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PhD scholarship for studying molecular mechanisms of Plant-Microbe-Insect Interactions (1,0 FTE)

Job description

The aim of the project is to get insight into the molecular mechanisms that underlie the complex interplay between plant signalling pathways that are induced in tomato plants by diverse simultaneous triggers, namely

  1. beneficial rhizobacteria (Pseudomonas spp) that enhance plant resistance to pests and diseases by priming for defences,
  2. herbivorous insects,
  3. pathogenic microbes and
  4. different abiotic contexts (drought, shading).

An RNA-Seq-based transcriptomic approach is followed to study modulation of beneficial microbe-primed defences when plants are attacked by insects, whether or not in combination with other stressors. This will reveal signal integrative hubs, which together with hormone and metabolome data, will increase our understanding of how primed plants regulate their immune system under diverse conditions. Results will be integrated with existing data sets, mostly of Arabidopsis, which are available in the lab, and with parallel experiments done by other ESRs (PhD students) to evaluate the context dependency of microbe-induced plant resistance.

This PhD position is associated with the larger European training network MiRA, with fourteen other colleagues with a PhD position at other participating institutions. We strongly encourage candidates to also apply for other similar positions within the MiRA network.


Principal supervisor: Saskia CM van Wees (;

Part of this PhD fellowship entails secondments at other institutions in Europe. You will also be working at:

  • Copenhagen University, Denmark: Learn experimental methods for drought experiments and integrate the obtained transcriptome data with their plant, insect, pathogen performance data (two months);
  • iDiv, Germany: Metabolome measurements (two months);
  • Solynta (company), NL: test MiR interactions in commercial breeding potato lines.

MiRA is an Innovative Training Network (ITN) funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement.  Download Short joint ESR adds Euraxess_Final.pdf

Your key tasks as a PhD student in MiRA are:

  • participating in the research environment at PMI-UU and the network activities of MiRA;
  • managing and carrying out your research project;
  • taking PhD courses and participating in activities of the MiRA network, the PhD Graduate programme Environmental Biology of Utrecht University and the national (Dutch) Graduate school Experimental Plant Sciences;
  • writing scientific articles and your PhD thesis;
  • participating at congresses;
  • teaching and disseminating your research.

  • A master’s degree related to the subject area of the project;
  • The grade point average achieved;
  • Professional qualifications relevant to the PhD programme:
    * Primary skills: experimental experience with plant-microbe interactions, transcriptome analysis, experience with programming (R or Python), bioinformatics, molecular biology;
    * Relevant skills: insect biology, microbiology, plant physiology.
  • Additional achievements as evidenced by your CV;
  • Language skills: you are fluent in English.


We offer a temporary position, initially for one year and upon satisfactory performance to be prolonged for a maximum of four years in total.

The salary - depending on previous qualifications and experience - is in the range between € 2,222 and maximum € 2,840 (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) gross per month for a full-time position.

Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8 % and a year-end bonus of 8.3 % per year. We offer a pension scheme, collective insurance schemes and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). You’ll find more information about working at Utrecht University here. Moreover, a mobility allowance of € 600 per month is provided and if applicable a family allowance of max € 500 per month by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovative Training Network.

Terms of appointment and payment are according to the rules and regulations laid down by Utrecht University and European Union’s Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovative Training Network. Conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

At the time of commencement, it is required that you have not been awarded a doctorate degree and you are within the first four years (full-time equivalent) of your research career. Furthermore, you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the enrollment country for more than twelve months in the three years immediately prior to your recruitment. Short stays, such as holidays, are not taken into account.

About the organization

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, colleagues from various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.


Utrecht University is one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands and one of the largest in Europe. Established in 1636, Utrecht University has an enrolment of over 30,000 students, employs over 5,000 faculty and staff, and is consistently ranked among Europe’s best universities for both education and research.
The city of Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, with a charming old centre and an internationally oriented culture that is strongly influenced by its century-old university. Utrecht city has been consistently ranked as one of the most lovable cities in the Netherlands.

The Faculty of Science consists of six departments: Biology, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Information and Computing Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and Mathematics. The Faculty is home to 5600 students and nearly 1500 staff and is internationally renowned for the quality of its research. The Faculty's academic programmes reflect developments in today's society. Read the overall impression 2016 of the Faculty of Science.

The Plant-Microbe Interactions group aims to explore and exploit the plant's natural immune system. The hormone signalling group led by Saskia van Wees is focused on understanding the molecular and biological details of how plants activate their hormone-mediated defences to protect themselves against pathogens and insects. The research goals are being achieved by using model and crop plant species in combination with state-of-the-art techniques and methods in plant-microbe-insect interactions, genomics, molecular biology, and bioinformatics. With our fundamental research, we aim to provide a rational basis for developing sustainable strategies for disease resistance in next-generation crops.

Additional information

Please contact the principal supervisor Saskia CM van Wees ( (+31 30 253 6861) for additional information on the PhD scholarship.

General information about MiRA is available at or by contacting the Project Coordinator, Associate Prof Thure P Hauser, Dept Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen via or +45 3533 2818.


To apply please upload the following:

  • cover letter, stating which PhD project you are applying for and detailing your motivation and background for applying;
  • a maximum of one page proposal for research activities to pursue in the PhD study programme;
  • your CV;
  • diploma and transcripts of records (BSc and MSc);
  • one to three professional referees (name, address, telephone and email);
  • documentation of English language qualifications;
  • other information for consideration, e.g. list of publications and (international) conferences (if any).

Application deadline is 14th of January 2018.
To apply, please click the application button below.

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