PhD Position on Genetic Determinants of Physical Activity in European Youths

PhD Position on Genetic Determinants of Physical Activity in European Youths

Published Deadline Location
16 May 7 Jun Amsterdam

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For a MSCA project on genetic determinants of physical activity we are looking for a PhD student with a background in behaviour of molecular genetics, genetic epidemiology or (bio)statistics.

Job description

Determinants of physical activity behaviours (PABs) include both modifiable and nonmodifiable factors. Modifiable factors relate to e.g. policy, the built environment, and social support in school, work and family settings, while non-modifiable factors include age, sex and variation at the DNA level. Across all determinants, the largest effect sizes have been observed for genetic factors. However, there can be many complex interactions between genetic factors and other non-modifiable as well as a host of modifiable factors, for example because PABs themselves can influence the expression of genetic variation for example by influencing epigenetic modifications. This means that studying modifiable behaviours in isolation will not address the complexity and synergistic nature of the determinants of PABs. INDEEP will train 10 doctoral candidates to provide researchers and practitioners across Europe with an evidence-based best practice approach to develop new intervention strategies to increase PAB, taking into full consideration the many possible interactions between the various determinants

The department of Biological Psychology of the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has a vacancy for a PhD position for the INDEEP project that focuses on the genetic determinants of PABs and seeks to advance the state-of-the-art by addressing the complex gene-environmental interplay head on.

What will you be doing?
You will be stationed at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam to with a 3 months secondment to a molecular genetics lab in the USA (South Dakota). You begin by developing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the DNA collection and DNA data processing into a polygenetic score for PABs in European youth to be used by other INDEEP PhD projects. Next, you examine the genetic and shared environmental factors influencing PABs in youth, and their interaction with various non-modifiable and modifiable determinants using existing data from (1) monozygotic and dizygotic twins and their family members in the Netherlands Twin register and (2) parent-offspring and sibling designs in the ongoing INDEEP and DEPASS projects. Finally, you employ DNA-based techniques to increase understanding of the determinants of PABs. These include Mendelian Randomization using publicly available GWAS summary statistics to test the causality of alleged modifiable determinants of PABs and an evaluation of the predictive power of polygenetic risk scores for device-based PABs in the NTR and INDEEP participants that have provided DNA and device-based assessments. By providing the field with valid methodology to assess polygenetic risk scores for PABs, future observational studies on modifiable PAB determinants, as well as active interventions on PABs can explicitly take confounding or moderation by genetic factors into account.

You will defend your doctoral thesis at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)


  • You must have a professionally relevant background in behaviour or molecular genetics, genetic epidemiology, (bio)statistics or a closely related discipline.
  • Must not already hold a doctoral degree
  • Must comply with the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action mobility rule: not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the Netherlands for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date
  • Your education must correspond to a four- to five-year undergraduate degree program, successfully concluded by a master degree
  • You are eligible for a visa to visit the US
  • You must have a strong academic background from your previous studies and an average grade of a first- or second-class honours degree (or equivalent compared with the institutional grading scale). If you have a weaker grade background, you may be assessed if you can document that you are particularly suitable for a PhD education.
  • Good communication and collaboration skills and fluent in English.
  • Previous experience in advanced statistics (e.g. structural equation modelling, and/or big data processing) and programming in R, Python or similar are considered an advantage.
  • Past experience in a European academic environment is considered an advantage.

As a university, we strive for equal opportunities for all, recognising that diversity takes many forms. We believe that diversity in all its complexity is invaluable for the quality of our teaching, research and service. We are always looking for talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This also means that we are committed to creating an inclusive community so that we can use diversity as an asset.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 1 year.

A challenging position in a socially engaged organisation. At VU Amsterdam, you contribute to education, research and service for a better world. And that is valuable. So in return for your efforts, we offer you:
  • a salary of minimum € 2.770,00 (PhD) and maximum € 3.539,00 (PhD) gross per month, on a full-time basis. This is based on UFO profile PhD candidate. The exact salary depends on your education and experience.
  • a position for at least 1 FTE. Your employment contract will initially last 1 year.

We also offer you attractive fringe benefits and regulations. Some examples:
  • A full-time 38-hour working week comes with a holiday leave entitlement of 232 hours per year. If you choose to work 40 hours, you have 96 extra holiday leave hours on an annual basis. For part-timers, this is calculated pro rata.
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

INDEEP (INtervention on the DEterminants of, and Expertise in, Physical activity behaviours) is an EU-funded MSCA Doctoral Network that seeks to generate excellence in research and training, providing future graduates that can advance the state-of-the-art in Physical Activity promotion, through a comprehensive understanding of the determinants associated with Physical Activity Behaviours, innovative methodologies, and data analytics (see video at

You will be working at the department of Biological Psychology of the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. At the department Biological Psychology (BioPsy) we conduct research and education on the causes of individual differences in health behaviours and disease outcomes. It is a department with a long tradition in behavioural genetics research where enthusiastic and ambitious academics work on generating knowledge and translating this to improvements in health, health behaviours, and wellbeing. BioPsy maintains the Netherlands Twin Register and its biobank to enable genetically informative studies using both genomic and pedigree-based approaches.

Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences
Developing knowledge for an active, healthy and meaningful life: that is our mission at the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences at VU Amsterdam. We maintain a broad focus on the fields of behaviour and health. Our teaching and research programmes are devoted to current developments in society. From healthy aging to e-health, and from training top athletes to social media as a teaching tool. We combine three academic disciplines: psychology, movement sciences and education. A multidisciplinary approach allows us to arrive at a better understanding of human behaviour and movement. Our aims are to help people live healthier lives, learn better and function better.

Are you interested in joining Behavioural and Movement Sciences? You are the kind of person who feels at home working in an ambitious faculty, with an informal atmosphere and short lines of communication. We offer you all the space you need for personal development. Together with your 630 colleagues, you will take care of about 4,200 students.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam stands for values-driven education and research. We are open-minded experts with the ability to think freely. - a broader mind. Maintaining an entrepreneurial perspective and concentrating on diversity, significance and humanity, we work on sustainable solutions with social impact. By joining forces, across the boundaries of disciplines, we work towards a better world for people and planet. Together we create a safe and respectful working and study climate, and an inspiring environment for education and research. Learn more about our codes of conduct

We are located on one physical campus, in the heart of Amsterdam's Zuidas business district, with excellent location and accessibility. Over 5,500 staff work at the VU and over 30,000 students attend academic education.

Diversity is the driving force of the VU. The VU wants to be accessible and receptive to diversity in disciplines, cultures, ideas, nationalities, beliefs, preferences and worldviews. We believe that trust, respect, interest and differences lead to new insights and innovation, to sharpness and clarity, to excellence and a broader understanding.

We stand for an inclusive community and believe that diversity and internationalisation contribute to the quality of education, research and our services.

Therefore, we are always searching for people whose backgrounds and experience contribute to the diversity of the VU community.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 4043


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)

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