Quick facts

    • utrecht
  • Full time
  • Recruitment


  • Earth science


  • Phd

Apply by: 2024-06-30

Two PhDs in Innovation/Global Governance for Earth and Space Sustainability

Published 2024-05-17

We are looking for two PhD Researchers to join the cutting-edge research project ‘Planetary Stewardship in view of Earth-Space Sustainability’ (PLANETSTEWARDS).

Your job
The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University has opened two, fully funded, four-year PhD research positions to join the cutting-edge research project ‘Planetary Stewardship in view of Earth-Space Sustainability’ (PLANETSTEWARDS). This research project is led by Assistant Prof. Xiao-Shan Yap, and funded for five years (2024-2029) through a 1.5 million euro ‘Starting Grant’ from the European Research Council (ERC).

Activities in outer space have grown exponentially in recent years, led by an increasing variety of actors from technologically advanced states to billionaire companies and small ventures. While space-based infrastructures such as satellites are essential for basic operations on Earth, space technologies are also presented as the frontier of opportunities and solutions for addressing sustainability crises: global accessibility to the Internet with thousands of satellites, giant solar power stations in Earth’s orbit, resources near and on the Moon, and billionaires’ vision of building space settlements such as on Mars to prevent the extinction of human species. These developments impact sustainability on Earth and in space in various ways. Not only are there rising concerns over space congestion and debris in Earth’s orbit, technological and resource competition on other celestial bodies can cause environmental degradation on those objects, intensify political polarization, fragment sustainability narratives, and perpetuate global inequality. The relations between Earth and space sustainability problems have, therefore, become more intertwined than ever. The fundamental values, beliefs, and institutions that guide stewardship for sustainability require a paradigmatic shift towards simultaneously caring for Earth and space.

You will be part of an ambitious ERC-funded project – PLANETSTEWARDS – that aims to address these pressing earth-space sustainability challenges. Together, we will analyse and compare different stewardship approaches – as led by the government, market actors, scientists and engineers, or communities – to understand how they impact earth-space sustainability with implications on a planetary scale. The project offers you freedom to choose a set of case studies based on your interest while in line with the aim and objectives of the project: be it space activities in Earth’s orbit or further out in space such as on the Moon, Mars, and/or other celestial bodies. Using a novel mixed-method framework, the project will formulate integrative strategies for future earth-space sustainability.

The PLANETSTEWARDS project consists of the following interrelated objectives:

  1. Analyze the different approaches of planetary stewardship taking into consideration actors, values, and institutions;
  2. Compare the different approaches and unfold the intricate dynamics of their co-existence;
  3. Explain how the approaches lead to positive and negative impacts on Earth and in space in terms of environmental and social dimensions;
  4. Specify the criteria for earth-space sustainability and propose transformative policy actions.

Your responsibilities include:

  • Analyse the core factors that shape current and future space activities in the form of technologies, infrastructures, and/or missions as a whole;
  • Combine and analyze different datasets including news articles, policy documents, as well as interview transcripts;
  • Be part of the PLANETSTEWARDS project team and contribute to the overall aim, objectives, and strategy of the project, including primary and secondary data gathering, empirical analyses, methodological innovation, and theoretical development;
  • Complete a dissertation within four years;
  • Write and publish (as lead author) four research papers with the Principal Investigator (PI) in fulfilment of the PhD requirements, potentially involving other project team members;
  • Present your research at (inter)national conferences, workshops, and seminars;
  • Contribute to organising impact activities around the project, such as communications, workshops, conferences, as well as policy and/or public engagements.

Your supervisor will be the project PI, Dr Xiao-Shan Yap and you will receive support and guidance from the project team. The team includes Professor Frank Biermann (as PhD promotor), Dr Rakhyun E. Kim, a postdoctoral researcher, along with an international network of prominent scientists and practitioners on the project’s Advisory Board. The PhD researchers will also receive systematic training from the Graduate School of Geosciences through various research-related courses and mentoring.


We expect the PhD researchers to have a strong interest in topics related to the development of human activities in outer space. They should have expertise in sustainability-related research, as evidenced by a relevant Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Social Sciences. We welcome applicants from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, including innovation studies, science and technology studies (STS), sustainability transitions, philosophy, anthropology, human geography, development studies, political sciences, global governance, earth system governance, space governance, and international relations. In line with the research design of PLANETSTEWARDS, we are looking for candidates with:

  • a strong interest in the sustainability challenges of space activities;
  • a strong interest in theoretical and methodological innovation, especially through interdisciplinary approaches;
  • an affinity to, and experience with, conducting qualitative research;
  • an interest in learning or experience with semi-quantitative research methods, e.g., network analysis.

In addition, the PhD researchers should have excellent communication skills, to be good team players, and to have a strong affinity with working in an interdisciplinary and multicultural research environment. Excellent English-language skills are required, as the working language of the project is English. Good data analytical skills is considered an added advantage.

Since you are to become an active member of the department’s intellectual community and work closely together with the project team, you are expected to live in the Netherlands (preferably in the vicinity of Utrecht).


We offer:

  • a position for one year, with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period;
  • a gross monthly salary between €2,770 and €3,539 in the case of full-time employment (salary scale P under the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU));
  • 8% holiday pay and 8.3% year-end bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave and flexible terms of employment based on the CAO NU.

In addition to the terms of employment laid down in the CAO NU, Utrecht University has a number of schemes and facilities of its own for employees. This includes schemes facilitating professional development, leave schemes and schemes for sports and cultural activities, as well as discounts on software and other IT products. We also offer access to additional employee benefits through our Terms of Employment Options Model. In this way, we encourage our employees to continue to invest in their growth. For more information, please visit Working at Utrecht University.


Universiteit Utrecht

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 strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Sharing science, shaping tomorrow.

Utrecht University’s Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth’s core to its surface, including man’s spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.


For more information, please contact Dr Xiao-Shan Yap via x.s.yap@uu.nl.

Candidates for this vacancy will be recruited by Utrecht University.

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