PhD research position in the field of Environmental and Bio-science Engineering to collaborate in the project 'Voluntary Sustainability Standards as a Governance Mechanism for Sustainable Global Food and Wood Systems (VSS4F/Wood)'

Updated: 17 days ago
Deadline: 15 May 2020

(ref. BAP-2020-202)

Laatst aangepast : 24/03/2020

Have you finalized a Master in Bio-science Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Forestry, or Geography? Are you excited about scientific research – or just curious? Are you concerned about the sustainability of our global food and wood system? Has ‘doing a PhD’ ever crossed your mind? If so, consider our offer for a PhD position in the project ‘Voluntary Sustainability Standards as a Governance Mechanism for Sustainable Global Food and Wood Systems (VSS4F/Wood)’: VSS4F/Wood is a collaborative research project involving the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (Prof. dr. Ir. M. Maertens & Prof. dr. Ir. B. Muys) and the Centre for Global Governance Studies (Dr. A. Marx) at KU Leuven. This project aims at evaluating the contribution of voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) to sustainability in global food and wood systems, and at providing conclusive evidence and concrete insights on the effectiveness of VSS in creating positive sustainability effects. The project entails a comparative approach with a focus on various types of VSS – e.g. Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Forest Stewardship Council to name a few – in selected food and wood sectors – including coffee, cocoa, tea, palm oil and wood. The project will rely on innovative databases and interdisciplinary methods to investigate the socio-economic and environmental sustainability effects of VSS at macro- and micro-level; and how these effects are shaped by the institutional design and governance of VSS. Ultimately the project aims at informing standard-setting, -certification and -auditing organisations; food and wood companies; civil society organizations; and consumers about the sustainability implications of VSS and at improving the design and governance of VSS for more effective sustainability contributions.


The project includesthree full-time doctoral research positions. For one of these three positionswe seek to hire someone with a background in Environmental Engineering, Bio-scienceEngineering, Geography or Forestry. In this position, you are expected to contribute to building innovative databases on VSS coverage at the macro-level and at the regional-level for Indonesia – in cooperation with the other PhD students in the project. You will exploit these databases applying GIS operations and testing macro- and regional-level regression models on the land-use and forest-conservation effects of VSS. In addition, you will collect biodiversity and carbon related inventory data in coffee and cocoa fields in Indonesia – in cooperation with researchers from the Agricultural University of Bogor. You will use these data in plot-level analyses on the ecological and environmental effects of VSS. Moreover, you will collaborate with other researchers in the project to analyse sustainability trade-offs and governance dimension of VSS. You will participate in dialogue with public, private and civil society actors in the VSS system.     

You will work at the Division of Forest, Nature and Landscape ( and the Division of Bio-economics ( at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Bio-science Engineering, KU Leuven under the supervision of Prof. dr. Ir.Bart Muys and Prof. dr. Ir. Miet Maertens. You will work in close collaboration with the other two PhD candidates in the project, and with Dr. Axel Marx at the Center for Global Governance Studies ( You will conduct a PhD at the Arenberg Doctoral School (ADS) – for more information on the ADS PhD program see

  • You hold an EU MSc degree in Bio-science Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Agro- and Ecosystems Engineering,Geography or Forestry or another relevant field of Environmental Sciences with excellent study results (you have obtained at least a distinction or graduated cum laude) – or an equivalent degree of higher education. 
  • You have a keen interest in scientific research on global food systems, sustainability and land-use change, and more generally in the research topics of the Division of Bio-economics and the Division of Forest, Nature and Landscape ( and
  • You are proficient in English; your knowledge of Dutch might be an advantage
  • You have (starter) skills in statistical and GIS data analysis and (some) experience with statistical packages and GIS software; and are keen on developing these skills further.
  • Your experience with field research in a developing country and/or your experience with conducting field surveys might be an advantage
  • You have very good scientific writing skills
  • You are flexible to travel abroad for field research, meetings,workshops or conferences.
  • You are in general a flexible, dynamic and sociable person; you are persistent and problem-solving oriented; you are able to work independently as well as in a team; and you are interested to work in a multi-cultural environment.

  • We offer a competitive full-time PhD scholarship (salarys cale 43 equivalent to a gross net scholarship of around 2,150 €) for 2 years –renewable for 2 years.
  • We offer additional benefits in terms of health insurance, reduced public transport prices, free bicycle use, access to university sports facilities, child care opportunities, ….
  • KU Leuven offers opportunities to follow academic, skills and career training courses.            
  • A dynamic and multi-cultural work environment.
  • Participation in a collaborative research project.
  • Participation in policy dialogue with public sector, private sector and civil society actors.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Bart Muys, tel.: +32 16 32 97 26, mail: or Prof. dr. ir. Miet Maertens, tel.: +32 16 32 65 36, mail:

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

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