PhD Candidate ‘Articulating deterrence in data protection law’

PhD Candidate ‘Articulating deterrence in data protection law’

Published Deadline Location
7 May 15 Jun Heerlen

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Job description

Your task will be to conduct a doctoral research project in the field of data protection law: 'Articulating deterrence in data protection law' under the supervision of Dr. René Mahieu (daily supervisor) and Prof. Anna Berlee (supervisor).


The GDPR intends to safeguard the right to protection of personal data through a system of strict rules combined with strong enforcement through deterrent fines. However, since the notion of ‘deterrence’ has remained underdeveloped, practitioners (including data protection authorities and judges) do not know what it means to impose a deterrent fine in practice. This research project studies deterrence in both national and EU data protection and competition law to clarify how deterrence can be interpreted in data protection law. The project will develop and apply a theoretical framework (inspired by law and economics, and/or criminology, and/or legal philosophy dependent on the backgrounds and interests of the candidate) to evaluate the functioning of deterrence in data protection law,  and thereby contributes to understanding and solving the problems of enforcement in data protection law.

The candidate will work in the Data Protection and Privacy Law Section. This section is part of the Department of Private Law of the Faculty of Law and consists of two professors, two Assistant Professors (to which a third assistant or associate professor will soon be added) and three lecturers who mainly work in practice and another full-time PhD student. We are looking for an enthusiastic colleague who wants to help build this young and enthusiastic research group and our educational program in the field of the dynamic and socially important privacy and data protection law. In doing so, we collaborate with colleagues from different areas of law and from other faculties, such as specialists in artificial intelligence or data science from the Faculty of Science. The candidate may be involved in teaching part of a course or supervising thesis(s) in the new Data Protection and Privacy Law master's program that is related to the topic of the dissertation. The candidate is expected to participate in (international) scientific activities and events (conferences, workshops, etc.).


The Open Universiteit (OU)


You hold a master's degree in the field of law (regular or research master's), preferably with a specialization in data protection law or adjacent areas of law. You have an affinity for multidisciplinary work and are interested in law & economics and/or philosophy of law and/or criminology. You have demonstrable scientific interest and research skills, preferably demonstrated by a scientific publication or highly regarded master's thesis in the field. You are enthusiastic and ambitious when it comes to conducting scientific research. Furthermore, you can work both in a team and independently, you have very good communication skills and you can place your research in its social context and make it socially relevant. You also have good ICT skills, are result-oriented and have a proactive attitude.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: for a period of 12 months. The appointment will be extended to 4 years when progress and performance are good.


The salary of the doctoral candidate is € 2,770.= gross per month during the first year, increasing to a maximum of € 3,539.= gross per month during the fourth year, based on a full working week and in accordance with the current salary scales according to Appendix A of the Collective Bargaining Agreement of Dutch Universities.

Work location

Your place of employment is Heerlen. In consultation with your supervisors it will be arranged when you work at which location: on campus, at one of the OU study centers, or at home.


Open Universiteit

Flexible studying anywhere in the Netherlands and (Belgium) Flanders
The Open Universiteit is the part-time university in the Netherlands. Students follow personalised and activating academic distance education and disciplinary research is carried out within the various fields of science. Students can complete bachelor and master programmes, but also shorter programmes. The characteristics of education are openness, flexibility and quality (see The Open Universiteit has over 17,000 students and more than 850 employees. The OU has branches in the Netherlands and Belgium. The main office is located in Heerlen.

The latest technologies and educational insights are applied both in the bachelor's and master's programmes and courses and in projects and programmes with partners. Nationally and internationally, the OU plays an important role in the innovation of higher education. Education is interwoven with research, which also ensures that the current state of science is incorporated. The Open Universiteit invests not only in disciplinary research in nine scientific fields, but also in research in a multidisciplinary programme: Innovating for resilience.


Faculty of Law

The Faculty of Law, comprising roughly a hundred dedicated employees, is known for its drive for innovation and ambition. With a culture that values direct communication, the faculty encourages proactive engagement and decisiveness, providing ample opportunity for the pursuit and implementation of innovative ideas. It is structured into two main departments: Private Law and Public Law, with the Privacy & Data Protection Law section falling under the former. The Office of Education and Research (BOO) underpins both teaching and research activities.

At the heart of the faculty's legal education offerings are the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) program, a variety of bridging programs, and the Master of Laws (LL.M) program, which features five specialized tracks: private law, criminal law, administrative law, constitutional law & encyclopedia, and European & international law. Additionally, a specialized Master of Laws in Data Protection and Privacy Law (LL.M) is available. The faculty also collaborates internationally to offer courses, notably with partners such as FernUni in Hagen, Germany, and UNED in Madrid, Spain, as part of the EDELNet strategic partnership.

Innovation in education is a key priority for the faculty, which leads the way at the Open University with the development of serious games, podcasts, and other cutting-edge online educational tools. Faculty members collaborate closely with the Open University's educational expertise center, the ECO, to drive forward educational development and innovation. This commitment to quality education is reflected in the high regard students have for the programs; the Open University proudly holds the '2nd best university in the Netherlands' title according to the 2024 University Guide, with the Law bachelor's program topping the rankings for its category.

The faculty's research endeavors are characterized by the interdisciplinary 'Law in Motion' program and its contribution to the Open University's 'Innovating for Resilience' multidisciplinary research initiative. While the primary research focus is on positive law, there is also a robust presence in Empirical Legal Studies, with esteemed faculty in areas such as ELS, criminology, and legal anthropology, as well as legal theory. The 'Safe City' research program is a key initiative within the faculty's broad research agenda. The faculty currently supports around twelve in-house PhD candidates, in addition to numerous external doctoral students. Since 2022, the faculty has participated in the Sector Plan for Law, on the topic of ‘Privacy, Law and Security’ in partnership with Leiden University.  Collaborative efforts extend to other faculties and research institutions, such as the NSCR and Tilburg University with initiatives like, showcasing the faculty's strong commitment to research impact and public engagement in science.


  • PhD
  • Law
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • FAC/RW/24060


The Open Universiteit (OU)

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Postbus 2960, 6401 DL, Heerlen

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