Vacancy for a PhD student in the field of urban ecosystem service assessment

12/10/2018 - 11:15

The Department of Geography of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel seeks a motivated candidate for a PhD position on urban ecosystem service assessment. The research will be carried out in the frame of an Innoviris Anticipate project (CO-NATURE) on the co-production of scenarios for nature-based urban regeneration with a focus on the Brussels Capital Region. The project is a collaboration between the Cartography and GIS Research Group (CGIS) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Building, Architecture and Town Planning Department (BATir) of the Université libre de Bruxelles.


Green infrastructure and, more broadly, nature-based solutions, and the ecosystem services which they supply, make cities more resilient to pressures related to demographic growth and environmental change. While much research has focused on assessing the supply of urban ecosystem services, the impact that nature-based solutions and ecosystem services have on urban populations is less well understood. Interactions between supply, demand, and benefits of ecosystem services for urban citizens are complex and depend on multiple factors, including densities of population and of the built-up area, layout, physical characteristics and accessibility of open spaces. Social practices and cultural context also affect the way in which people use, experience and value their contacts with nature and, as such, will also determine the impact of green spaces and nature-based solutions on the well-being of urban residents. The CO-NATURE project will focus on: i) deepening our understanding of the complex relationships between ecosystem service supply and benefits and how this relationship is mediated by social inequalities, people’s use of urban spaces and how they value these spaces; ii) using the insights obtained from this research to define which nature-based solutions are needed where in Brussels and which co-benefits they deliver; iii) co-production of alternative scenarios for nature-based urban design and urban regeneration with local stakeholders and experts through research-by-design.

Your tasks will include:

Definition of a neighborhood typology for Brussels, based on the presence of urban green spaces and the services they offer, as well as socio-demographic characteristics;
Observation and questionnaire-based survey work and statistical analysis on selected neighborhoods to unravel the main factors and dependencies controlling the relation between supply, demand and benefits that residents obtain from ecosystem services in different morphological and socio-cultural settings;
Participation in the setting up of a Living Lab for stakeholder interaction in collaboration with a postdoc hired on the project;
Translation/customization of research results in support of research-by-design workshops for co-production of nature-based solutions and urban design scenarios;
Communication of project outcomes to project partners, stakeholders, at scientific conferences and through peer-reviewed journal publications.


You hold a MSc degree (or equivalent) in geography, urban design/spatial planning, architecture or a related field, and graduated with a degree of at least distinction;
You have experience in spatial data management (GIS) and a good background in statistical data analysis;
You are a team player, ready to actively contribute to collaborative research;
You are fluent in written/spoken English, good knowledge of French is a plus;
You are responsible, you show initiative and you can get things done.

Female candidates are particularly encouraged to apply.

Company profile

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel has been a leading player in the Flemish Higher Education landscape for 40 years. The University numbers 12.000 students and together with its hospital - UZ Brussel – employs more than 6000 people. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is the largest Dutch speaking employer in the capital.

Teaching and research at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel are founded on the principle of unfettered inquiry to benefit the progress of mankind. This means rejecting dogmatic positions and guaranteeing the freedom to form opinions without interference; in this way the University aims to ensure the dispersal of the principle of unfettered inquiry throughout society.

The University is autonomous and democratically run. This means guaranteeing the exercise of the fundamental freedoms within the University, as well as the right of the University Community to participate in the decision-making process and scrutiny of University policy.

The following form part of the University’s mission:

the development, the communication and the application of a high level of academic education and scientific research, free from all preconceived ideas;
the translation of these ideals and knowledge into society in the spirit of social engagement;
the creation of a society in which everyone is capable of engaging in critical thinking.

As an employee of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel your days will be spent in a dynamic, diverse and multilingual environment.  Both our campuses are set within green oases on the outskirts of the centre of the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe. This centre, with all its opportunities, is within your reach by public transport in under half an hour.

Depending on your experience and academic merits you will receive a salary on one of the pay scales laid down by the government. Hospitalization cover and free use of public transport for travel to and from work are standard conditions of employment. If you would rather cycle to work, compensation is also available for that. Both campuses have extensive sporting facilities which are at your disposal and a nursery is within walking distance.


Interested candidates are invited to send a CV, a motivation letter, and a copy of the highest diploma (with overview of course marks obtained) to Frank Canters ( no later than October 25, 2018. Anticipated start date of the contract is December 1, 2018.

For more information, contact Prof. Frank Canters (, tel: 32-2-6293381).