PhD position in Quantitative Genetics of Human Life-History (1.0 FTE)


Faculty of Science and Engineering


University of Groningen

Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Live Sciences (GELIFES;, Faculty of Science and Engineering, invites applications for a fully-funded, four-year PhD position in its Behavioural and Physiological Ecology group.

University of Groningen (RUG)
Founded in 1614, the University of Groningen enjoys an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative centre of higher education offering high-quality teaching and research. Flexible study programme and academic career opportunities in a wide variety of disciplines encourage the 32,000 students and researchers alike to develop their own individual talents. Quality has been our top priority for over four hundred years, and with success: the University is currently in or around the top 100 on several influential ranking lists.

GELIFES, Faculty of Science and Engineering
The Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), one of the larger institutes of the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), fills a special niche in the life sciences by covering and integrating mechanistic, evolutionary and ecological approaches, aiming to understand adaptation on all levels of biological organisation. Researchers pursue fundamental questions while collaborating with partners from nature conservation, industry, medicine and other realms of society. Our research fields include ecology, conservation biology, evolutionary biology, behavioural biology, chronobiology, genetics and genomics, neurobiology, physiology and theoretical modelling, using a wide array of research tools.

Job description

You will conduct research on the quantitative genetics of human life-history evolution in collaboration with Virpi Lummaa’s Human Life History Group ( at the University of Turku, Finland, Erik Postma’s Research Group ( at the University of Exeter, UK and the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Supervision is by Hannah Dugdale, Virpi Lummaa and Erik Postma. You will have access to two long-term, pedigreed, human datasets of rural Finns and the Swiss canton of Glarus. You will be part of a team of PhD students, postdocs, and staff who are using these individual-based historical archives to improve understanding of human life-history evolution.

In addition to conducting research, there will be some teaching duties (~10% of your time).

One of the most profound challenges we all face is our deterioration with age - a process known as senescence. Individuals clearly senesce differently, in both the age they start to deteriorate and the rate they decline at. However, the underlying causes of these differences in senescence patterns remain poorly understood. In particular, this may be due to trade-offs underlying senescence, and the interaction of genetic and environmental effects on senescence patterns. Understanding the quantitative genetics of life-history traits is important as it will potentially highlight deleterious effects that individuals could mitigate to live longer healthier lives.

For your PhD, you will investigate the relative impact of environmental and genetic factors on senescence using two exceptional human archive datasets from rural Finland and the Swiss canton of Glarus. You will first investigate the accuracy of selection measures by asking how well standard fitness measures, such as lifetime reproductive success and the number of grand-offspring, reflect expected genetic contribution to future generations. You will then investigate, though a quantitative genetic framework, the heritability of fitness metrics and genetic trade-offs in life-history traits, such as the age of first reproduction and longevity. You will then test whether these genetic trade-offs vary across environmental conditions, between the sexes and with age. Finally, you will quantify how quantitative genetic parameters change in relation to the demographic transition.

Bolund E, Lummaa V (2016) The effects of resource availability and the demographic transition on the genetic correlation between number of children and grandchildren in humans. Heredity, 118, 1–7.
Bolund E, Hayward A, Pettay JE, Lummaa V (2015) Effects of the demographic transition on the genetic variances and covariances of human life-history traits. Evolution, 69, 747–755.
Evans SR, Waldvogel D, Vasiljevic N, Postma E (2018) Heritable spouse effects increase evolutionary potential of human reproductive timing. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285, 20172763.


You are expected to:

• hold a (research) master degree (or will graduate before appointment date) in a relevant field, such as Evolutionary Biology
• be curiosity driven and passionate about fundamental research in the context of quantitative genetics and life-history evolution
• have strong quantitative skills (training will be provided)
• ideally have experience in extracting and analysing data from databases or large datasets (training will be provided)
• be a team player, willing to work with a diverse group of researchers and technicians, and can also work independently
• have strong communication skills and are motivated to disseminate results to both scientific peers and a broad audience
• be proficient in the English language (oral and written) e.g. with a minimum IELTS score of 7.0 overall and 6.5 on parts
• be strongly motivated to obtain a PhD degree.

Conditions of employment

Contract length: 48 months.

We offer you in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

- a salary between a range from € 2,395 per month in the first year to € 3,061 gross per month in the fourth year (in case of fulltime employment); fulltime is considered to be 38 hours per week
- a holiday allowance of 8%, a year-end bonus of 8.3%
- a minimum of 29 holidays and additional 12 holidays in case of full-time employment; substantial tax benefits may apply to non-Dutch citizens, conditional on permission granted by the Dutch Tax Office
- a position for a period of four years. First you are offered a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years. Prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the contract period is to be expected. A PhD training programme is part of the agreement and you will be enrolled in the Graduate School of the Faculty.

The conditions of employment are available at the University of Groningen website under Human Resources:

The preferred starting date is 1 February 2021

Job Application

Do you want to become a member of our team? Please send your application to us, by submitting the following requested documents:

1. a motivation letter
2. a complete curriculum vitae
3. names and email addresses of two referees
4. if available, an example research paper.

You can submit your application until 30 September 11:59 pm / before 1 October 2020 Dutch local time (CET) by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website).

We are an equal opportunity employer that values diversity. We have adopted an active policy to increase the number of female scientists across all disciplines of the university. Therefore, women are encouraged to apply. Our selection procedure follows the guidelines of the Recruitment code (NVP), and European Commission's European Code of Conduct for recruitment of researchers,

Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.

Additional information

For additional information, please contact:

Prof. Hannah Dugdale

Prof. Virpi Lummaa

Dr Erik Postma

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 220289

Digital application form