PhD candidate in Psychology (NWO project 'ELDER: Life-Event Longitudinal Description and Explanation Research (ELDER)')

 This PhD project, funded by a NWO Open Competition grant awarded to Professor Jaap Denissen, will be conducted at the Department of Psychology, Section of Developmental Psychology 

 of Utrecht University. The proposed research aims to unravel the effects of negative life events on psychological functioning by improved description, explanation, and generalization. Using data from large and representative panel studies (e.g., the LISS panel), we will examine novel ways to describe nonlinear change in psychological functioning, by using sophisticated statistical methods that can take prior information into account. Furthermore, we will use event-triggered measurement bursts of plausible mediators (e.g., need satisfaction; re-alignment of shattered worldviews) to elucidate the mechanisms of change.

Main responsibilities of the PhD candidate will be to co-design and conduct research to address the research questions (e.g., set up appropriate statistical models to analyze longitudinal data). The PhD will help to develop Gaussian Process and GAM techniques, which are machine learning techniques for learning nonlinear trajectories. Furthermore, the candidate will become involved in longitudinal data collection of psychological mediators that can explain the effects of life events on psychological functioning. The PhD candidate will be supported in writing press releases based on the publications and write about the results on popular blog sites (e.g., Psychology Today).
Dr. ir. Joris Mulder (Tilburg University) will be the second promotor of the PhD trajectory. He has an extensive experience with Bayesian methods in general, and in the field of Bayesian Gaussian process methods in particular. The PhD also has the option to stay for 3 months at Prof. Luhmann’s lab at Bochum University.


We are looking for a dedicated candidate interested in the statistical and psychological analysis of developmental patterns surrounding major life transitions. The candidate must thrive in a collaborative environment that also asks for autonomy, and hold a proactive, mastery-oriented approach to one’s learning process. Research experience (e.g., in the context of a master thesis or research internship) in the field of analysing the effects of life events or other contextual variables on developmental patterns is not required but would be a plus.

  • master’s degree in psychology, pedagogics, mathematics/statistics/machine learning, or an associated field;
  • excellent mastering of research methods and statistical methods;
  • strong proactive, collaborative, and creative working approach;
  • flexibility, strong social and organizational skills;
  • ability to work in a team while maintaining autonomy;
  • excellent writing and presentation skills.


We offer a full-time temporary position for one year that, with satisfactory completion, will result in an extension for an additional 3.5 years. During the total period of 4.5 years 20% of the time will be spend on teaching. Salary will range from a minimum of €2,541 in the first year to a maximum of €3,247 in the fourth year (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) gross per month, based on a full-time appointment.

The salary is supplemented with an annual holiday pay of 8%, and an end-of-year bonus of 8,3% per year. We offer flexible employment conditions 

 and terms of employment to support a good work – life balance of our employees. Other secondary conditions include a pension scheme and partially paid parental leave. For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University. 
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About the organisation

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, 

 the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences, and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences 

 is one of the leading faculties in Europe providing research and academic teaching in cultural anthropology, educational sciences, interdisciplinary social science, pedagogical sciences, psychology, and sociology. More than 5,600 students are enrolled in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate programmes. The Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences has some 850 faculty and staff members, all providing their individual contribution to the training and education of young talent and to the research into and finding solutions for scientific and societal issues.

Additional information

The candidate will be part of the Child and Adolescent Studies 

 research school, which offers ample opportunity for additional training and professional growth. 

For additional information, please contact Professor Jaap Denissen 

 by email: 
external link


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

Applications should include a motivation letter, a full CV, and (if possible) a copy of a master’s thesis or similar research report.
Interviews will be held in September and the preferred starting date is in the Fall of 2022.

The application deadline is 29 August 2022.

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