Evolutionary Biogeography of Microbial Networks (PhD position)

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Evolutionary Biogeography of Microbial Networks (PhD position)
  • University Graduate
Are you interested in evolution? Can you work with global data sets? Do you want to develop machine learning techniques? Are you excited to harness microbes for a new era of sustainable agriculture?

Plant roots house one of the most diverse, yet vastly neglected, microbial communities on Earth. How did these communities evolve, and how has agriculture shaped their survival? The Department of Ecological Science at the VU Amsterdam has a PhD position available as part of the NWO Gravitation program, MICROP. The project aims to understand the evolution of the root microbiome in wild and cultivated plant species around the world. Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

FTE:         0,8 - 1

Job description

The PhD student will be part of an international team studying the impact of the evolution on the root microbiome. The work is multi-disciplinary, and will combine techniques from comparative phylogenetics, experimental manipulations, bioinformatics, machine learning and statistics.

Using spatial analysis and data-driven techniques, the candidate will develop global maps of root traits to ask how large-scale agriculture has changed underground landscapes. The student will generate a framework for determining links between the microbiome and plant roots, asking how agriculture has affected microbial recruitment patterns, with a focus on legumes.

The project will provide the opportunity to collaborate with scientists in several countries, and will include international travel.

Your duties

The PhD research will include both empirical and modelling approaches, and will aim to:
  • create an analytical pipeline for determining the root traits most important in microbial recruitment
  • use phylogenetic techniques to reconstruct the evolution of microbial recruitment
  • map consequences of agricultural production on global below-ground microbiomes

Duties also include:
  • publishing in international journals
  • assisting in departmental teaching and completion of a dissertation


  • MSc degree with specialization in data science (i.e. GIS, phylogenetic techniques, statistical modelling, machine learning)
  • Interest in big data, microbiology, evolution, ecology, physical geography
  • Hands-on experience in at least two of the following: statistical modelling and/or computing; bioinformatics; spatial analyses; plant and/or microbial experiments
  • Excellent ability to communicate in both written and spoken English
  • Good social skills, ability to work independently
  • Very strong scientific motivation
  • Ability to perform international fieldwork

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts to €2,325 per month during the first year and increases to €2,972 per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for at least 0.8 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 4 years.

Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 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

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. And to be a university where personal education and societal involvement play a leading role. Where people from different disciplines and backgrounds work together on innovations and on generating new knowledge. Our teaching and research embrace the whole spectrum of science – from the humanities, the social sciences and the pure sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,500 students. We employ more than 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Diversity is one of our university’s core values. We are an inclusive community, and we believe that diversity and international activities enhance the quality of education and research. We are always looking for people who can enhance diversity on our campus thanks to their background and experience.

The Faculty of Science
The Faculty of Science inspires researchers and students to find sustainable solutions for complex societal issues. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to medicines and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research programmes cover the full spectrum of the natural sciences. We share knowledge and experience with leading research institutes and industries, both here in the Netherlands and abroad.

Working at the Faculty of Science means working with students, PhD candidates and researchers, all with a clear focus on their field and a broad view of the world. We employ more than 1,250 staff members, and we are home to around 6,000 students.

The PhD will work closely with groups at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Utrecht University (UU), Wageningen University (WU) and The Netherlands Institute for Ecological Research (NIOO). Ultimately, the aim is to map and harness the genomic potential of root microbes as a new platform for sustainable food production.


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until 15 March 2020. The job interviews are planned for April 20, 2020.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Toby Kiers
Position: Professor
E-mail: toby.kiers@vu.nl
Telephone: +31644517608

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