in neuroscience, psychology, engineering, or related
• One or more years of expertise in auditory cognitive (neuro)science; prior experience with human
electrophysiology and psychophysics is highly desirable
• Broad experience with neuroscience or psychology literature; previous expertise with auditory cognitive
neuroscience is advantageous
• One or more years of experience with coding, data analysis, or computational modeling
• Fundamental curiosity about how the brain coordinates auditory behavior, and a willingness to engage in
collaborative research
• Statistical and programming skills (e.g., Matlab, Python, R)
• Enjoyment of working with and teaching others; willingness to play a role in mentoring more junior
researchers in the group
• Fluency in speaking and writing in English
• Demonstrated ability to write results for publication in the scientific literature
• Flexibility, ability to learn quickly
• The ability to work independently as well as part of a scientific team are very welcome.
• While previous experience is not necessary, comfort working in a clinical environment is necessary.

Compensation will be aligned to the National Institutes of Health salary pay scale, according to experience. The initial appointment will be one year, with further funding possible for additional years upon satisfactory performance.

We believe that equity and diversity make for better science. We especially encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds to apply.

Please apply with a cover letter expressing your research expertise, qualifications, interests, and research/career goals. You may direction questions and/or applications to Professor Lori Holt ( or Dr. Taylor Abel ( The position is open immediately and candidates will be sought until the position is filled. To apply, please also a CV, a statement of research expertise and interests, and the names of at least two references in an email to and

Our institutions do not discriminate in admission, employment, or administration of its programs or activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, ancestry, belief, veteran status, or genetic information. Furthermore, our institutions are required not to discriminate in violation of federal, state, or local laws or executive orders.

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I began studying the vestibular system during my dissertation research at the Università di Pavia with Professors Ivo Prigioni and GianCarlo Russo. I had two postdoctoral fellowships, first at the University of Rochester with Professor Christopher Holt and then at the University of Illinois at Chicago with Professors Jonathan Art and Jay Goldberg.

My research focuses on characterizing the biophysics of synaptic transmission between hair cells and primary afferents in the vestibular system. For many years an outstanding question in vestibular physiology was how the transduction current in the type I hair cell was sufficient, in the face of large conductances on at rest, to depolarize it to potentials necessary for conventional synaptic transmission with its unique afferent calyx.

In collaboration with Dr. Art, I overcame the technical challenges of simultaneously recording from type I hair cells and their enveloping calyx afferent to investigate this question. I was able to show that with depolarization of either hair cell or afferent, potassium ions accumulating in the cleft depolarize the synaptic partner. Conclusions from these studies are that due to the extended apposition between type I hair cell and its afferent, there are three modes of communication across the synapse. The slowest mode of transmission reflects the dynamic changes in potassium ion concentration in the cleft which follow the integral of the ongoing hair cell transduction current. The intermediate mode of transmission is indirectly a result of this potassium elevation which serves as the mechanism by which the hair cell potential is depolarized to levels necessary for calcium influx and the vesicle fusion typical of glutamatergic quanta. This increase in potassium concentration also depolarizes the afferent to potentials that allow the quantal EPSPs to trigger action potentials. The third and most rapid mode of transmission like the slow mode of transmission is bidirectional, and a current flowing out of either hair cell or afferent into the synaptic cleft will divide between a fraction flowing out into the bath, and a fraction flowing across the cleft into its synaptic partner.

The technical achievement of the dual electrode approach has enabled us to identify new facets of vestibular end organ synaptic physiology that in turn raise new questions and challenges for our field. I look forward with great excitement to the next chapter in my scientific story.


Charles C. Della Santina, PhD MD is a Professor of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery and Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he directs the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Implant Center and the Johns Hopkins Vestibular NeuroEngineering Laboratory.

As a practicing neurotologic surgeon, Dr. Della Santina specializes in treatment of middle ear, inner ear and auditory/vestibular nerve disorders. His clinical interests include restoration of hearing via cochlear implantation and management of patients who suffer from vestibular disorders, with a particular focus on helping individuals disabled by chronic postural instability and unsteady vision after bilateral loss of vestibular sensation. His laboratory’s research centers on basic and applied research supporting development of vestibular implants, which are medical devices intended to partially restore inner ear sensation of head movement. In addition to that work, his >90 publications include studies characterizing inner ear physiology and anatomy; describing novel clinical tests of vestibular function; and clarifying the effects of cochlear implantation, vestibular implantation, superior canal dehiscence syndrome and intratympanic gentamicin therapy on the inner ear and central nervous system.  Dr. Della Santina is also the founder and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer of Labyrinth Devices LLC, a company dedicated to bringing novel vestibular testing and implant technology into routine clinical care.

Andrew Griffith received his MD and PhD in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University in 1992. He completed his general surgery internship and a residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan in 1998. He also completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Department of Human Genetics as part of his training at the University of Michigan. In 1998, he joined the Division of Intramural Research (DIR) in the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). He served as a senior investigator, the chief of the Molecular Biology and Genetics Section, the chief of the Otolaryngology Branch, and the director of the DIR, as well as the deputy director for Intramural Clinical Research across the NIH Intramural Research Program. His research program identifies and characterizes molecular and cellular mechanisms of normal and disordered hearing and balance in humans and mouse models. Two primary interests of his program have been hearing loss associated with enlargement of the vestibular aqueduct, and the function of TMC genes and proteins. The latter work lead to the discovery that the deafness gene product TMC1 is a component of the hair cell sensory transduction channel. Since July of 2020, he has served as the Senior Associate Dean of Research and a Professor of Otolaryngology and Physiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Gwenaëlle S. G. Géléoc obtained a PhD in Sensory Neurobiology from the University of Sciences in Montpellier (France) in 1996. She performed part of her PhD training at the University of Sussex, UK where she characterized sensory transduction in vestibular hair cells and a performed a comparative study between vestibular and cochlear hair cells. Gwenaelle continued her training as an electrophysiologist at University College London studying outer hair cell motility and at Harvard Medical School studying modulation of mechanotransduction in vestibular hair cells. As an independent investigator at the University of Virginia, she expanded this work and characterized the developmental acquisition of sensory transduction in mouse vestibular hair cells, the developmental acquisition of voltage-sensitive conductances in vestibular hair cells and the tonotopic gradient in the acquisition of sensory transduction in the mouse cochlea. This work along with quantitative spatio-temporal studies performed on several hair cell mechanotransduction candidates lead her to TMC1 and 2 and long-term collaborations with Andrew Griffith and Jeff Holt. Dr. Géléoc is currently Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, at Boston Children’s Hospital where she continues to study molecular players involved in the development and function of hair cells of the inner ear and develops new therapies for the treatment of deafness and balance, with a particular focus on Usher syndrome.

Jeff Holt earned a doctorate from the Department of Physiology at the University of Rochester in 1995 for his studies of inward rectifier potassium channels in saccular hair cells.  He went on to a post-doctoral position in the Neurobiology Department at Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, where he characterized sensory transduction and adaptation in hair cells and developed a viral vector system to transfect cultured hair cells.  Dr. Holt’s first faculty position was in the Neuroscience Department at the University of Virginia.  In 2011 the lab moved to Boston Children’s Hospital / Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Holt is currently a Professor in the Departments of Otolaryngology and Neurology in the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center.  Dr. Holt and his team have been studying sensory transduction in auditory and vestibular hair cells over the past 20 years, with particular focus on TMC1 and TMC2 over the past 12 years.  This work lead to the discovery that TMC1 forms the hair cell transduction channel.  His work also focuses on development gene therapy strategies for genetic hearing loss.