PhD Position in Environmental Geography

VU University of Amsterdam

Did you know that we can preserve healthy coral reefs through sustainable land use? Do you want to contribute to healthier coral reefs in the Dutch Caribbean by developing innovative co-design methods for  sustainable land use options? Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


FTE: 1 

Job description

The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) recently awarded a grant to a new project called Land, Sea, and Society: Linking terrestrial pollutants and inputs to nearshore coral reef growth to identify novel conservation options for the Dutch Caribbean (SEALINK): The Program intends to provide a comprehensive understanding of ocean pollution and coral reef health in the Dutch Caribbean. A total of 9 PhD positions in varying scientific disciplines are available through this project including the one advertised here. 

Water quality is among the key drivers of coral reef health. In coastal waters, the origin, abundance, and distribution of pollutants and other compounds can positively or negatively affect the survival of coral reef communities. These inputs are influenced by terrestrial processes, particularly human activities in the form of the use and management of the land. In this PhD position, the student will look into the trends in land use change in the coastal zone and how more sustainable land management can be achieved. This willbe studied together with other PhD students in the project that focus on the flow of possible pollutants to the ocean and the impacts on the reef will be assessed. 

The PhD student will use an innovative scenario approach combining field work in the Dutch Caribbean with advanced simulation models to (1) assess how uncertain developments like tourism and urbanization will impact the land-water system and, (2) co-design solutions (using optimization models and a participatory process with stakeholders) to navigate tradeoffs between environmental and development objectives within a context of feasibility and willingness. Methods will include the development of land use scenarios and activity models in collaboration with local stakeholders in the Dutch Caribbean to simulate potential future developments, while optimization models will serve to back-cast optimized land use and activity configurations accounting for the variability in the coastal system and the land-sea transport of pollutants, ensuring healthy marine ecosystems. This PhD position aims at transforming thinking among stakeholders and delivering a range of clear management options for sustainable coastal use under different, uncertain, future contexts.

Your duties

  • conduct interdisciplinary research in the SEALINK project and collaborate with project partners
  • publish research results in journal papers and a PhD dissertation
  • conduct fieldwork and interact with stakeholders
  • develop and apply simulation models


  • MSc degree in environmental sciences, geography or (landscape) ecology
  • willingness to collaborate in an interdisciplinary project using interdisciplinary methods
  • good writing skills
  • experience with quantitative methods and interest in using also more qualitative methods

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 1 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)

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.

IVM is a leading environmental research institute that is internationally recognized for its high quality research output in a range of environmental disciplines, as well as for its interdisciplinary work. The mission of the institute is to contribute to sustainable development and care for the environment through scientific research and teaching. IVM aims to do excellent problem-oriented research that is useful to a wide range of stakeholders in the Netherlands and internationally. A unique strength of our research is to understand sustainability problems in their social and economic context. IVM’s research community works within four departments: Environmental Economics; Environmental Policy Analysis; Environmental Geography; and Water and Climate Risk. Since 2001 IVM is part of the Faculty of Science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (

The Department of Environmental Geography investigates the role of spatial variation in environmental systems to increase our understanding of environmental change and support environmental management. The focus of the group is on land use change and its impacts on ecosystem services and society. Temporal dynamics and future scenarios are explored with spatial modelling of changes in land use and ecosystem services, including natural, rural and urban systems. Advanced methods for stakeholder participation and ex-ante evaluation are developed and tested to support environmental management and land use planning.


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until March 15, 2021. 

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

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

Name: Peter Verburg

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