PhD positions in Earth’s Surface Dynamics

Research / Academic

Mountain topography holds clues about the interaction between tectonic uplift, climate and erosion. Understanding these clues and unlocking the recent tectonic and erosional history that is carved into mountains is a fascinating and rapidly evolving endeavor in the field of Earth Sciences. However, some key aspects of the way in which landscapes respond to tectonics are still not well understood, and not incorporated in current models. At the process level, the role of sediment dynamics and the way they mediate incision and transport processes is not well understood in long timescales (104-106 yr). At the landscape scale, the role of inherited relief, present before the recent uplift stages, is often poorly constrained.

The overall aim of the RELICT project is to test how sediment supply and inherited relief influence the extent & timescales of transient fluvial incision and associated landscape response. Within this project, we are seeking two highly motivated PhD candidates: one PhD project will focus on the regional scale, and the other PhD on the sediment dynamics scale. The two projects are tightly linked, so both PhDs are expected to work in close collaboration. The two PhD projects combine analytical techniques (cosmogenic nuclides, thermochronology) with numerical modeling, and both include fieldwork in the stunning mountains of Calabria, in Southern Italy. The main PhD supervisors will be Dr. Duna Roda-Boluda (VU Amsterdam) and Dr. Benjamin Campforts (VU Amsterdam), with one candidate co-supervised by Prof. Taylor Schildgen (GFZ-Potsdam) and the other by Dr. Loraine Gourbet (GFZ-Potsdam).The PhD students will spend their 1st year at VU Amsterdam, their 2nd year at the GFZ Potsdam, and their 3rd and 4th years back at VU Amsterdam. The PhD degree will be issued by VU Amsterdam.

Support for the project includes a guaranteed monthly salary of € 2.770,00 - € 3.539,00 before taxes (see “What we offer?” below for a full list of benefits), tuition fees, and funding for field work, analytical expenses, conferences, and travel.

Your duties:

  • Coordinate field work for several weeks in Italy
  • Familiarize yourself with lab work, design and carry out experiments using state of the art thermochronometric and cosmogenic radionuclide techniques.
  • Learn and develop skills to use and implement open-source computational models in Python
  • Use model-data comparison for formulation and testing of hypotheses.
  • Learn how to write journal articles in English, culminating in a dissertation, and publishing these articles in leading scientific journals
  • Collaborating with other PhD students and experts at both Vrije Universiteit and GFZ-Potsdam
  • Attend and present at international conferences.
  • Contribute to teaching and supervising bachelor and master students.


  • You are highly motivated to learn more about the processes that shape the Earth’s surface, and about pursuing a career in science.
  • You hold a MSc degree (or equivalent) in Earth Sciences or related field (you can apply provided your MSc diploma will be obtained before Autumn 2024).
  • You are excited to learn, or ideally have previous experience (but this is not required), in coding (e.g. Python, Matlab), labwork (e.g. cosmogenic radionuclide and/or thermochronology analyses), and fieldwork.
  • You are comfortable and enjoy working in a team and in close collaboration with other PhD students.
  • You have good English conversation and writing skills
  • You preferably have a driver’s license or a willingness to obtain it soon
  • You are willing to spend your 2nd year of the PhD at the GFZ Potsdam, in Germany (

As a university, we strive for equal opportunities for everyone, realizing that diversity takes many forms. We believe that diversity in all its complexity is invaluable for the quality of our education, research and services. 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 added value.

We recognize that each individual brings a unique set of skills, expertise and mindset. We would like to invite everyone who recognizes themselves in the profile to apply, even if you do not meet all the requirements.

Salary Benefits:

  • At the VU, a salary of € 2.770,00 (gross) per month during the first year that increases to a maximum of € 3.539,00 (gross) per month in the fourth year, for full-time employment.
  • An employment contract of initially 1 year, which will be extended to a total of 4 years based on good performance.
  • Please note that during the 2nd year, there is a planned 12-month research stay at the GFZ Potsdam in Germany ( During that year, you will receive a new contract in Germany (gross salary approximately in the range of 3100-3500 €), and will be eligible to GFZ benefits, and subject to taxes and social security contributions in Germany. After this year at the GFZ, you will come back to the VU for the final 2 years and VU terms of employment and regulations will apply again.

We also offer you attractive secondary employment conditions and schemes. Some examples:

  • A full-time 38-hour working week includes a holiday allowance of 232 hours per year. If you choose to work 40 hours, you will have 96 extra holiday hours per year. In the case of a part-time appointment, this is calculated pro rata.
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • large contribution to the ABP pension scheme
  • good and affordable sports facilities
  • contribution to travel costs for commuting

De Boelelaan 1085