PhD position in Host-microbiome Associations in Birds (1.0 FTE)


Faculty of Science and Engineering


University of Groningen

GELIFES, the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, (, institute of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands invites applications for a fully-funded, four-year PhD position in the groups of Prof. B. Irene Tieleman (part of the expertise group Behavioural and Physiological Ecology) and Prof. Joana Falcao Salles (part of the expertise group Genomics in Ecology and Evolution).

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 programmes and academic career opportunities in a wide variety of disciplines encourage the 36,000 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 of Groningen is currently in or around the top 100 on several influential ranking lists.

GELIFES, Faculty of Science & 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

The student will conduct comparative and experimental research in the field and in captivity on the preen gland microbiome of birds, in close collaboration with a postdoc, Dr Veronika Gvozdikova Javurkova, within the same project. Supervision is by Prof. B. Irene Tieleman, Prof. Joana Falcao Salles and Dr Maurine W. Dietz (University of Groningen).
In addition to conducting research, there will be some teaching duties (~10% of your time).

‘Microbiome-mediated functions of avian preen glands: understanding the chemosignalling and antimicrobial potentials’:

Birds are inhabited by communities of micro-organisms, that fulfil beneficial functions for their hosts. Some scientists therefore propose that animals should not be considered as animals, but as meta-organisms – obligate symbiotic life forms of animals with their micro-organisms. Until recently, most attention has focused on gut microbes. This project will investigate which micro-organisms live in preen glands of birds, from different angles. Using metagenomic approaches to address the microbiome, we will investigate how and if these micro-organisms produce chemosignalling and antimicrobial substances. We will further verify whether these micro-organisms and their chemical metabolites contribute to the communication between birds and to the antimicrobial protection of their plumage – through preening of feathers. Moreover, the project will experimentally evaluate associations between preen gland, oral cavity, feathers and gut microbiomes. We expect to find clear and robust associations between microbial functions and life history strategies of birds.

This research is part of an integrative study including a complementary PhD and postdoc project. This vacancy only applies to the PhD project. The PhD candidate will closely collaborate with the postdoc (also at GELIFES, University of Groningen). She/he will take part in the fieldwork and the work on captive birds, as well as in the microbial community and biochemical analyses.


The candidate is expected to have a (research) master degree in Biology or Ecology & Evolution. The project combines bird physiological and behavioural ecology with microbial ecology. Hence, experience with bird physiological or behavioural ecology can be an advantage, especially if it is complemented with experience with or a strong interest in microbial ecology. Vice versa, experience with microbial ecology, including sequencing and bioinformatics can be a strong advantage, and ideally should be complemented with experience with or a strong interested in bird ecology. Affinity with biochemical and physiological laboratory work is helpful. We are also looking for a team player with excellent communication skills in English. Fluency in R is strongly preferred.

Conditions of employment

Contract length: 48 months.

We offer you in accordance with the PhD scales set by the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

- a salary from a minimum of € 2,395 gross per month in the first year to € 3,061 gross per month in the fourth year, in case of fulltime employment
- attractive employment conditions, which include a holiday allowance of 8%, a year-end bonus of 8.3% and up to 41 days paid time off. 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 October 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 9 June 11:59 pm / before 10 June 2021 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. B. Irene Tieleman

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 221254

Digital application form