Do you have a MSc or equivalent in biomedical, developmental biology (or similar), with an interest in environmental toxicology and neurobiology? Do you want to work with Caenorhabditis elegans to explore the impact of pesticides on Parkinson’s Disease? Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU).

FTE: 0.8 - 1,0

Job description

There is a general concern that we are being exposed to increasingly complex mixtures of pesticides from our environment. It is likely that this exposure contributes to the increase in neurodevelopmental diseases in humans. Novel approaches are urgently needed to predict the effect of pesticides on the developing brain, but also to explore their impact on neurodegeneration, specifically Parkinson’s Disease.

In this PhD project, you will use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to explore the impact of environmentally relevant pesticides on neurodevelopment and the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. To achieve this goal, we combine microscopy, developmental assays and molecular biology techniques, such as RNAseq. You will also work with chemists to relate the adverse effects to external and internal pesticide concentrations, thus contributing to the development of (quantitative) Adverse Outcome Pathways. You will develop a longitudinal imaging platform to assess the development of α-synuclein aggregation, a key hallmark of Parkinson’s Disease, throughout the lifespan of the worm. As C. elegans has a relatively simple nervous system, we foresee the use of more complex systems, such as zebrafish and fruit flies, to gain additional information as to how pesticides impact neurobehavior, motor function and cognition.

For this project, we are looking for a PhD candidate to work on location at the VU in Amsterdam. You will be part of the Environmental Health and Toxicology group of A-LIFE within the VU, under the supervision of Dr. S. Hughes. Together with the team, you will present your results at national and international conferences, and in relevant scientific journals.

Your duties
  • you will work with Caenorhabditis elegans to explore the impact of pesticide mixtures on neurodevelopment
  • you will develop a longitudinal platform, combining microscopy and microfluidics, to be able to observe the progression of α-synuclein aggregations over time
  • you will work with colleagues to assess the neurotoxic effect of pesticides in other model systems, including zebrafish and fruit flies
  • you will write a dissertation leading to a PhD degree towards the end of this 4-year project


  • you have a MSc or equivalent degree in (applied) biomedical or developmental biology, or a related field
  • you are highly motivated with a curiosity for science
  • you have good wet lab experimental skills, with experience of molecular and cell biology essential
  • you have excellent skills in spoken and written English
  • Previous knowledge of C. elegans, bioinformatics skills and microscopy are not required but will be considered a plus

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,541 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,247 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for 0.8 - 1,0 FTE.
The intended starting date: 1 October 2022.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a total duration of 4 years.

Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • child daycare facilities available on campus
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 30,000 students. We employ over 5,500 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Faculty of Science
The Faculty of Science inspires researchers and students to find sustainable solutions for complex societal issues. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to medicines and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research programmes cover the full spectrum of the natural sciences. We share knowledge and experience with leading research institutes and industries, both here in the Netherlands and abroad.

Working at the Faculty of Science means working with students, PhD candidates and researchers, all with a clear focus on their field and a broad view of the world. We employ more than 1,250 staff members, and we are home to more than 11,000 students.

About A-LIFE
The position is offered within the Amsterdam Institute of Life and Environment (A-LIFE) department at the Faculty of Science of the VU University Amsterdam. A-LIFE is created by the merger between the departments of Ecology, Health and Environment and Molecular Cell Biology. The section Environmental Health and Toxicology focuses on understanding the influence of environmental factors on human and environmental health. We use this knowledge for innovative research and education.


Are you interested in this position? Applicants are requested to respond before 
August 30th 2022 via the application button and by uploading the following documents:

  • a letter in which you describe your abilities and motivation for applying to the position
  • a detailed curriculum vitae with two or three references
  • a list of grades, TOEFL and/or IETLS scores (if available)

Please mention the vacancy number in the header of all your documents.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy you may contact:

Name: Dr. Samantha Hughes
Position: Assistant Professor

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Job area: PhD
VU unit: Faculty of Science
Contract type: Temporary with prospects to extension
Minimum FTE: 0.8
Maximum FTE: 1
Minimum salary scale: €2,541 (PhD)
Maximum salary scale: €3,247 (PhD)
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