PhD candidate in data science and artificial intelligence for digital food environments

PhD candidate in data science and artificial intelligence for digital food environments

Published Deadline Location
24 Jan 29 Jan Wageningen

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Job description

Do you want to apply your passion for data science and artificial intelligence on healthy food environments? Are you a person who likes to work interdisciplinary at the interface between computer science and public health nutrition? Do you get excited to develop and advance methodologies to gain better insight into digital food environments? Than we are looking for you!

Unhealthy diets are a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases and deaths globally. Our so-called 'food environment' is a key driver of unhealthy diets: it is easier to choose unhealthy foods over healthy foods. To illustrate, 80% of the products offered and promoted by Dutch supermarkets do not contribute to a healthy diet. Also, neighborhood fast food density increased over the past decades and has been positively associated with overweight and chronic diseases. More recently, the digital transition transformed and disrupted our food environment and the way we shop for food.

Smart technology has increased consumers' access to grocery and meal delivery services, the latter often via third party platform-to-consumer delivery services. These services have enabled access to a greater number of restaurants and expanded meal options accessible compared to brick-and-mortar food outlets in the neighborhood. At the same time there has been a shift from traditional marketing (e.g, via TV, packages) towards digital marketing, using a range of new marketing channels (e.g, social media, games) and strategies (e.g., personalized persuasion techniques, influencers). Although the concept of the digital food environment has already been recognized in the literature, little is known about the characteristics and omnipresence of online food availability and food promotions, and in turn, how this could affect eating behavior and public health.

At this point in time, public health researchers often manually collect and analyze digital food environment data or incorporate rather simple web-scraping techniques to obtain data. Because of this, current evidence is relatively static and limited, given the large size and dynamic nature of digital food environments. Development of new artificial intelligence and data science methods that employ structured and semi-structured (open and closed) data, various web application programming interfaces, unstructured data, crowdsourcing, etc. becomes a necessity and creates innovation, feasibility and scalability. Furthermore, as digital environments are very context-dependent, adequate artificial intelligence and data science methods that integrate and reason with the context information in such setting are yet to be designed and developed.

As part of this PhD project you will:
  • Create, improve and develop data science and artificial intelligence techniques and tools to define and understand digital food environments, for example data aggregation and knowledge graph generation; semantic modeling and information extraction; decision making with hybrid reasoning;
  • Apply these techniques and tools to collect, clean, process and monitor features of digital food environments including food availability and food promotions of different online channels (meal delivery platforms, social media (algorithms) and to visualize outcomes attractively (e.g., via digital dashboard);
  • Write scientific papers in high-impact scientific journals and conferences in the field of applied computer science as well as public health nutrition sciences; Present your work at internal meetings and at (inter)national conferences;
  • Collaborate within an interdisciplinary team (computer science, public health nutrition, consumer sciences);
  • Write a doctoral dissertation.


Wageningen University & Research


We are looking for an ambitious candidate
  • with a completed university Master degree,
  • with a background in (or demonstratable experience with) computer science (artificial intelligence / data science/ information technology / software engineering),
  • with a demonstrable affinity and skills to work at the intersection of data science with the application domain of public health nutrition, health promotion and food consumer sciences,
  • who is motivated to obtain a PhD,
  • who likes to work interdisciplinary and wants to contribute to solving societal issues in the domain of food, health and the living environment,
  • who has excellent command of English in writing & speaking,
  • with good communication and presentation skills,
  • who is motivated to work in multidisciplinary research teams, including other junior researchers and students.
Next to your letter of motivation and your cv, you need to upload, via 'other' or in the same document as your letter of motivation:
  • A summary of a proposal of max 300 words (including background, research gap, aim of study, envisaged methods (from artificial intelligence and data science) for one example-study that you potentially would like to conduct as part of this PhD project.
  • A copy of relevant diplomas, including grading-list (the minimum requirement is a diploma qualifying for doctoral studies in the recruiting country is a Master degree). Students in their last year may apply but can only be recruited upon successful graduation.
  • Contact details of two referees (no recommendation letter needed).

Conditions of employment

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:
  • sabbatical leave, 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 € 2.541,- 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 18th 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.
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. For instance under the "30% rule", certain categories of international staff can receive tax exemption on approximately 30% of their gross salary.


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.

Read the 5 reasons why your future colleagues enjoy working at WUR and watch this video to get an idea of our green campus!

This position will be part of Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles chair group. This is a young and ambitious chair group keen to unravel the origins of healthy and sustainable consumption and lifestyle practices. These behavioural insights are used to design, evaluate and implement strategies to enable healthy and sustainable lifestyles. These strategies include upstream environmental and downstream behavioural interventions acknowledging that individual behaviour is socially embedded and arises in specific times and places. The work of the group is characterized by an inter- and transdisciplinary approach where different academic disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, public health, epidemiology and geography) and professional fields (policy, practice) collaborate.

The work will be conducted in cooperation with the Wageningen Data Competence Center (WDCC).

We will recruit for the vacancy ourselves, so no employment agencies please. However, sharing in your network is appreciated.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • University graduate
  • P1148148-1


Wageningen University & Research

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Droevendaalsesteeg, 6708 PB, Wageningen

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