PhD candidate | unravelling the role of soil microbial diversity in the soil carbon dynamics

 The Faculty of Science and Institute of Environmental Sciences are looking for:

PhD candidate | unravelling the role of soil microbial diversity in the soil carbon dynamics
Vacancy number 22-473

Note: this is one of two PhD students working together on ‘unravelling the role of soil microbial diversity in the soil carbon dynamics.’

Are you a highly motivated researcher and excited by the prospect of implementing novel methods; do you have a MSc degree in soil science, biogeochemistry, ecology, microbial ecology or a related field? And do you like variation in your activities with laboratory, field and analytical work? Then this could be the ideal PhD position for you!

We are hiring a PhD student who will work on a project that is collaboration between WUR and Leiden University at the interface between soil ecology, biogeochemistry and microbiology to understand how the ecology and biology of soil microbial communities interact with physico-chemical soil processes to shape the dynamics of soil organic matter and the carbon it contains. 

Soil organic matter and the carbon it contains are key to a range of functions or ecosystem services provided by soils, such as climate regulation, soil fertility, nutrient cycling and regulation of the water cycle. Managing terrestrial ecosystems to optimise soil carbon fluxes is therefore key to developing sustainable (agro)ecosystem management strategies. In the last two decades, our view on the role of soil microbial life in controlling soil organic matter has shifted. Yet, the role of the tremendous diversity of these microscopic soil organisms and the ecological interactions this diversity implies remains elusive. Investigating the role of this diversity and ecological interactions in regulating soil carbon dynamics, this project will bridge fundamental knowledge gaps in soil science, climate science and ecology, and will inform farmers and policy makers of the potential benefits of promoting soil life for climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainable production. 

The project is a collaboration between the department of Environmental Biology in Institute of Environmental Science Leiden University, the Soil Biology Group in Wageningen University, and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO). Isolife, a Wageningen-based state-of-the-art stable isotope labelling facility is also a partner of this project. It will be a challenging and stimulating project comprising laboratory and field experiments and combining a range of cutting-edge analytical techniques (including stable isotope of C and O tracing and DNA metabarcoding and network analyses) with many opportunities to develop new skills. 

Another PhD student will be registered at Wageningen University. Within the project in Leiden the focus will be on microbial ecology and network analyses while the collaborating PhD student in WUR will have a stronger focus on stable isotope tracing and soil physico-chemical processes. However, note that the close collaboration involved in this project means that both PhDs are likely to gain skills and knowledge on all aspects of the project and to travel between the Wageningen and Leiden to some extent. If you have preference for the position in Leiden, you can apply by sending an email to the address stated below and you can apply using the link farther down in this letter is you have a preference for the focus of the Wageningen position. 

If you are a highly motivated and skilled researcher who is excited by the prospect of implementing novel methods; if you like variation in your activities with laboratory, field and analytical work; if you like working in a multidisciplinary team; if you are looking for a challenge… we are looking for you!

Preferred starting date is October 15th 2022. 

Selection criteria
•    a team player with a collaborative attitude;
•    a completed (or about to be completed) MSc degree in soil science, biogeochemistry, ecology, microbial ecology or a related field;
•    hands-on experience in, or strong affinity with, at least two of: laboratory incubation experiments, laboratory analyses (including molecular analyses, 13C and 18O tracing techniques, soil organic matter fractionation methods), field work, statistical analyses, microbial network analyses;
•    excellent English language proficiency;
•    we value experience with scientific writing.

Department of Environmental Biology, Leiden University
The Faculty of Science in Leiden University is a world-class faculty where staff and students work together in a dynamic international environment. The Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) is positioned in the Faculty of Sciences. The core focus of CML is to perform research and education in the interdisciplinary field of Environmental Sciences. Our people are driven by curiosity to expand fundamental knowledge and to look beyond the borders of their own discipline; their aim is to benefit science, and to contribute to addressing the major societal challenges of the future. CML focuses on the sustainable use of natural resources and preservation of natural capital and biodiversity. CML has a culture of mutual support and collaboration between researchers both within and between institutes. Presently, about 140 fte (including postdocs and PhDs) are employed at CML. The CML has facilities to work with soil, water, microbes, and plants including growth chambers, large field experiments and molecular labs. For more information about CML see

Soil Biology Group, WUR

The Soil Biology Group blends expertise from the soil, plant and ecological sciences to strengthen cutting edge research and education in the areas of Fertile Soils; Soils in a Changing Climate; Functional Soil Biodiversity and Soil Biological Indicators and Land Management. We have four core themes in which we focus our research: 
1.    The role of soil biota in nutrient cycling to enhance plant soil interactions and associated ecosystem services;
2.    The species richness and community composition of soil biota coupled with soil functions (nutrient provision, carbon management, pest and disease resilience and resistance, water regulation and purification) in (agro)ecosystems;
3.    How soil and land management can enhance soil health and the beneficial soil functions provided by soil biota;
4.    The effects of climate change on soil life, and the controls that soil life exerts on greenhouse gas emissions from the soil.

The Soil Biology Group is supported by four laboratories, including; a soil biology lab, microscopy lab, microbiology lab and molecular ecology lab. We also work in close collaboration with soil chemistry laboratories and with a soil physics lab. 

The link to apply to the position in WUR: you can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page. 

Terms of employment
We offer a 1-year position with the possibility of extension to 4 years based on performance and following the pay scale P in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities. Salary ranges from € 2.514.- gross per month in the first year to € 3.247 gross per month in the fourth year based on a full-time position. 

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %), training and career development and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.  

Coming from abroad
CML is an international work place. Applicants from abroad moving to the Netherlands may qualify for a special tax relief, known as the 30% ruling. Our team of advisors on Dutch immigration procedures will help you with the visa application procedures for yourself and, if applicable, for your family. Our Service center for international staff will help you on the way and make you feel welcome to Leiden. 

D&I statement
Diversity and inclusion are core values of Leiden University. Leiden University is committed to becoming an inclusive community which enables all students and staff to feel valued and respected and to develop their full potential. Diversity in experiences and perspectives enriches our teaching and strengthens our research. High quality teaching and research is inclusive.

For more information: 
For more information about this position please contact Dr. Gabriel Moinet, and/or Dr. Emilia Hannula 

To apply for this vacancy in Leiden, please send an email to  Please ensure that you upload the following additional documents quoting the vacancy number: 22-473. 

To apply you have to upload a cover letter (max 1 page) outlining both your motivation and your suitability for the project, and your CV (max 2 pages) including names and contact details of two potential references. Please do not upload any other documents.
This vacancy will be listed up to and including Sunday 4 September 2022. Interviews will be scheduled between 19 and 23 September 2022; if you are unavailable this week, please indicate this in your cover letter. Depending on applicants and possible restrictions, it will be decided later whether interviews are conducted online, in Wageningen or in Leiden.

Apply now

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