IES PhD Call - Challenges of the sustainability transitions

The Institute for European Studies (IES) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is calling for applications for one full-time doctoral researcher to conduct research on the challenges of the sustainability transitions. Prospective candidates are invited to submit project proposals in accordance with the instructions below by 30 April 2020.


About the Institute for European Studies


The IES aims to excel at cutting-edge, multidisciplinary and applied policy research on the most urgent governance challenges confronting policymakers in Europe and the wider world. Most notably, these include (i) the sustainability transition exemplified in the European Commission’s “green deal” approach, (ii) the impact of migration on the economic potential, political cohesion and diverse identities of European societies, (iii) the implications of the return of great power competition for European security, diplomacy and defense policies, and (iv) the way in which digital technologies challenge the organization of the public and private sectors as well as our understanding of democracy writ large. We seek innovative and original PhD projects that explore the interrelatedness of these key policy challenges across different levels of governance in Europe.


Project Description


For the present call, we are looking for PhD projects relating to the challenges of the sustainability transitions. The Green Deal of the European Commission is an example of recent initiatives to govern the transition towards a more sustainable future. In these context, the distinctions between environmental and economic policy regimes are becoming increasingly blurred. The economy is made greener, while environmental policies are framed in economic terms. These interactions raise intriguing theoretical and practical questions: to what extent are the objectives, or the means to attain them, clear and mutually reinforcing? Claims for conserving natural resources seem to be effortlessly combined with calls to grow the economy – yet is such a decoupled approach feasible? Due to the international nature of supply chains, these challenges also transcend different levels of governance. Innovative
collaborative approaches, including the prospects of digital technologies, are required to reach a sustainable future. The prevailing (geo-)political tendencies seem, however, biased towards the protection of unilateral interests. This PhD call is aimed at exploring the challenges of the sustainability  transitions. The research is positioned at the intersections of environmental and economic law, policy and economics, focusing in the areas of the (digital)
circular economy, sustainable trade (free movement) and/or greening public procurement.




The successful applicant must:

• hold a Master’s degree in law, economics, political science, history, European studies or social sciences writ large, with excellent study results

• be fully fluent in English (proficiency in Dutch and/or other official languages of the EU will be considered an asset)

• have a thorough knowledge of international affairs, public policy and European studies




We offer employment as a full-time doctoral researcher.

Contract: full-time research grant for one year, renewable on an annual basis for a maximum of four years. Extension of the contract is subject to the agreement of the doctoral committee and the IES Board. Remuneration is at the level of a full-time research assistant at a Flemish university (i.c. approximately 2.000 euros net income / month) and includes contributions for social security. Secondary employment is not allowed.


The IES requires that at least one (co)promotor of the project be from the IES. Co-supervision from other Belgian or foreign universities is encouraged. Successful candidates are expected to base themselves in Brussels to work at the IES premises. Office space and equipment will be provided along with a budget for traveling and other research-related expenses.


The PhD researcher will be expected to devote most of her/his time to research; additional tasks will include occasional teaching activities, event organisation and contributions to the overall development of the institute (including the support of major research projects). The researcher will prepare papers, attend conferences and produce research publications as (s)he carries out the PhD. The IES is committed to creating and supporting a diverse work environment and is an equal opportunity employer.


How to apply


The PhD candidate will be selected on the basis of the quality of the project proposal, her/his expertise, motivation, work experience and qualifications. The following application documents are to be consolidated into a single PDF file sent per email to (subject heading: “Sustainability PhD Call 2020 ADDYOURSURNAME”)

Completed application form (form can be downloaded here)

• One-page motivation letter explaining the candidate’s interest in pursuing a PhD on the chosen topic
• Curriculum vitae listing academic qualifications, relevant research experience and previous publications.
• Project proposal featuring a literature review, a research question and proposed mhypotheses, a methodological outline and indicative planning, condensed into no more than 2,500 words.
• Copy of the highest obtained diploma and transcript of academic grades
• Contact details (email and telephone) of two referees who are able to comment on the
candidate’s academic merit and character.

The deadline for applications is 30 April 2020. Short-listed candidates will be informed by the end of May and interviews with top-listed candidates are expected to take place in June. The successful candidate can start as of 1 October 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.


Further information


For further inquiries, please visit and contact Vice Dean Research Alexander Mattelaer ( ) and Prof. Dr. Harri Kalimo (  ) if necessary.


  • Application deadline: Apr 30, 2020
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Institute for European Studies (IES)
  • PhD and Postdoc Positions
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