PhD Understanding biological measurement of Soil Health

PhD Understanding biological measurement of Soil Health

Published Deadline Location
30 Nov 4 Jan Wageningen

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Job description

Soil health monitoring is high on the agenda of the European Commission with the ambition to restore or maintain soil health in 75% of soils across Europe by 2030. Soil biota are proposed as excellent indicator measurements for early warning of impacts on soil health, but yet are often missing from soil health assessments, as they are considered laborious, expensive and difficult to understand. To improve how we consider soil biological indicator measurements, we need to define why we are measuring these parameters - and ask the question what does this tell us about the functionality and health of the soil?

To do this, Creamer et al. (2021) created cognitive models to define the who and how of soil health - providing the links from soil biota measurements to soil functionality. This PhD will take these cognitive models as a starting point and define the functional role of soil biota in a subset of 24 case studies across Europe as part of the BENCHMARKS Horizon Europe project. Working with a large team (29 partners) this PhD will have the opportunity to measure a range of soil biota and associated soil processes and properties as well as detailed land management data to quantify the contribution of soil biota to five soil functions (primary productivity, nutrient cycling, water regulation and purification, disease and pest management, carbon sequestration and climate regulation). The data will be supplemented by intensive mining of the existing literature on the role of soil organisms in soil functions.

We are looking for a PhD candidate that will scientifically contribute to the development of a European soil health monitoring framework, with a focus on soil biological indicator measurements in relation to soil functions. The selected candidate will be based in two of the partner groups (Soil Biology Group of Wageningen University, Yrs 1&2, and Departement of Soil Science at FiBL, , Yrs 3&4). This will be a challenging and stimulating project with many opportunities to develop new skills that will make you a well-rounded soil biology scientist. If you are a highly motivated and skilled researcher who is excited by the prospect of implementing novel methods; if you like working both independently and in a multidisciplinary team; if you are looking for a challenge, we are looking for you!
The preferred starting date is 1 March 2023.


Wageningen University & Research


  • You to hold an MSc degree in biology, soil science, agronomy, environmental science, or related subject and have a clear interest in soil health;
  • You have affinity with soil biological methods, measurements and analyses.
  • You have experience in field sampling, laboratory measurements and statistics
  • Awareness of soil monitoring and soil health indicator measurements;
  • You have strong analytical capabilities and a sense for scientific innovation;
  • You have affinity with putting science into practice and the ability to deal with a wide range of user groups;
  • You are a pleasant and intrinsically motivated colleague who takes initiatives.
  • For this position your command of the English language is expected to be at C1 level. Sometimes it is necessary to submit an internationally recognised Certificate of Proficiency in the English Language. More information can be found here.

Conditions of employment

The first two years of the PhD will be based in Wageningen University Soil Biology Group. During this period, the conditions below apply. During the last two years, the conditions of the FiBL apply and more about this will be discussed during the interviews.

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:
  • 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 € 2.541,- per month rising to € 3.247,- 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.

The latter two years are spent at FiBL in Switzerland working in the Soil Science department. The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL is one of the world's leading research institutions in the field of organic agriculture and employs around 300 people in Switzerland. FiBL's strengths are interdisciplinary research, joint innovations with farmers and the food industry as well as rapid knowledge transfer. FiBL offers an inspiring and dynamic work environment with career development opportunities. As a research institute with a great global network, we consider training opportunities and further education for our employees highly important. FiBL offers a campus atmosphere fostering inter- and transdisciplinary exchange on a daily basis as well as close collaboration with European partners. Employees also enjoy excellent organic food at our in-house restaurant and a workplace surrounded by a lush and green landscape.


Wageningen University & Research

The mission of Wageningen University & Research is "To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life". Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment. With its roughly 30 branches, 7,200 employees (6,400 fte) and 13,200 students and over 150.000 participants to WUR's Life Long Learning, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. The unique Wageningen approach lies in its integrated approach to issues and the collaboration between different disciplines.

The Soil Biology group (SBL) is part of the Wageningen University Soil Science cluster. SBL 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. Read the 5 reasons why your future colleagues enjoy working at WUR and watch this video to get an idea of our green campus!

The Department of Soil Sciences at FiBL is organized in three groups: Soil Quality and Climate, Nutrient Management and Symbioses, and Cultivation Technique Arable Crops. Activities extend from maintaining several long-term trials to running on-farm field experiments together with farmers, and from measuring climate gas emissions to using molecular tools for a better understanding of soil biology.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • University graduate
  • P1114831-1


Wageningen University & Research

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Droevendaalsesteeg, 6708 PB, Wageningen

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