PhD on unravelling the role of soil microbial diversity in the soil carbon dynamics

Updated: 3 months ago

We are looking for

Are you a highly motivated researcher and excited by the prospect of implementing novel methods; do you have a MSc degree in soil science, biogeochemistry, ecology, microbial ecology or a related field? And do you like variation in your activities with laboratory, field and analytical work? Then this could be the ideal PhD position for you!

We are hiring a PhD student who will work on a project at the interface between soil ecology and biogeochemistry to understand how the ecology and biology of soil microbial communities interact with physico-chemical soil processes to shape the dynamics of soil organic matter and the carbon it contains.

Soil organic matter and the carbon it contains are key to a range of functions or ecosystem services provided by soils, such as climate regulation, soil fertility, nutrient cycling and regulation of the water cycle. Managing terrestrial ecosystems to optimise soil carbon fluxes is therefore key to developing sustainable (agro)ecosystem management strategies. In the last two decades, our view on the role of soil microbial life in controlling soil organic matter has shifted. Yet, the role of the tremendous diversity of these microscopic soil organisms and the ecological interactions this diversity implies remains elusive. Investigating the role of this diversity and ecological interactions in regulating soil carbon dynamics, this project will bridge fundamental knowledge gaps in soil science, climate science and ecology, and will inform farmers and policy makers of the potential benefits of promoting soil life for climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainable production.

The project is a collaboration between the Soil Biology Group in Wageningen University, the department of environmental biology in Institute of Environmental Science Leiden University and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO). Isolife , a Wageningen-based state-of-the-art stable isotope labelling facility is also a partner of this project. It will be a challenging and stimulating project comprising laboratory and field experiments and combining a range of cutting-edge analytical techniques (including stable isotope of C and O tracing and DNA metabarcoding and network analyses) with many opportunities to develop new skills.

Another PhD student will be hired at the same time on the same project, but will be registered in Leiden University. Within the project the PhD student at Wageningen University will have a stronger focus on stable isotope tracing and soil physico-chemical processes. The PhD student that will be hired at Leiden University will have a stronger focus on microbial ecology and network analyses. However, note that the close collaboration involved in this project means that both PhDs are likely to gain skills and knowledge on all aspects of the project and to travel between the Wageningen and Leiden to some extent. You can apply using the link farther down in this letter if you have a preference for the focus of the Wageningen position, or using the link in this advert if you have a preference for the position in Leiden.

Preferred starting date is October 15th 2022.


We ask
  • a team player with a collaborative attitude;
  • a completed (or about to be completed) MSc degree in soil science, biogeochemistry, ecology, microbial ecology or a related field;
  • hands-on experience in, or strong affinity with, at least two of: laboratory incubation experiments, laboratory analyses (including molecular analyses, 13 C and 18 O tracing techniques, soil organic matter fractionation methods), field work, statistical analyses, microbial network analyses;
  • excellent English language proficiency (a minimum of CEFR C2 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page ;
  • we value experience with scientific writing.

We offer

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment . A few highlights from our  Collective Labour Agreement include:

  • study leave and partially paid parental leave;
  • working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
  • the option to accrue additional compensation / holiday hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
  • there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
  • a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent pension scheme.

In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your needs and the research team.

The gross salary for the first year is € 2.443,- per month rising to € 3.122,- in the fourth year in according to the Collective Labour Agreements for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU) (scale P). This is based on a full-time working week of 38 hours. We offer a temporary contract for 18 months which will be extended for the duration of the project if you perform well.

There are plenty of options for personal initiative in a learning environment, and we provide excellent training opportunities. We are offering a unique position in an international environment with a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

You are going to work at the greenest and most innovative campus in Holland, and at a university that has been chosen as the “ Best University ” in the Netherlands for the 17th consecutive time.

Coming from abroad
Wageningen University & Research is the university and research centre for life sciences. The themes we deal with are relevant to everyone around the world and Wageningen, therefore, has a large international community and a lot to offer to international employees. Applicants from abroad moving to the Netherlands may qualify for a special tax relief , known as the 30% ruling. Our team of advisors on Dutch immigration procedures will help you with the visa application procedures for yourself and, if applicable, for your family.

Feeling welcome also has everything to do with being well informed. Wageningen University & Research's International Community page contains practical information about what we can do to support international employees and students coming to Wageningen. Furthermore, we can assist you with any additional advice and information about helping your partner to find a job, housing, schooling, and other issues.


More information

For more information about this position please contact Dr. Gabriel Moinet gabriel.moinet@wur.nl , or Dr. Emilia Hannula s.e.hannula@cml.leidenuniv.nl

For more information about the procedure, please contact Edgar Tijhuis, corporate recruiter, edgar.tijhuis@wur.nl

Do you want to apply?
You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval. To apply you have to upload a cover letter (max 1 page ) outlining both your motivation and your suitability for the project, and your CV (max 2 pages ) including names and contact details of two potential references. Please do not upload any other documents.

This vacancy will be listed up to and including Sunday 4 September 2022. Interviews will be scheduled between 19 and 23 September 2022; if you are unavailable this week, please indicate this in your cover letter. Depending on applicants and possible restrictions, it will be decided later whether interviews are conducted online or in Wageningen.

Equal opportunities
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) employs a large number of people with very different backgrounds and qualities, who inspire and motivate each other. We want every talent to feel at home in our organisation and be offered the same career opportunities. We therefore especially welcome applications from people who are underrepresented at WUR. For more information please go to our inclusivity page . A good example of how WUR deals with inclusiveness can be read on the page working at WUR with a functional impairment .


We are

Soil Biology Group, Wageningen University and Research
The Soil Biology Group blends expertise from the soil, plant and ecological sciences to strengthen cutting edge research and education in the areas of Fertile Soils; Soils in a Changing Climate; Functional Soil Biodiversity and Soil Biological Indicators and Land Management. We have four core themes in which we focus our research: 

  • The role of soil biota in nutrient cycling  to enhance plant soil interactions and associated ecosystem services;
  • The species richness and community composition of soil biota  coupled with soil functions (nutrient provision, carbon management, pest and disease resilience and resistance, water regulation and purification) in (agro)ecosystems;
  • How soil and land management can enhance soil health and the beneficial soil functions  provided by soil biota;
  • The effects of climate change  on soil life, and the controls that soil life exerts on greenhouse gas emissions from the soil.
  • The Soil Biology Group is supported by four laboratories, including; a soil biology lab, microscopy lab, microbiology lab and molecular ecology lab. We also work in close collaboration with soil chemistry laboratories and with a soil physics lab.

    Department of Environmental Biology, Leiden University
    The Faculty of Science in Leiden University is a world-class faculty where staff and students work together in a dynamic international environment. The Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) is positioned in the Faculty of Sciences. The core focus of CML is to perform research and education in the interdisciplinary field of Environmental Sciences. Our people are driven by curiosity to expand fundamental knowledge and to look beyond the borders of their own discipline; their aim is to benefit science, and to contribute to addressing the major societal challenges of the future. CML focuses on the sustainable use of natural resources and preservation of natural capital and biodiversity. CML has a culture of mutual support and collaboration between researchers both within and between institutes. Presently, about 140 fte (including postdocs and PhDs) are employed at CML. The CML has facilities to work with soil, water, microbes, and plants including growth chambers, large field experiments and molecular labs. For more information about CML see www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/science/environmental-sciences.


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