PhD position on the mechanisms of strain localisation during subduction shear zone development (0.8 - 1.0 FTE)

PhD position on the mechanisms of strain localisation during subduction shear zone development (0.8 - 1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
11 Oct 4 Jan Utrecht

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Would you like to identify plausible weakening mechanisms that outweigh the strengthening effects, or operate in spite of, interface cooling? Then apply.

Job description

Development of subduction plate boundary shear zones is a prerequisite for facilitating and sustaining global plate recycling, and therefore operation of plate tectonics.

The aim of this PhD project is to combine field observations and structural geology, quantitative microstructural analysis, and laboratory experiments to identify weakening mechanisms that facilitate interface development. This PhD position can explore techniques and topics including, but not limited to: (1) structural analysis and (high-resolution) electron microscopy to characterize the mechanical properties and competing strengths of amphibolites and peridotites across an exhumed, paleo-proto-plate boundary; (2) microstructural constraints on the contribution of shear heating to initial localization; (3) nanoindentation experiments to quantify constitutive parameters that describe plasticity in strain-accommodating minerals. Rock types, mineralogies, and mechanisms that succeed in initiating subduction in today’s Earth system will provide a lens to re-evaluate the likelihood of early-Earth subduction. The basis for this position is Utrecht University, the Netherlands, with main supervisor Dr. Alissa Kotowski. Collaborations are a.o. foreseen with staff at Cambridge University (UK) and McGill University (Canada).

A personalised training programme will be set up, reflecting your training needs and career objectives. About 20% of your time will be dedicated to this training component, which includes training on the job in assisting in the BSc and MSc teaching programmes of the Earth Sciences department at Utrecht University. We also expect the willingness to dedicate part of the work time to public engagement related to the project, such as public talks or writing for non-specialist audience. Training and support in public engagement is available at Utrecht University.


Utrecht University


The successful candidate must have: 

  • a MSc degree conferred in Geology, Earth Sciences, or a related field at the time of project inception; 
  • record of, or clear aptitude for, independent research;
  • positive attitude and well-articulated enthusiasm for the topic;
  • strong organisational and team-working skills;
  • strong written and verbal English language skills;
  • strong quantitative skills and/or introductory-level programming skills and/or initiative to learn (e.g., MATLAB, Python, PERPLEX, Thermocalc);
  • a course- or research-proven foundation in structural geology, metamorphic petrology, and material deformation.

Prior hands-on experience with scanning electron microscopes, thermodynamic modeling, and/or rheological/fluid dynamics modeling will be considered an applicant strength, but is not explicitly required. Comfort and experience with fieldwork requiring long days of hiking in rugged terrane with heavy packs will be considered, but is not required for a strong application.

Conditions of employment

You will be offered:
  • a temporary position (0.8 - 1.0 FTE) initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period;
  • a full-time gross salary between €2,770 in the first year and €3,539 in the fourth year of employment in scale P of the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities;
  • 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions from the CAO for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. These include agreements on professional development, leave arrangements, sports and cultural schemes and you get discounts on software and other IT products. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment through the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we encourage you to grow.

For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Sharing science, shaping tomorrow.

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The Department of Earth Sciences conducts teaching and research across the full range of the solid Earth and environmental Earth sciences, with activities in almost all areas of geology, geochemistry, geophysics, biogeology and hydrogeology. The department hosts a highly international tenured staff of about 50 scientists and more than 110 PhD candidates and postdoctoral researchers. Our research programme spans four intertwined themes: Climate & Life, Earth interior, Earth materials, and Environmental Earth Sciences. We house or have access to a wide variety of world-class laboratories.

About Utrecht:

Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, with a charming old centre and an internationally oriented culture The city with a population of nearly 360,000 is strongly influenced by its century-old university  and forms a hub in the middle of the country. Its ancient city centre and its modern central station can easily be reached from the Utrecht Science Park by public transport or by a 15 minute bicycle ride. Utrecht boasts beautiful canals with extraordinary wharf cellars housing cafés and terraces by the water, as well as a broad variety of shops and boutiques.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 28—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1215478



Princetonlaan 8a, 3584 CB, Utrecht

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