PhD position Health, Sustainability and the Dietary Shift in India and the Netherlands

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • PhD position Health, Sustainability and the Dietary Shift in India and the Netherlands
  • University Graduate
Are you committed to challenges at the crossroads of health and sustainability? Want to study how plant-based food systems and cultures can be strengthened in an inclusive manner? And are you curious how transition studies can better attend to fostering continuities in addition to change? Then join us at the Athena Institute of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)!

FTE: 1

Job description

You will be doing research on the dietary shift: the idea of (moving towards) a diet in which 80% of protein is plant-based and 20% animal-based. The dietary shift is part of two interrelated systemic transformations: a) to a more sustainable health care system through prevention by healthy eating; b) to a more sustainable agricultural system by reducing the need for scarce agricultural inputs (land, water, pesticides) and harmful emissions.
This PhD project approaches food consumption as an embedded socio-material practice. These practices are entangled with a wide variety of other socio-material practices and part of larger health-, food- and agricultural systems. Based on this understanding, this PhD project particularly investigates what the idea of the dietary shift comes to be in different food consumption settings in India and in the Netherlands.

India, in this case, can be considered as the frontrunner, because diets in which plant-based protein plays the major role, are common. They are under pressure, though, of increased meat consumption that comes with increased affluence. Theoretically, this raises questions about fostering continuity in the context of sustainability rather than stimulating transformation – a topic which is rarely addressed in transition theories and literature in science and technology studies (STS). The Netherlands serves as an exemplar of many high-income countries where the dietary shift is in its earlier stages, and serves as a case study for studying the transformation of deeply entwined systems.

Questions therefore include: What does the dietary shift look like in Indian and Dutch settings? What kinds of dietary adjustments would (not) be necessary? What does this imply for the different systems that are entangled with dietary practices (health, food and agriculture)? How does this shift resonate with, ignore or clash with existing discourses, values and practices? How could (and is) this shift promoted? Who benefits and who gets disadvantaged through (the promotion of) this shift, according to which form of knowledge production?

Theoretically, the research asks how continuity for sustainability can be understood and fostered in relation to existing theoretical insights on transformation for sustainability.
The investigation conducted through this PhD project would aim to contribute towards developing and promoting the idea of the dietary shift in an equitable, inclusive manner with partners like the Academic workplace food in Amsterdam. Methodologies depend on further fine-tuning but are likely to include interviews, ethnography, action research, document analysis and some historical analysis.
Next to your research, resulting in a PhD thesis, you will be teaching in courses given by the Athena Institute (~20% of your time). Research and teaching will be entwined with innovative Community Service Learning initiatives, which are central to the VU in general and the Athena Institute in particular. Your work will be supported with committed supervision and additional training in methods you are not familiar with.


We are looking for an enthusiastic, curious, and creative candidate who has:
  • a master’s degree in science technology and society, geography, health sciences, innovation studies, or another discipline that integrates humanities/social and natural/health sciences
  • practical experience with qualitative research methods: interviews/focus groups, ethnography, document analysis
  • experience with one or more of the following: participatory methods, stakeholder interaction, or other co-creative processes
  • fluency in spoken and written English is essential; a good command of Dutch is a strong advantage
  • the ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • excellent organizational, communicating and connecting skills: you will collaborate with scientists from various disciplines as well as build connections with a broad range of societal stakeholders
  • strong track record and research skills, relative to experience, and excellent academic writing and presentation skills

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 €2,395 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,061 (PhD) 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 1 FTE.
The appointment will initially be for a period of one year with a possible extension conditional upon assessment of adequate functioning.

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)
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package

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. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavour – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

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.

Athena Institute
The position is offered within the Athena Institute, Faculty of Science. The institute's mission is to study and design interfaces between science and society to contribute both to a deeper understanding of innovation processes as well as a responsible implementation of research and innovation in society.  Athena's research amongst other focuses on analysing complex global health challenges, designing interventions and conducting participatory monitoring and evaluation research.

For more information you can contact:
Dr. Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, tel 020-5987031, email
Dr. Evelien de Hoop, email
For more information about the Athena Institute, visit our website:


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until October 29, 2020.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

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

Name: Dr. Teun Zuiderent-Jerak
Position: Associate Professor of Interactive Governance of Health Interventions
Telephone: 020- 598 7031

Name: Dr. Evelien de Hoop
Position: Assistant Professor

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