PhD Position in Geosciences

Utrecht University Faculty of Geosciences


PhD Candidate on the Project 'Tipping the Iceberg: Leveraging a Food Transition for Indigenous Communities in the Bering Sea' (1.0 FTE)

Job description

Indigenous Arctic communities experience a fundamental, undesired and unsustainable shift in their food system. Science-based visions of sustainable solutions are lacking and the capacity within communities to evoke change is low. This project aims to identify and initiate pathways to a sustainable future food system for Arctic indigenous communities. Meadow’s leverage points will be used as a conceptual basis to identify places in the system where a small shift may lead to fundamental systemic changes.

The project will combine fundamental research to gain a structural system understanding with an action-oriented project component, to directly integrate our scientific insights into management. Specifically, this interdisciplinary PhD research will (1) analyze the current structure of the food system by building a multiple-layer social-ecological network, (2) explore how the food system is influenced by the changes in people’s values and paradigms from the past until today, and (3) identify key leverage points for a food system transformation. Combining these perspectives allows us to identify the links between humans and nature that represent the interdependencies and feedbacks between them, and how they can be translated into leverage points for sustainability transformations.

To make the research actionable for future change, a Transformation Lab (T-Lab) will be established that involves and empowers community members to identify, agree upon, and manage transformation pathways towards a sustainable future. The research will take a place-based approach focusing on an indigenous community in the Bering Sea in Alaska, USA.

The PhD position is funded by the Complex Systems Fund installed by Dr Peter Koeze and aims to stimulate interdisciplinary research on complex systems. The PhD research is based at the Centre for Complex Systems Studies (CCSS), in collaboration with the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and the Descartes Centre for History and Philosophy at Utrecht University. International collaborators are the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and the indigenous community on St. Paul Island, Bering Sea.

The prospective PhD candidate will partake in teaching activities organized by the CCSS, which include a bachelor’s and master’s minor in complex systems as well as a yearly summer school. Teaching commitments are limited to a maximum of 10% of your employment time. You are also expected to be an active junior member of the CCSS and contribute to activities such as science jams.


We are looking for a candidate with the following attributes:

  • a master’s degree (or an international equivalent) in environmental science, sustainability science, quantitative social science or related field;
  • a keen interest to work at the intersection of natural and social science;
  • experience in statistical data analysis, modelling and systems-thinking mindset;
  • willingness to learn and use interviews, participatory methods and qualitative data analysis;
  • strong social skills to establish the T-Lab and lead workshops with people of different backgrounds in the context of an indigenous community in the Bering Sea;
  • willingness to spend prolonged periods (up to 3 months) each year on remote islands in the Bering Sea;
  • excellent scientific communication skills (written and orally) in English.

The following criteria are also desireable:

  • research experience on food systems;
  • field experience within an indigenous context;
  • experience with (social-ecological) network modelling or agent-based modelling;
  • interdisciplinary background rooted in natural science with some experience in social sciences.


This is an appointment of 1.0 FTE for the duration of 1 year fixed with expected extension of an additional 3 years. The gross salary starts with €2,395 per month in the first year and increases to €3,061 per month in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Employment Agreement of the Dutch Universities) for a full-time employment. Besides that, you will receive a holiday allowance of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3%.

Utrecht University also has an appealing package of terms of employment, including the choice for a good balance between work and private (a good arrangement for leave, among other things), possibilities for development and an excellent pension scheme. More information on working at Utrecht University can be found here

About the organization

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The Centre for Complex Systems Studies brings together the complexity research of Utrecht University. The CCSS aims at scientific breakthroughs as well as novel solutions for societally relevant issues by approaching existing problems from the perspective of complex systems science.

The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development is a world leading institute for research and education related to sustainability. We aim to have a positive impact on the transition to a sustainable world through the rigorous development of excellent and societally relevant knowledge. We place an emphasis on interdisciplinary systems approaches to achieve this objective.

The Descartes Centre is a joint collaboration of all seven Faculties at Utrecht University and contributes to the social and political debate by critically reflecting on the foundations, the production and the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact Dr Ine Dorresteijn (Main Supervisor), via or+31 30 253 4291


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button below

The application deadline is

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