Two PhD positions in Global Environmental Governance at Utrecht University (1.0 FTE)

Hours per week: 
36 to 40
Faculty of Geosciences
GEO / Dept SD
Application deadline: 

Job description

Utrecht University has opened two four-year PhD research positions in the field of global environmental governance. The two PhD researchers will become part of the new, cutting-edge research project ‘Problem-Shifting between International Environmental Treaty Regimes: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions’ (ProblemShifting). This research project is directed by Asst. Prof. Rakhyun E. Kim, and funded for five years (2021-2026) through a 1.5 million euro ‘Starting Grant’ from the European Research Council.
The project explores a major dilemma in global environmental governance, that decisions to protect one part of the environment often lead to new, and sometimes even more chronic and severe, environmental problems, the phenomenon known as global ‘environmental problem-shifting’. In this project, we focus in particular on problem-shifting occurring between international environmental treaty regimes, which are articulated in over a thousand issue-specific multilateral environmental agreements. We will (1) identify and explain the conditions under which problem-shifting occurs; and (2) assess and predict the systemic effects of problem-shifting through a novel methodology. Building on these findings, we will (3) offer innovative governance solutions that help ensure our global environmental efforts add up to a net positive impact.
The PhD researchers will design and implement two independent, yet highly related, PhD research projects within the broader framework and research design of ProblemShifting. Both researchers will carry out empirical analyses and contribute to methodological innovation and theoretical development, with a view to advancing our understanding of the structure and dynamics of global environmental governance.
The PhD researchers will be supervised by Dr. Rakhyun E. Kim and receive support and guidance from the project team. The team includes Prof. Frank Biermann and two postdoctoral researchers, along with an international network of prominent scholars on the project’s Advisory Board (with expertise in international relations, international environmental law, earth system governance, earth system science, and computational social science). The PhD researchers will also receive systematic training from the Graduate School of Geosciences through various research-related courses and mentoring.


We expect the PhD researchers to have a strong interest and broad expertise in the field of global environmental governance, as evidenced by a relevant Bachelor’s and Master’s degree specialization. We welcome applications from highly motivated graduates in international relations, global governance, political science, international environmental law, earth system governance, or a related discipline. With a view to the research design of ProblemShifting, we are looking especially for candidates with: 

  • knowledge of, and interest in, the architecture of global environmental governance;
  • a strong interest in theoretical and methodological innovation, especially through interdisciplinary approaches;
  • affinity to, and experience with, quantitative research methods, preferably those for studying complex systems (e.g., network analysis, system dynamics modelling); and
  • affinity to, and experience with, qualitative research methods (e.g., process tracing, qualitative comparative analysis).

In addition, we expect the PhD researchers to have excellent communication skills, to be good team players, and to have strong affinity with working in an interdisciplinary and multicultural research environment. Excellent English-language skills are required, as the working language of our institute and the project is English. Data analytical skills are considered an asset.


You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to four years in total upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,395 in the first year and €3,061 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

About the organisation

The two PhD researchers will join the project ProblemShifting directed by Dr. Rakhyun E. Kim, and work very closely together with the rest of the team. 

Institutionally, the PhD researchers will be affiliated with the Environmental Governance group, one of the five sections of the university’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. The Environmental Governance group is a dynamic, ambitious and internationally leading team of over sixty researchers (including 30 PhD students) with a focus on fundamental and policy-oriented research of governance processes, from local to global levels. The Copernicus Institute has been evaluated in a 2014 international review as the highest ranked research institute in environmental and sustainability sciences in the Netherlands. Since then, the institute has intensified its efforts in maintaining its leading position by investing in numerous international faculty appointments and developing new, internationally oriented teaching programmes. The Copernicus Institute is part of the Faculty of Geosciences, which is a strong and competitive organization with 720 staff and 3,400 students. The Faculty of Geosciences also houses the International Project Office of the Earth System Governance Project, which is the largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change.

Utrecht University, founded in 1636, is one of the leading research universities in Europe, with particular strengths in sustainability sciences. The university has been listed as the best Dutch university in the Academic Ranking of World Universities for more than a decade. In geography and public administration, Utrecht University is ranked as the 3rd best university worldwide in 2020. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Utrecht University’s research in the field of climate change and ecosystems has the greatest impact in the world. Our university is committed to a strategic orientation on four overarching themes, which include ‘Pathways to Sustainability’ and ‘Institutions for Open Societies’. The PhD researchers will be able to develop their research at the interface, and with the support, of these main strategic themes of the university, opening up numerous opportunities for university-wide interaction. The city of Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, with a historic centre and an internationally oriented culture that is strongly influenced by its centuries-old university. Utrecht has been consistently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the Netherlands, and is well-connected to local and international transport hubs (e.g., 30 minutes by train to the Netherland’s main international airport).

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact: Dr. Rakhyun E. Kim by sending an email to


To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button below. Please include the following in your application: 

  • a motivation letter explaining your interest and suitability for the position;
  • a full curriculum vitae (CV), including the grade for your Master’s thesis and the overall grade point average (or equivalent) of your Bachelor's and Master’s degrees;
  • the contact details of two references/referees (Letters of Recommendation or copies academic work are not required in the first selection round).

Applications close on June 6, 2021 (23:59 CEST). The successful candidates are expected to start on 1 November 2021.

The application deadline is 6 June 2021.