Doctor in Science in the fields of paleontology, evolution, and functional morphology

Updated: about 1 month ago

Department: Department of Biology
Regime Full-time

Let's shape the future – University of Antwerp

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences & the University of Antwerp recruit a Doctor in Science in the fields of paleontology, evolution, and functional morphology

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS, ) is one of the ten federal scientific institutions that are governed by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO). The institute aims to provide the scientific world, public authorities and civil society with good and relevant science, appropriate advice, opening up avenues of discovery in nature, its long history and its sustainable management. One in three people employed at the RBINS is a scientist. The scientific staff includes mainly biologists, paleontologists and geologists, but also oceanographers, anthropologists, prehistorians and archaeologists, as well as geographers, physicists, bioengineers and mathematicians, which facilitates multidisciplinary research. With 38 million specimens conserved as Belgian heritage of global significance, the RBINS collections constitute a central point for multiple research projects, as well as for permanent and temporary exhibitions.

The University of Antwerp  (UAntwerpen, is a dynamic, forward-thinking, European university. We offer an innovative academic education to more than 20000 students, conduct pioneering scientific research and play an important service-providing role in society. We are one of the largest, most international and most innovative employers in the region. With more than 6000 employees from 100 different countries, we are helping to build tomorrow's world every day. Through top scientific research, we push back boundaries and set a course for the future – a future that you can help to shape. In its pursuit of international excellence, the University of Antwerp is a true research university with a particularly strong expertise in the following spearhead areas in research: Imaging; Neuroscience; Infectious diseases; Drug research; Material characterization; Ecology and sustainable development; Port, transport and logistics; Big city, history and contemporary policy; Socio-economic policy and organization.

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Antwerp have the following full-time vacancy (100%) available. This position consists of two related appointments in the context of the federal government's FED-tWIN funding program, in particular:

  • A Part-time (50%) appointment as research workleader (SW2) at the RBINS
  • A part-time (50%) appointment as postdoc researcher (BAP) at UAntwerpen, Faculty of Sciences
  • FED-tWIN is a federal research program of the Federal Public Service Science Policy Programming Service (BELSPO) with the aim of stimulating sustainable cooperation between ten federal science institutions and Belgian Universities trough the funding of joint research profiles.

    This vacancy is part of the FED-tWIN research profile Prf-2022-008 - MEATLOAF The evolutionary shift of Meat-EATing mammals to life in water: a deep time, multi-proxy investigation of the LOcomotion And Feeding adaptions of aquatic carnivorans. You implement the FED-tWIN MEATLOAF research profile in the RBINS (50%) and the UAntwerpen (50%).

    The RBIN’s Paleobiosphere Evolution research unit (Operational Directorate Earth and History of Life) and the Functional Morphology research group (Department of Biology) of the University of Antwerp aim to develop a new avenue of research on aquatic carnivorans, in the fields of paleontology, evolution and functional morphology. Together, these institutions have extensive experience in these fields and house world-class collections of fossil and extant aquatic carnivorans, as well as highly complementary skills, labs and facilities. The proposed profile will make a strong link between the two institutions, with a view to creating a hotspot in the field of aquatic tetrapod evolution and functional morphology.

    Brief description of the MEATLOAF project

    Among mammals, aquatic taxa within the order Carnivora, or “meat-eaters”, show an 'incomplete' transition to life in the aquatic environment: pinnipeds, otters, polar bears, and even the fishing cat rely heavily on water for feeding, but none are exclusively aquatic and they all still return to land to rest, give birth, etc. The transition from a terrestrial to a (semi-)aquatic lifestyle is an impactful biological shift, prompting various physiological and anatomical adaptations. The repeated evolution of a semi-aquatic lifestyle in Carnivora begs the following questions: Which environmental and ecological changes triggered this transition in each group? How did these carnivorans functionally adapt to life in water? What are the similarities and differences among these groups, and between aquatic carnivorans and other aquatic mammals? And, more specifically, what is the extent of morphological and functional convergences?

    The MEATLOAF project aims to investigate the different evolutionary aspects of this transition in carnivorans from land to water, specifically targeting adaptations for locomotion and feeding, using a variety of well-supported proxies organized along two main approaches: (1) a comparative approach, documenting the morphological diversity and shifts in morphology, and (2) a modelling approach, focusing on performance and loading of the recorded morphologies. Comparative aspects will include anatomical, systematic and phylogenetic analyses, as well as geometric morphometric and microanatomical-osteohistological aspects to quantify internal and external morphology. The modelling approach will encompass functional analyses, finite element analyses, computational fluid dynamics, and musculo-skeletal modelling. A synthesis of the results of these different packages will ultimately result in a time-calibrated assessment of the paleoecological and paleoenvironmental frameworks in which these groups evolved to life in water, in order to better understand the biotic and abiotic drivers of such a major, iterative transition.


    • You will implement a cutting-edge research program in the fields described above;
    • You will publish scientific articles related to the research project;
    • You will be involved in research stays in partner institutions in and outside Europe;
    • You will take charge of the supervision of Master and PhD theses, seminars at Master level, and a limited number of teaching and research support tasks for the Department of Biology at the University of Antwerp;
    • You will actively participate in the study and management of aquatic carnivoran paleontology collections of the RBINS;
    • You will participate in the communication and dissemination of knowledge and research results to the student community, the scientific community and civil society;
    • You will work at (50%) Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, O.D. Earth and History of Life, 29 Rue Vautier, 1000 Brussels, and (50%) University of Antwerp, Department of Biology, FunMorph laboratory, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Antwerpen.


    • You have a PhD in Sciences (Biology or Geology) degree that was obtained maximally 12 years before the end date of the period within which you can apply for this vacancy. This maximum period of 12 years for possession of a doctorate is extended by one year for every absence due to pregnancy, parental or adoption leave, as well as any long-term absence due to illness of the candidate or/and long-term absence due to illness of a family member of the first degree.
    • You are an expert in the study of the evolution of morphology and function in vertebrates, with research experience in the fields of taxonomy, systematics, phylogeny, paleontology and functional morphology.
    • You have specific knowledge on and/or research experience in paleontology, taxonomy, and anatomy of at least one of the carnivoran study groups (pinnipeds, otters, fishing cat, polar bear).
    • Your research qualities are in line with the policies of the UAntwerpen  and with the RBINS research strategy.
    • Your teaching competences are in line with the University of Antwerp’s educational vision .
    • You have (potential) leadership qualities.
    • You are quality-oriented, honest, creative and cooperation-oriented.
    • You have already done research in an international framework.
    • You have basic knowledge on biomechanical principles, together with a clear motivation to learn to apply advanced numerical simulation techniques.
    • You have experience with at least part of the methodologies used for this project (3D imagery, microCT scanning, surface scanning, bone ground sections, etc. for data sampling, finite element analysis, computational fluid dynamics, and relevant software for data processing).
    • You have a general knowledge of the RBINS fossil aquatic mammal collection, as well as a basic appreciation of other relevant collections in Europe and across the globe.
    • Your English is fluent, both speaking and writing.
    • All qualified applicants, including minorities and women, are encouraged to apply.

    The following knowledges and experiences are assets

    • You have experience in the supervision of Master and/or PhD students.
    • You can build and exploit databases and supervise management of fossil collections.

    What we offer 

    The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences offers:

    •  A half-time open-ended employment contract as a research workleader (SW2)
    • You will work in a dynamic, challeging, varied, and stimulating research environment in a historical Art Nouveau building located in the heart of Brussels, next to the European parliament.
    • You will receive full reimbursement of public transport for commuting, or a bycicle allowance if you commute by bike, as well as internet-connectivity allowance.

    The University of Antwerp offers:

    • A half-time open-ended employment contract as a postdoctoral researcher.
    • Your gross monthly salary is calculated according to the pay scale  for a principal researcher.
    • You will do most of your work at the Campus Drie Eiken in a dynamic and stimulating working environment.
    • You will receive ecocheques, internet-connectivity allowance and a bicycle allowance or a full reimbursement of public transport costs for commuting.
    • Find out more about working at the University of Antwerp here  and discover all the other benefits .

    The date of commencement of employment with both institutions is no later than March 14th , 2024.

    Want to apply?

    • You can apply for this vacancy through the University of Antwerp’s online job application platform up to and including 27 April 2023 (by midnight Brussels time). Click on 'apply', complete the online application form and remember to include the following documents: (1) your motivation letter, (2) your academic CV, (3) a copy of the required diploma, and (4) a criminal record declaration.
    • The selection committee will review all of the applications as soon as possible after the application deadline. As soon as a decision has been made, we will inform you about the next steps in the selection.
    • If you have any questions about the online application form, please check the frequently asked questions  or send an email to If you have any questions about the job itself, please contact Dr. Olivier Lambert ( ) and Dr. Sam Van Wassenbergh ( ) (reference: FEDTWIN / MEATLOAF application).

    The University of Antwerp received the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award  for its HR policy. We are a sustainable, family-friendly organisation which invests in its employees’ growth. We encourage diversity  and attach great importance to an inclusive working environment and equal opportunities, regardless of gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age. We encourage people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse characteristics to apply.

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