PhD positions in the Earth@lternatives project on sustainable land and water use for food and energy

Research / Academic

Applications are invited for six PhD positions. The PhDs will jointly work on the ERC Advanced Grant project titled “Earth@lternatives”, together with two new postdocs and staff from the Water Management group at the Faculty of Engineering Technology, under leadership of professor Arjen Hoekstra. Hoekstra’s research group carries out interdisciplinary research on the interlinkages between water, land, food and energy systems.  

ERC Advanced Grant. ERC Advanced Grants are Europe’s most prestigious personal research grants, in an annual competition provided to a limited number of top-researchers with an ambitious research plan. The Earth@lternatives project plans to quantify and map the use of land and water resources for food and energy supply at global scale and unprecedented level of detail through a next-generation modelling approach.  

The Earth@lternatives project. Humanity faces major challenges: stay below local and global ecological thresholds; increase natural resources use efficiency; share resources fairly; and increase social-ecological resilience. Most research focusses on one or two of these challenges at a time; there is a major scientific gap in understanding synergies and inevitable trade-offs between the development principles of environmental sustainability, equitability, efficiency and resilience. This project aims to analyse synergies and trade-offs between environmental sustainability, resource efficiency, social equity and social-ecological resilience in the context of land and water use for food and energy supply. We consider production, consumption and trade patterns globally, at high spatial resolution, analyse past developments, and develop alternative future pathways, based on coherent sets of assumptions regarding demographic and economic developments, technological innovation, changes in local diets and energy mixes, and climate change. The project team will pioneer in integrating methods and computational tools from the fields of Environmental Footprint Assessment, Life Cycle Assessment and Input-Output Analysis, applied at unrivalled high level of granularity. Coherent perspectives on handling uncertainty and risk from cultural theory will be used in a unique approach to develop alternative futures. Finally, an original framework will be developed to analyse synergies and trade-offs between competing development principles. The project will revolutionize our understanding of different pathways to food and energy security given limited land and water resources, and particularly how each pathway will make trade-offs between environmental sustainability, fair sharing, efficient resources use and resiliency. This knowledge is key in understanding how to achieve UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with limited land and water resources and reveal synergies and trade-offs embedded in specific strategies. 

Focus areas. The PhDs will have different focusses in their research. Division of tasks will be based on the interests and capacities of the final team members. The list below shows specific focus areas of the research programme. Applicants are requested to indicate clearly in their motivation letter in which of these focusses they are interested most in particular. 

  • Quantifying and explaining changing land & water footprint patterns of food production
  • Quantifying and explaining changing land & water footprint patterns of energy production
  • Land and water footprints of food consumption and trade
  • Land and water footprints of energy consumption and trade
  • Scenario development based on different perspectives from cultural theory
  • Geographically explicit footprint modelling
  • Hybrid environmentally-extended multi-region input-output modelling
  • Indicator framework for measuring progress on different development principles*
  • Analytical framework to assess synergies and trade-offs between different development principles*

* Different development principles include environmental sustainability, resource efficiency, social equitability and social-ecological resilience.


You are ambitious and highly motivated to undertake ground breaking interdisciplinary research on the relations water-land-food-energy, developing and using sophisticated models, to analyse issues of environmental sustainability, resource efficiency, equitable sharing and resiliency.
  • You rate top-5% among your peers.
  • You have a background in the natural science, technical or environmental science domain.
  • You have experience and deep interest in working at the crossroads of disciplines.
  • You have strong analytical and conceptual skills
  • You are an open, creative thinker.
  • You preferably have experience with programming, SQL and GIS.
  • You have a strong interest in societal relevance.
  • You enjoy working as part of a team, but are capable of working independently as well.
  • You have excellent communication skills and good English language proficiency.


For additional information regarding this position, you can contact prof. dr Arjen Hoekstra (, Applications should include the following documents: 

  • Motivation letter, including (a) why you want to do a PhD, (b) why are you applying for this specific research programme (c) in which two to four of the above-listed focus areas of the research programme you are most interested, (d) why you consider yourself a suitable candidate for this research, (e) your view on giving content to the research field and how you would build on your past experience, (f) a list of three achievements in your life that you are proud of and how you think they are relevant for doing research.
  • Detailed curriculum vitae, listing education; work experience; relevant other activities; publications; your average grade in your Master studies and position among your peers (like top x%), provided with evidence; date you could start work at UTwente; and coordinates of up to three referees. If applicable, separately indicate Web of Science-listed publications and include the impact factor of the journals.

The invitation to apply will remain open until all vacant positions have been filled. Candidates preferably start 1 September 2019, but earlier or later start can be discussed. Applications will be handled within three weeks after submission. Selected candidates will be invited for an interview by means of video-conferencing. Candidates passing the first interview will be invited at the campus for a presentation and a series of more in-depth meetings with the Earth@lternatives team.

Salary Benefits:

  • We offer a challenging fulltime PhD position. The duration of the contract is 4 years; working 0.8fte for five years instead is an option.
  • A starting salary of € 2.325 gross per month in the first year and increasing to € 2.972 gross per month in the fourth year.
  • An annual holiday allowance of 8% of the gross annual salary, and an annual year-end bonus of 8.3%.
  • A solid pension scheme.
  • Minimum of 29 leave days in case of full-time employment.
  • We provide excellent mentorship and a stimulating research environment to accelerate your further professional and personal growth.
  • The University of Twente is situated on a green and lively campus with lots of facilities for sports and other extracurricular activities.
Work Hours:

38 hours per week


Drienerlolaan 5