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PhD position in experimental ecology and global change

30 days ago | Closing on Aug 31
University of Louvain
PhD position in experimental ecology and global change
University of Louvain
The Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) is internationally recognized for research and teaching quality in many different fields of expertise.
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Published: 30 days ago
Application deadline: Aug 31
Location: Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium
Please mention that you found this job on Academic Positions when applying.

PhD position in experimental ecology and global change

We offer a full-time 4-year PhD position in ecology at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL), Earth and Life Institute, Biodiversity Research Centre, in the Quantitative Conservation Biology team led by Prof. Nicolas Schtickzelle, starting 01/10/2018. The candidate will combine microcosm experiments with (statistical and mechanistic) modelling to examine the effects of global change (temperature and pollution) on population and community dynamics and coexistence in competitive protist (freshwater ciliates) communities.

Nicolas Schtickzelle will supervise the PhD research, which is part of the multidisciplinary project DIVERCE, involving 3 different labs at two Belgian universities (UCL and University of Namur). DIVERCE aims at understanding the influence of intraspecific diversity on species coexistence and ecosystem function under global change (see project summary in additional information). DIVERCE includes three study systems: phytoplankton (PI: Frederik de Laender, University of Namur), arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (PI: Stephan Declerck, UCL) and freshwater ciliates (PI: Nicolas Schtickzelle). The offered position focuses on the freshwater ciliates (for the phytoplankton system, see here). International collaborations are planned with the University of Zürich and the CNRS at Moulis.

The successful candidate will intensely collaborate with two other PhD students, also hired on the DIVERCE project and working on the other two study systems (phytoplankton and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi). The objective of that collaboration is to develop a common experimental design and an analytical methodology to allow across-system hypothesis testing. During the last two years of the PhD position, also the support of a post-doc will be available.



Nicolas Schtickzelle leads a small research team focusing on (experimental) ecology in a biodiversity crisis context (more information and some publications here). He has ample experience in and commitment for supervising PhD students. The position offered integrates into one of his important research axes: experimental ecology with protist microcosms. Two other PhD students are currently working on protist microcosms, and Nicolas Schtickzelle entertains a high level of collaboration within his team; this is an asset when large scale experiments need a temporary help from colleagues. Besides offering an active supervision focusing on your own research training trajectory, Nicolas Schtickzelle offers some flexibility concerning the working schedule and some freedom to develop your own research direction within the project theme, provided research goals of the PhD thesis are met.

The team benefits from a whole new laboratory, exclusively devoted to this protist microcosm research and fully equipped with all the equipment needed to carry the proposed research. Funding to perform the proposed research is also available in the DIVERCE project. Travel funding to attend conferences and/or perform training/research stays in our international collaboration network is also available.

The team actively collaborates with several other researchgroups in Belgium and abroad. Concerning the DIVERCE project, active collaboration is planned with the University of Zürich (Dr. Frank Pennekamp and Prof. Owen Petchey) and the CNRS at Moulis (Drs Delphine Legrand and Staffan Jacob). Opportunities for spending some time in these labs will be offered.

Louvain-la-Neuve is a highly dynamic and multicultural university city located 30 km south of Brussels. Access from Brussels is less than 1h by bus or train. UCL offers free public transport to and from the workplace in Louvain-la-Neuve if you decide to live elsewhere.

Eligibility criteria

Please refer to “Specific Requirements”

Selection process

Informal inquiries and questions are welcome by email.

To apply, please send by email:

  • A motivation letter stating why performing a PhD thesis is part of your career plan, why this project meets your scientific interest, and why you believe you qualify for this position.
  • A CV with details on studies and previous research experience.
  • The name and email address of 2 reference persons who can, and have agreed to, comment on your application to this position.

The selection process will start on 01/09/2018. Candidates will be shortlisted for a job interview and an assignment, which are expected to take place in the first half of September; according to profile and current residence, candidates might be asked to come to UCL for the interview and assignment. All candidates will be informed on the fate of their application as soon as a decision has been taken. Applications can be sent after 01/09/2018 until the position is filled, at what time this job offer will be closed. 

As part of the selection process, a specific assignment will consist of one or several of the following:

  • Reading and reporting on a scientific paper;
  • Proposing (and possibly performing) a protocol for a specific experimental task, on the basis of the information found in the literature and on the internet;
  • A writing exercise. 

Additional comments

DIVERCE project summary

Does Intraspecific Variability modulate the impact of EnviRonmental Change on biodiversity and Ecosystem function?

Ecosystems are increasingly exposed to a multitude of environmental change drivers. A key question is if and how intraspecific variability modulates the response of biodiversity (community composition) and ecosystem function to such change. However, most existing theory does not account for potential environmental change effects on intraspecific variability and on interactions between competing individuals.

A first objective of DIVERCE is therefore to set up a coordinated distributed experiment to empirically test if and how intraspecific variability modulates the response of experimental communities of micro-organisms to two selective environmental change drivers (temperature and pesticide pollution). Our ‘coordinated distributed experiment’ will adopt a common design and apply it to various different model systems, including phytoplankton, ciliates, and fungi.

A second objective of DIVERCE is to study the mechanistic basis of our empirical results, focusing on the role of environmental change effects on per-capita interactions. To this end, we will test, using community models, if per-capita species interactions prevailing in pristine (i.e. pre-change) conditions accurately predict community composition and biomass production rates at various levels of environmental change and intraspecific variability, and in various model systems.

Achieving our objectives will broaden our understanding of the potential role of intraspecific variability in mediating environmental change effects on ecosystems. In this way, DIVERCE will contribute to theory building, ecological forecasting, and environmental decision making.


Offer Requirements


    Biological sciences: Master Degree or equivalent

    Environmental science: Master Degree or equivalent

    Mathematics: Master Degree or equivalent

    Physics: Master Degree or equivalent


    ENGLISH: Good


Candidates should:

  • Have a strong motivation and commitment to pursue a research to finish a PhD thesis in 4 yr.
  • Have a genuine interest in quantitative ecology and statistical tools for ecology.
  • Have a good knowledge of some programming, data management or statistical analysis language. The team mainly works with SAS and R but some knowledge of Python is a plus. Be willing to further develop these computing skills as the project involves some big data management.
  • Have a good knowledge of scientific English, written and spoken. Knowledge of French might help for social life but is not required and can be acquired as an extra benefit during the PhD thesis (UCL is offering French course for students). 
  • Be autonomous but willing and able to play as an interactive team player. 
  • Be willing to perform stays abroad when and where needed by the research project.
  • Be willing to follow dedicated courses and/or workshops to acquire extra skills needed for the PhD thesis research project.

A prior experience with the following is a plus:

  • Designing and performing experiments.
  • Working with protist cultures, or other microorganisms in the lab.
  •  Active contribution in a scientific publication.

Specific Requirements

Candidates should hold a master (or an equivalent degree) in biology, bioscience engineering, mathematics, physics, or environmental sciences. Applications of candidates already holding a PhD degree will not be considered.

Even though the position is fully funded throughout the 4 years via the DIVERCE project, candidates are required to apply for their own PhD scholarship during the first (and if needed, second) year of their enrollment. This will be done in close collaboration with their supervisor (Nicolas Schtickzelle). In case of a success, the freed budget will be used to hire a part-time technician that will help running the experiments planned in the PhD thesis project.

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