Postdoc in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

In today’s biosciences the use of racial classifications is still contested. While ‘race’ is usually denied a biological reality, it still figures in human diversity and health research. Recently, the concept of race has become central in the rapidly growing field of human microbiome research, where it is widely used to highlight health problems (e.g., obesity, type-2 diabetes) suffered by socio-economically disadvantaged groups. Here, ‘race’ is not primarily genetic but refers to different microbial compositions (e.g., in the gut) of human groups in certain local and global environments.

The research group “Microbiome research and race in the ‘Local South’” aims to develop a new classification tool to better identify populations under study in human microbiome research and evaluate when it is legitimate to refer to race and when it is not. We do this by looking at how health-related microbiome research is done in South Africa and Latin America. Some of the central questions of the project are: Does race in microbiome research capture peoples’ identities? How to correctly account for populations found in different local contexts to effectively address health disparities? And how to link local labelling practices with globally operating classifications? Summarised: How can scientists in human microbiome ecology adopt epistemically fruitful, non-discriminatory, and locally relevant classification criteria of human diversity and race? And how can such local epistemologies of human diversity be integrated within a globally operating science?

It will be your role as a PhD researcher to lead the subproject “Transitions in Racial Classification from Human Genetics to Human Microbiome Research.” In this subproject your work includes detailed analyses of genomics and metagenomics publications (esp. on the gut microbiome), historical and empirical research. You will interact with scientists working on human microbiome research in local settings in South Africa. Your findings on historical shifts in racial classifications are key to develop new tools to study human diversity in the field of microbiome research. This position will enable you to gain the skills necessary to combine historical, philosophical and empirical work and contribute to current academic debates and societal challenges. Besides your own research, you will contribute to the organisation of the regular events of the project (biweekly reading groups, group discussions and presentations) and of workshops. You will also present your work in academic conferences and will contribute to increase public awareness on this topic by cowriting science communication pieces with the team and participating in education activities.


Are you collaborative, enthusiastic and excited to establish new interdisciplinary connections? We are looking for you! Please check if you have multiple, if not all of the following qualifications:

  • a background in history and philosophy of the life sciences or a related field (for example: philosophy of science, history of science, science and technology studies, sociology of science, medical anthropology among others);
  • a demonstrable interest in doing research on race and racism, health inequalities, discrimination, scientific pluralism, epistemic diversity, decolonization, and similar topics;
  • some experience using empirical methods (or are willing to learn them);
  • interest in collaborative team research and to develop one’s own research and teaching skills;
  • an excellent command of English.


We offer:

  • an exciting research environment as part of the HPS programme of the Freudenthal Institute and the Descartes Centre;
  • a full time position (1.0 FTE) for four years;
  • a full-time gross salary ranging from € 2,770 in the first year and increasing to € 3,539 in the fourth year in scale P of the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (CAO);
  • 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions from the CAO for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. These include agreements on professional development, leave arrangements, sports and cultural schemes and you get discounts on software and other IT products. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment through the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we encourage you to grow. For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Shaping science, sharing tomorrow.

At the Faculty of Science, there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects. Find out more about us on YouTube.

You will work in a (shared) office at the Utrecht Science Park, in the Freudenthal Institute which includes our History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) group as well as mathematics and science education and communication. The HPS group is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, responsible for one of the largest HPS Master’s programmes in Europe. You will be part of a vibrant and diverse community. Activities involve weekly Freudenthal Research Seminars and biweekly seminars in philosophy of science, and other specific topics and a monthly Descartes Colloquium (downtown).

You will furthermore be a member of the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, an overarching platform with members from all faculties of the University. Besides the monthly Descartes Colloquium, the centre funds several visiting fellowships each year, summer schools, and more.


For more information about this position, please contact Dr Abigail Nieves Delgado, via
Do you have a question about the application procedure? Please send an email to
Are you an international applicant? Our International Service Desk can answer your questions about living in the Netherlands as international staff.


© KNHG 2024 Website: Code Clear