PhD Position: Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies

Published on
March 18, 2020
Location Wageningen
Respond Click here to respond

We are looking for

Do you want to follow your passion for ethics in the life sciences in a PhD study in our Philosophy group? Are you an openminded thinker who likes to collaborate with other researchers in an ambitious research program?

We are looking for a talented PhD candidate in the field of ethics in the life sciences, doing ontological and ethical investigations of cell-factories and their applications. 

The advent of biotechnology has allowed reading and understanding genetic information, shared by all living beings, and in the recent years, the advent of synthetic biology has allowed writing this information into living organisms. This opens the door for designing micro-organisms in order to replace conventional means of production. Micro-organisms become cell factories that might become the main vessel for farms of the future, producing not only food but also drugs, energy, and even materials, disrupting means of production as we know them. To what extent should we use micro-organisms to transform (or disrupt) means of production? What are the social-ethical issues of cell factories that engineers should consider when using living organisms in innovation processes?

Looking into the ontology of cell-factories presents three challenges:

  1. conceptualising the ontology of micro-organisms, as individuals or collectives
  2. understanding their status as hybrids and the extent of their artificiality
  3. accounting for the fact that they are in one way or another ‘alive’, and thus subject to evolutionary forces, which raises the question whether we should grant them autonomous qualities or not.
Understanding their ontologies and conceptually addressing these three challenges is important for responsible innovation processes harvesting benefits from living organisms.

This PhD position is part of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies Gravitation program, a new ten year long international research program of seven universities in the Netherlands that has started in January 2020. This program has a combined budget of €27 million, and is funded by the Dutch Research Council NWO, in the Gravitation funding scheme for excellent research, and by matching funds from the participating institutions. The duration is from January 2020 to December 2029.
The program has the aim of achieving breakthrough research in the intersection of ethics, philosophy, technology / engineering and social sciences, and to position its consortium at the top of its field internationally. A key objective is to investigate how new technologies challenge moral values and ontological concepts (like “nature”, “human being” and “community”), and how these challenges necessitate a revision of these concepts.
The program includes four research lines, “Nature, life and human intervention”, “The future of a free and fair society”, “The human condition” and “Synthesis: Ethics of Technology, Practical Philosophy, and Modern Technology-Driven Societies” (candidates selected for an interview can request more information on the program and its four research lines).
See for more information for the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies project:

We ask

You will strengthen our team when you:

  • are an enthusiastic, dedicated and engaged thinker who is well capable to work in interdisciplinary contexts
  • like to explore fundamental questions in ontology and ethics of socially disruptive technology in the life sciences
  • have an MA degree in Philosophy or Applied Ethics, or STS, with affinity with life sciences
  • speak fluently English, this position requires excellent English language proficiency (a minimum of CEFR C1 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page.
Our PhD students are encouraged to supervise MSc thesis students when such opportunities arise, and you will be involved in teaching activities.

We offer

You will receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your desires and the research team. The gross salary for the first year is € 2.325,- per month rising to €2.972,- in the fourth year in according to the Collective Labour Agreement (scale P). This is based on a full working week of 38 hours. We offer a temporary contract for 18 months which will be extended for the duration of the project if you perform well. You will be based at the Philosophy Group in Wageningen.
In addition, we offer:

  • 8% holiday allowance
  • a structural year-end bonus of 8.3%
  • excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions
  • flexible working hours and holidays can possibly be determined in consultation so that an optimal balance between work and private life is possible
  • excellent pension plan through ABP
  • 232 vacation hours, the option to purchase extra and good supplementary leave schemes
  • a flexible working time: the possibility to work a maximum of 2 hours per week extra and thereby to build up extra leave;
  • a choice model to put together part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan
  • a lively workplace where you can easily make contacts and where many activities take place on the Wageningen Campus. A place where education, research and business are represented
  • use the sports facilities on campus for a small fee.
Wageningen University & Research stimulates internal career opportunities and mobility with our internal recruitment policy. There are ample opportunities for personal initiative in a learning environment. With us you get a versatile job in an international environment with a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

More information

For more information please contact Dr. Zoë Robaey ( or Dr. Vincent Blok (

For more information about the procedure you can contact Sandra Willemsen, Recruiter SSG or Bianca Aversteeg, Recruitment support SSG via

Do you want to apply?
This can be done directly via the application button at the vacancy on our website so that we can process your personal data with your permission.

This vacancy is open up to and including the 27th of April 2020. The first job interviews will take place at the beginning of May 2020. The position is to start on 1 September 2020 at the latest. 

Equal opportunities employer
We are an employer that offers equal opportunities. We are happy to receive applications from all suitably qualified people regardless of race, gender, functional impairment, religion / belief, sexual orientation or age.

We believe that a diverse and inclusive working environment makes us a more relevant, competitive and resilient organization. Click here for more information about working at WUR with a functional impairment.

We are

The mission of our University is to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life. Within Wageningen University & Research, nine specialised research institutes from the Wageningen Research Foundation and Wageningen University have joined forces to help answer the most important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With approximately 30 locations, 6,500 employees, and 12,000 students, it is one of the leading organisations in its domain worldwide. An integrated approach to problems and the cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of the unique approach of Wageningen. We have been named Best Employer in Education category 2019-2020.

Click here for more information about working at Wageningen University & Research.

Philosophy Group (PHI): The PHI chair focuses on ethical and epistemic issues involved in the relationship of humans with nature, animals, food and agriculture. The group aims to understand processes of ethical deliberation around science and technology in different societal and cultural settings.

More information about Wageningen Campus you can find here.

Apply now