Two PhD Students for the project ‘Understanding Overweight and Obesity. The End of Average’, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Clinical Psychological Science

Two PhD Students for the project ‘Understanding Overweight and Obesity. The End of Average’, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Clinical Psychological Science

Published Deadline Location
4 May 23 May Maastricht

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For the NWO VICI project ‘Understanding Overweight and Obesity. The End of Average’, we are looking for two PhD students who are eager to develop a comprehensive individualized approach to understanding and treating overweight and obesity.

Overweight is multifactorially determined including biomedical, behavioral, environmental, and psychological mechanisms. Importantly, empirical support for these mechanisms is often not consistent, effect sizes modest, and variability large. This suggests that contributing factors to obesity likely differ across people. The proposed research takes a personalized medicine approach, and puts the individual center stage, paving the way for personalized interventions.

Job description

The NWO VICI project ‘Understanding Overweight and Obesity’ is a 5-year research program, in which researchers from different fields (i.e., psychology, biology, and data science) collaborate. Overweight is the largest and most prevalent modifiable risk factor for health problems, and significantly contributes to healthcare costs. Researchers generally agree that overweight is multifactorially determined, including biomedical, behavioral, environmental, and psychological mechanisms. There is empirical support for each of these mechanisms, but often evidence is not consistent across studies, effect sizes are modest at best, and variability on outcome- measures across participants in a study is often large. This suggests that contributing factors to overweight likely differ across people. Similarly, treatments for overweight are, on average, only modestly effective and individual variability in weight-loss-response to treatment is large. This project therefore adopts an urgently needed comprehensive individualized approach. We characterize each participant in a large sample of individuals varying in bodyweight by their own baseline comprehensive profile, including person characteristics, biological, psychological, environmental, and behavioral variables. Next, we investigate how baseline comprehensive individual profiles cluster in a meaningful way, and relate to bodyweight at baseline, post-treatment, and follow-up. Moreover, we investigate how these individual profiles translate to behavior in daily life. To do so, we collect time-series data on (un)healthy eating and physical (in)activity, and predictors of these behaviors (e.g., emotions, stress) in daily life.

Challenges and tasks
The challenges and tasks of this NWO VICI project are diverse and include:

  1. Adopt a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and treating overweight and obesity.
  2. Collaborate with a research assistant for the recruitment and testing of a large number of participants, including biological, psychological, behavioral and environmental variables.
  3. Collaborate with data scientists to perform state-of-the art statistical techniques for analyzing and clustering the individual comprehensive profiles.
  4. Collaborate with healthcare professionals who deliver the intensive lifestyle intervention in this project.
  5. Science communication, including writing of high-quality scientific papers, conference presentations, and societal outreach activities.

This project is hosted by Maastricht University. You will be based at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, and will join the research group Eating Disorders & Obesity, which includes approximately 25 members and provides a lively and supportive research environment. You will be supervised by a team of experienced researchers, who jointly have all relevant expertise (psychology, biology and data science). Your research will build on, and benefit from, previous successful collaborations between these researchers.


Maastricht University (UM)


  • A (Research) Master’s degree in psychology, health science, biomedical science, or a related field.
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Can work well in a multidisciplinary team as well as independently.
  • Stress resilient and perseverant.
  • Creative.
  • Strong statistical / analytical skills.
  • Programming skills, preferably R.
  • Excellent writing and presentation skills.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: A PhD candidate appointment lasts four years (first year + three years after receiving a positive evaluation).

The intended starting date is February/March 2023, but can be determined in consultation. We offer a salary according to the PhD salary scale of the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO-NU) of € 2.443 gross per month in the first year to € 3.122 in the fourth and final year. On top of this, there is a yearly holiday allowance (8% of annual income) and an annual end-of-year bonus (8.3% of annual income).

The position comes with a number of additional benefits, including:

  • Partially paid parental leave.
  • A pension scheme.
  • The option to participate in collective healthcare insurance.
  • Assistance with practical matters such as housing for candidates unfamiliar with the Netherlands, through Maastricht University’s Knowledge Centre for International Staff.

The terms of employment of Maastricht University are set out in the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO). Furthermore, local UM provisions also apply. For more information look at the website > About UM > Working at UM.


Maastricht University

Maastricht University is renowned for its unique, innovative, problem-based learning system, which is characterized by a small-scale and student-oriented approach. Research at UM is characterized by a multidisciplinary and thematic approach, and is concentrated in research institutes and schools. Maastricht University has around 22,000 students and about 5,000 employees. Reflecting the university's strong international profile, a fair amount of both students and staff are from abroad. The university hosts 6 faculties: Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Faculty of Law, School of Business and Economics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. For more information, visit


The Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience | Founded in 1995, we are an international group of psychologists and neuroscientists undertaking internationally respected research in the areas of health, cognitive, social, organizational, clinical, and neurpsychology, and neuroscience. We maintain a large network of international collaborators and provide education on bachelor and master level.

Our new colleague will be joining the international research group Eating Disorders & Obesity, consisting of approximately 25 people, including principle investigators, postdocs and PhD students.

Living and working in Maastricht | The Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience is housed in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Situated in the heart of Europe and within 30 kilometers from the German and Belgian borders, Maastricht and its 120,000 inhabitants have a strong international character. It is a safe and family-friendly city with a history spanning more than 2,000 years. The city’s rich past is reflected everywhere in the streets: the ratio of monuments-to-inhabitants is roughly 1:73.


  • PhD
  • Health; Behaviour and society; Food
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2443—€3122 per month
  • University graduate
  • AT2022.192


Maastricht University (UM)

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Universiteitssingel 40, 6229 ER, Maastricht

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