In this PhD position, You will apply machine learning and network science in a cross-disciplinary project in the Netherlands, which tries to make a real difference in the scientific understanding of soil ecology, for sustainable and healthy soils. You analyze newly collected soil data with many variables. The end goal is to find good interventions for depleted soils, such that biodiversity and soil function is restored.

Current agricultural practices ignore the role of soil biodiversity. The result is low biodiversity, the emission of greenhouse gases, and no buffer against extreme climate events such as drought. Restoring these crucial soil functions will have real impact, and needs modern data science.

In 2023, we start the SoilProS project (Soil Biodiversity analyses for Sustainable Production Systems) financed by the Dutch Research Council NWO-TTW (Perspectief programme). The ecological data is collected at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), a top research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the SoilProS project, 7 PhD candidates and one Postdoc will bring together ecology and data science. You are one of these PhD candidates, based at the University of Twente (UT), and solely focused on computational methods for data analysis, modelling and understanding the soil ecosystem.

Data will be available. This is complex, many-variable data about soil metadata, soil biodiversity (the presence of various organisms and species), and soil function (for example, health) under different soil management practices. You will research how to:

  • Model the soil “food web” out of data, to understand the links between groups of soil organisms. We aim to find functional or causal (rather than only co-occurrence) links.
  • Learn to predict from data how healthy soils look like in terms of biodiversity, and which environmental drivers lead to the presence or absence of soil organisms.
  • With this knowledge, optimize interventions which bring a soil to better health in a shorter time.

Your profile

  • You have, or will shortly, acquire a master degree in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, or related.
  • You like to work with (or would learn) methods and algorithms for: machine learning from tabular data, network analysis, clustering, dimensionality reduction, evolutionary algorithms. Not all these have to be known, but a will to learn more such algorithms during the PhD is needed.
  • Ideally, you have some research experience, for example from writing a course project, a publication, or a thesis with a research component. Emphasize these in your application.
  • You can work in a cross-disciplinary, international environment. You will collaborate with ecologists, who can answer any questions about the data.
  • You are proficient in English. Dutch is not required, but there will be an opportunity to learn.

Our offer

  • As a PhD student at UT, you will be appointed to a full-time position for four years, with a qualifier in the first year.
  • Your scientific environment will be particularly exciting, because you will collaborate with other scientists at NIOO-KNAW (in Wageningen) and other Dutch universities.
  • Your salary and associated conditions are in accordance with the collective labour agreement for Dutch universities (CAO-NU). Gross monthly salary ranges from € 2.541,- (first year) to € 3.247,- (fourth year).
  • Excellent benefits including a holiday allowance of 8% of the gross annual salary, an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%, and a solid pension scheme.
  • Flexibility to work (partially) from home.
  • Minimum 232 leave hours in case of full-time employment based on a formal workweek of 38 hours. A full-time employment in practice means 40 hours a week, therefore resulting in 96 extra leave hours on an annual basis.
  • Free access to sports facilities on campus.
  • A family-friendly institution that offers parental leave (both paid and unpaid).
  • A training programme as part of the Twente Graduate School where you and your supervisors will determine a plan for a suitable education and supervision.
  • We encourage a high degree of responsible, but collaborative, and independent research. At the end of the PhD, you should be able to lead research projects.

Information and application

Are you interested in this position? Please send your application via the ‘Apply now’ button below by March 26, 2023 and include:

  • A curriculum vitae
  • An application letter which explains how this PhD position suits you and your skills
  • (Optional) A copy of your best research-oriented work so far (a thesis, a publication, or a course project) or a link to an online version. If it was a group project, explain what role you played in this work.

For more information regarding this position, you are welcome to contact Doina Bucur,, who is also your prospective supervisor.

The faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS) uses mathematics, electronics and computer technology to contribute to the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). With ICT present in almost every device and product we use nowadays, we embrace our role as contributors to a broad range of societal activities and as pioneers of tomorrow’s digital society.

As part of a people-first tech university that aims to shape society, individuals and connections, our faculty works together intensively with industrial partners and researchers in the Netherlands and abroad, and conducts extensive research for external commissioning parties and funders. Our research has a high profile both in the Netherlands and internationally. It has been accommodated in three multidisciplinary UT research institutes: Mesa+ Institute, TechMed Centre and Digital Society Institute.

The preferred starting date is between June 1 and Aug 1, 2023.

Apply now

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