PhD position in Plant Developmental Plasticity (1.0 FTE)

Hours per week: 
38 to 40
Faculty of Science
Department of Biology, Plant Ecophysiology
Application deadline: 

Job description

We are looking for an enthusiastic, communicative, and highly motivated PhD student with experience in plant molecular biology. You will be working on an NWO-TTW funded project, within the large Lettuceknow program (see below for more information and the website for additional vacancies). You will join a team of 18 PhD students, post-docs, and technicians working in Utrecht, Wageningen, and Leiden.

Lettuce shoot and root architecture and their flexibility in response to dynamic environmental parameters, notably light, are poorly understood at the molecular level. In this four-year project, you will investigate how photoreceptors and their signalling pathways drive lettuce plant architecture and plasticity, even in the root systems that do not normally see light! For that, you will make use of the genome-wide association mapping panel of ~500 domesticated and wild lettuce lines, their gene expression profiles, imaging-based phenotyping, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, and genetic transformation of lettuce. The unique LettuceKnow expertise in analysing and integrating vast genomic, expression, and phenotypic data will facilitate your curiosity-driven research into photoreceptor-driven optimisation of lettuce shoot and root architecture.


We are seeking a driven, creative and collaborative candidate with a keen interest to learn and the motivation to work in an ambitious and international research environment.

You also bring the following essential requirements:

  • an MSc degree (or equivalent) in the area of molecular plant sciences;
  • expertise in molecular techniques;
  • strong communication and English language skills;
  • the ability to think critically and creatively;
  • you are organized and efficient.

We would like for you to have:

  • interest to learn/expertise with bioinformatics related gene expression and/or quantitative genetics;
  • experience in plant developmental biology;
  • affiliation with plant-environment interactions.


  • an exciting project that will investigate a relatively unexplored, but highly relevant research area;
  • a full-time position for 4 years;
  • a full-time gross salary starting at €2,395 in the first year and increasing to €3,061 in the fourth year (scale P Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao));
  • benefits including 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the CAO for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.

More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here.

About the organisation

You will be working with Ronald Pierik’s research team, within the Plant Ecophysiology group. We are a very diverse and international research group embedded within the Institute of Environmental Biology. You can expect to work in an inclusive, collaborative, and motivating environment with a very creative, ambitious, and international team of PhD students, post-docs, tenured staff, and research assistants. You will have access to world-class research facilities and will benefit from intensive collaborations with other PhD students and post-docs on the LettuceKnow program, as well as with seven breeding companies. Your communication and collaboration skills are therefore of great importance to have an optimal exchange of knowledge and ideas.

LettuceKnow (an NWO-TTW perspective program) started in 2019 to investigate the key resilience and architecture traits of lettuce. Lettuce is an important component of a healthy diet with extensive global use. The project aims to identify molecular mechanisms and genes for resilience and architecture. The basis for this is the combination of large-scale transcriptomics of diversity panels of 500 wild and cultivated Lactuca accessions, cutting-edge phenotyping, powerful integrative bioinformatics & machine learning, and state-of-the-art plant biology. The LettuceKnow team brings together leading scientists in the areas of plant biology, genomics, and data sciences to enable the optimal use of big data and discover the genes/alleles underlying important traits. It comprises a diverse research community with a strong focus on resolving major challenges for Dutch lettuce breeders to develop resilient and sustainable varieties that are adapted to changing climate conditions, emerging disease threats, and technological growth innovations such as vertical farming and LED illumination. Combined with the dedicated input of the highly innovative vegetable breeding industry, LettuceKnow will strongly contribute to the science-driven improvement of a healthy food crop, which will do justice to the economic importance of lettuce as a main contributor to global vegetable crop production.

At the Faculty of Science, there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our informal atmosphere and the can-do mentality of our people. This lively and inspiring academic environment attracts professors, researchers, and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the University and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and diverse community.

Additional information

If you have any questions that you’d like us to answer, please contact Professor Ronald Pierik,

Do you have a question about the application procedure? Then please send an email to


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, then simply respond via the “Apply now” button!

Please enclose:

  • your letter of motivation, clearly outlining why this position interests you, your motivation for joining our team, and what makes you a suitable candidate;
  • your Curriculum Vitae;
  • the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references;
  • a copy of your Master’s degree, or a letter from your university stating when your graduation will take place.

If this specific opportunity isn’t for you, but you know someone else who may be interested, please forward this link to them.

Some connections are fundamental – Be one of them

The application deadline is 4 July 2021.