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PhD Social, Ethical and Communication Aspects of Gene Drives

We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated PhD student to work on a multidisciplinary research project on the social, ethical and communication …

2 maanden geleden


Droevendaalsesteeg, Wageningen, Gelderland
Tijdelijk contract / Tijdelijke opdracht
Uren per week:
38 - 38 uur


We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated PhD student to work on a multidisciplinary research project on the social, ethical and communication aspects of gene drives. Working at the interface of three chair groups, and their associated disciplinary competences, you will contribute to new understanding on an emerging technology that promises significant societal challenges.

Modern biotechnology is characterised by rapid developments, including most recently through the application of the genome editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. Recent breakthroughs have demonstrated the potential of so-called gene drives to cause traits to be inherited preferentially, from one generation to the next, and in principle, throughout the population. Gene drive techniques may offer new possibilities for combatting infectious diseases, such as malaria, pests and (invasive) exotics through so-called ecological engineering or population control. However, the ability to instigate the intentional spread of a genetic trait throughout a population, and for these effects on ecosystems to be potentially irreversible, has also generated intense debate and some dialogue within the scientific community, alongside ethicists and civil society actors (many of whom have called for a moratorium). Gene drives also pose significant challenges for governance, requiring international coordination, given that the scope of both hard-law and soft-law governance may be limited.

The PhD project Social, Ethical and Communication Aspects of Gene Drives addresses these challenges by looking at the following questions:

  1. What are the dominant framing assumptions in terms of what gene drives are, and the benefits and risks they pose, in the scientific, regulatory, and media domain?
  2. What is the scope and nature of current real-life discourses on gene drives among scientific and wider publics, and how do they negotiate values, norms and responsibilities?
  3. How to evaluate these discourses and framings from an ethical and responsible innovation perspective, e.g. in the light of values at stake and their implications for ecological conservation and restoration?
The candidate will perform qualitative case study research in the field of gene drive technologies, in close collaboration with (life) science groups at Wageningen University. Case studies will be selected in consultation with the candidate and the supervisory team.


We are searching for a highly motivated and enthusiastic PhD student who should have:

  • Completed academic/research master in Social Sciences (e.g. Science and Technology Studies, Communication Sciences, Development Studies) and/or Ethics or Philosophy
  • Knowledge of and experience in qualitative research methods, preferably including Framing and/or Discourse or Conversation Analysis
  • Proven affinity with multidisciplinary research and (possibly) with the domain of genetic modification
  • Organisational skills to establish and maintain collaborations with and among different stakeholders
  • Good command of English language
  • Academic writing skills
Your tasks consist of:
  • Analysing real-life online and offline discussions on gene drives among the scientific and relevant wider social community
  • Analysing framing assumptions of relevant policy documents, and in focus group/individual interviews with policy makers and civil society actors
  • Evaluating the findings from an ethical perspective, in the light of values at stake and their implications for ecological conservation and restoration
  • Formulating how these insights can contribute to a more inclusive dialogue on, and responsible innovation of gene drive technologies
  • Writing scientific papers for peer-reviewed journals resulting in a dissertation
  • Presenting at national and international scientific conferences
  • Limited teaching tasks
  • Organising multi-stakeholder meetings to valorise and broaden the acquired insights


We offer you fulltime employment (38 hours a week) for 18 months with a possible extension of 30 months after positive evaluation. The gross salary is € 2.222 per month in the first year and increases to € 2.840 per month in the fourth year (based on fulltime employment). In addition, we offer a holiday allowance of 8% and an end-of-the-year bonus of 8.3% of your annual salary.

Additional information

Starting Date
September 1st, 2018. Interview rounds for the position are planned for July 9th.

Additional information and a short background paper on the topic can be obtained from Vera Mentzel (vera.mentzel@wur.nl).

How to apply
You can apply up to and including June 28th, 2018 (23.59 hours CET). Use the website to apply and upload a motivation letter, references and your CV (including course grades).