PhD Can you open the black box? Politics and practices of simulation modelling in the water sector

Wageningen University & Research

Wageningen, , NL

We are looking for

Are you an aspiring researcher in the field of water management? Can you disentangle the complex interaction of science, politics and practice? And thus open the black box of modelling processes, performances and politics around the water sector? Then we are looking for you!

Simulation models are often-used tools for informing water management decisions, often involving multiple actors and stakeholders, on the one hand, and performance indicators and scenarios for possible futures, on the other. Such models are often presented as ‘objective’ knowledge upon which crucial decisions on water management are based. Presented as objective, “truth-making” tools, models are thereby “black boxed”, meaning, the expert knowledges in building them are not adequately examined for the underlying assumptions, suppositions and even politics.
While model inputs are often restricted to particular indicators privileging certain perspectives better than others. Also, modelling outcomes are strategically used to legitimize political choices, while models and scenarios themselves are already the result of political processes involving conscious and unconscious choices. In these respects models are inherently political. 
In this call, we invite applications to conduct a study on “opening the black box” of modelling processes, performances, and politics on any aspect of the water sector. The PhD project will broadly engage with the main research question: How are different forms of simulation modeling for supporting water management developed? What information/knowledge do they provide and to whom? How and why these models are based on certain assumptions and theoretical and empirical choices? How these models are deployed to support certain political choices? How do their results influence water governance, and its effect on equitable distribution of benefits and impacts (e.g. in terms of water and food securities)?
Examples of possible cases are:

  • Water productivity assessment in Africa, amongst others on basis of remote sensing
  • Irrigation modernization in Spain
  • Predictions of climate change effects on water stress
  • Large water transfers in Latin America and Asia
  • Drought management in Northeast Brazil

We ask

  • completed (or proven almost completed) MSc in a relevant field, preferably with a thesis and/or internship on a related topic
  • a passion for the interplay of science and politics
  • good communication skills and good proficiency in English (both oral and written)

We offer

We offer you a temporary contract for 12 months which will be extended with three years if you perform well (after go/no go evaluation). Salary will increase from € 2325,- gross per month in the first year up to € 2972,- in the last year, based on a full-time appointment (38 hours per week), according to the CLA Dutch Universities.
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.
More information

For more information about this function you can contact prof.dr. Petra Hellegers, head of the Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, tel. (+31) (0)6-51679951; email: [email protected]

For more information about the procedure you can contact Edgar Tijhuis, corporate recruiter, e-mail [email protected]

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.

We invite interested candidates to upload the following documents in support of their application: 1) CV, 2) a letter of motivation, 3) and a brief note (max 3 A4 pages) outlining initial ideas on the proposed research on the topic. This should include the brief description of the case study, the conceptual/theoretical approach to be used, refined research questions based on the main and sub research questions mentioned as above, methodology to operationalize the research, and expected outcome of the research

This vacancy is open until 22 April 2020. We want to plan the first job interviews via Skype soon after the deadline of this vacancy.

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

Wageningen University & Research
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.

The Water Resources Management (WRM) group is an interdisciplinary research and education entity focussed on the interactions of water, technology and society. We study integrated water resource management and governance questions in both the global South and North. Central in our study are questions about how patterns of access, allocation and use of water can be explained as the combined outcome of technological choices, socio-ecological dynamics and cultural, social and political negotiations and contestations.





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