PhD position "Tipping points and derailment risks of food systems"

PhD position "Tipping points and derailment risks of food systems"

Published Deadline Location
24 Apr 17 May Maastricht

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Job description

The Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI) offers an exciting opportunity for a fulltime PhD position of four years in political economy and sustainability science.

Job Description
The emerging paradigm of degrowth entails unprecedented changes in policy, economic activities, and individual behaviours in order to constrain production-consumption systems within planetary boundaries. The PhD candidate will empirically explore the feasibility and impacts of such changes on the food provision systems of European countries. In particular, urgent research is needed to improve understanding of the systemic interactions between
  1. the major changes required in food supply chains, markets, individual livelihoods, and dietary habits;
  2. the consequences of such changes on social inequality and conflicts, and;
  3. the political dynamics of populism and nationalism in Europe.

The PhD candidate is expected to conduct novel research on systems dynamics, with a comparative study of food production-consumption systems in France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Research tasks can be adjusted to suit the specific skills and expertise of the PhD candidate, but will rely on a systemic perspective and an empirical exploration of degrowth in relation to food provisioning in these countries, via e.g.:
  • A historical study of tipping points in the EU, e.g. pricing methods, dietary habits…
  • Identifying positive tipping points and derailment risks for the sustainability transition of food systems by:
    • Mapping out and comparing food systems and material flows in these four countries;
    • Exploring the consequences of a degrowth “agenda” for food systems, e.g. retraining of the workforce, availability of seasonal products;
    • Shedding light on the relationships and interactions between nationalist and populist trends in these countries, and their food systems; e.g. how meat consumption can become entangled with certain political worldviews.
  • Improving understanding of these tipping points and risks by modelling and comparing “business-as-usual” and “degrowth” scenarios, and by designing and running consumer experiments.
  • Developping a “transition toolbox”, to be used by food systems actors (e.g. farmers, cooperatives) to act on and implement some of the positive tipping points previously identified.

The candidate will be supervised by Prof. Frank Boons, based at Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI), Maastricht University, and be co-supervised by Dr. Clarence Bluntz at MSI. The candidate is expected to contribute to teaching activities in the field of sustainability at the department, taking max. 20% of their time (typically Master-level courses and supervision of Master theses).

We offer a dynamic and challenging job in an internationally oriented organisation. MSI has strong collaborations with other institutes and departments at Maastricht University and elsewhere.

We are looking for candidates:
  • who have successfully completed a Master’s degree in relevant areas, e.g.: political economy, ecological economics, sustainability science, food systems.
  • who have a record of high academic achievement: good grade for their Master thesis, involvement in research papers, in other academic activities, or in research activities conducted outside of academia (e.g. think tanks, NGOs).
  • with a very good command of written and spoken English.
  • in addition to English, with working knowledge of at least one of the following languages: Dutch, French, German or Italian. Knowledge of more than one of these languages will be considered a plus.
  • who are enthusiastic about travelling in Europe for field research on food systems.
  • with a strong interest in one or more of the following research topics: degrowth, food production-consumption systems, populism, nationalism, social and environmental impacts of dietary habits.
  • Experience with one or more of the following methodologies: systems modelling, agent-based modelling, fuzzy cognitive mapping, material flow analysis will be considered a plus.
  • Experience with the Farm Accountancy Data Network or other similar databases will be considered a plus.

What we offer
As PhD position "Tipping points and derailment risks of food systems" at School of Business and Economics, you will be employed by the most international university in the Netherlands, located in the beautiful city of Maastricht. In addition, we offer you:
  • Good employment conditions. The position is graded in scale P according to UFO profile PhD, with corresponding salary based on experience ranging from €2770,00 and €3539,00 gross per month (based on a full-time employment of 38 hours per week). In addition to the monthly salary, an 8.0% holiday allowance and an 8.3% year-end bonus apply.
  • An employment contract for a period of 18 months with a scope of 1,0 FTE. Upon a positive evaluation, an extension of 2,5 years will follow.
  • At Maastricht University, the well-being of our employees is of utmost importance, we offer flexible working hours and the possibility to work partly from home if the nature of your position allows it. You will receive a monthly commuting and internet allowance for this. If you work full-time, you will be entitled to 29 vacation days and 4 additional public holidays per year, namely carnival Monday, carnival Tuesday, Good Friday, and Liberation Day. If you choose to accumulate compensation hours, an additional 12 days will be added. Furthermore, you can personalize your employment conditions through a collective labor agreement (CAO) choice model.
  • As Maastricht University, we offer various other excellent secondary employment conditions. These include a good pension scheme with the ABP and the opportunity for UM employees to participate in company fitness and make use of the extensive sports facilities that we also offer to our students.
  • Last but certainly not least, we provide the space and facilities for your personal and professional development. We facilitate this by offering a wide range of training programs and supporting various well-established initiatives such as 'acknowledge and appreciate'.

The terms of employment at Maastricht University are largely set out in the collective labor agreement of Dutch Universities. In addition, local provisions specific to UM apply. For more information, click here.

Maastricht University
Why work at Maastricht University?
At Maastricht University (UM), everything revolves around the future. The future of our students, as we work to equip them with a solid, broad-based foundation for the rest of their lives. And the future of society, as we seek solutions through our research to issues from all around the world. Our six faculties combined provide a comprehensive package of study programmes and research.

In our teaching, we use the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) method. Students work in small groups, looking for solutions to problems themselves. By discussing issues and working together to draw conclusions, formulate answers and present them to their peers, students develop essential skills for their future careers.

With over 22,300 students and more than 5,000 employees from all over the world, UM is home to a vibrant and inspiring international community.

Are you drawn to an international setting focused on education, science and scholarship? Are you keen to contribute however your skills and qualities allow? Our door is open to you! As a young European university, we value your talent and look forward to creating the future together.

Click here for more information about UM.

The School of Business and Economics
The School of Business and Economics (SBE) is one of Maastricht University’s six faculties. Our mission is to contribute to a better world by addressing societal problems, by co-creating knowledge and developing team players and leaders for the future.

By joining SBE, you will be part of the 1% of business schools worldwide to be Triple Crown accredited (EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA). You will join an inspiring and international environment, where learning and development is priority.

Are you interested in this exciting position but still have questions? Feel free to contact Clarence Bluntz via for more information.

Or are you already convinced and ready to become our new PhD position "Tipping points and derailment risks of food systems"? Apply now, no later than May 17, 2024 for this position.
  • Applicants are expected to include a motivation letter (max. 2 pages), a CV, and contact information for one referee.
  • Selected applicants will be contacted by May 24th and given instructions to write a short (3-5 pages) research proposal. This is to get a broad idea about how they would be tackling this topic; they will then be invited for a face-to-face interview at the Maastricht Sustainability Institute (pre-approved travelling expenses will be reimbursed).
  • Interview dates are scheduled for June 12, 2024.
  • The successful candidate is expected to be able to start in the position fully by September 1st, 2024.

The vacancy is open for internal and external candidates. In case of equal qualifications, internal candidates will be prioritized.

Maastricht University is committed to promoting and nurturing a diverse and inclusive community. We believe that diversity in our staff and student population contributes to the quality of research and education at UM, and strive to enable this through inclusive policies and innovative projects led by teams of staff and students. We encourage you to apply for this position.


Maastricht University (UM)


  • PhD
  • Economics
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 899


Maastricht University (UM)

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