Posted time October 5, 2023

Work with dr. Abdel Abdellaoui and dr. Titus Galama on a PhD in Social Science Genetics at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


The Doctoral NetworkESSGN brings together eight Universities with a shared interest in social science genetics, i.e., in incorporating genetic information to improve our understanding of age-old questions in the social sciences, such as the origins of inequality, the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, and the extent to which the interplay between environments and genes is important in shaping life chances. The consortium consists of an interdisciplinary group of academics, spanning demography, economics, epidemiology, genetics, political science, psychology, sociology, and statistics, as well as seven non-academic partners experienced in and committed to using data science to better understand inequalities in life chances. The partners include government bodies (GO Science UK), the World Health Organization – International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO-IARC), policy research institutes (RAND Europe, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute [NIDI]), charities (the Health Foundation), data infrastructure networks (CentERdata-ODISSEI) as well as economics consulting (Prometeia).

The Doctoral Network will create, nurture, and maintain a stimulating and world-class training environment in the interdisciplinary study of social-science genetics and geno-economics.

Your duties
Training will be provided through: i) courses in the biological foundations of genetic inheritance; ii) practical training in cutting-edge, multidisciplinary methods in social science genetics, including state-of-the-art computational and bioinformatics methods for analysing big data and statistical techniques for empirical research; and iii) cutting-edge academic research as well as secondments with our partners, to prepare doctoral students to be successful research scientists, but also for the professional job market in industry, technology, and policy. A dedicated team will coordinate and support skill development as well as monitor well-being and progress toward the PhD. While based at one of the eight ESSGN universities, it is expected that doctoral students work across institutions and countries.

The PhD project will contribute to answering a key research question that has occupied social scientists for decades:

To what extent do inequalities in life chances arise from genetic variation, environmental factors, and their interplay, and what can we do about it?

The PhD project will go beyond the state-of-the-art by (i) using Europe’s largest and most comprehensive multi-generation databases to separate direct genetic effects from parental genetic and socio-economic factors that shape the rearing environment; and (ii) by exploiting the large toolbox of causal inference methods used in econometrics and statistics to estimate how environmental contexts causally protect individuals with genetic risk.
We will incorporate genetic information into the social sciences to explore how genetic and environmental characteristics jointly shape inequalities in life chances by (1) analysing to what extent genetic (‘nature’) and environmental (‘nurture’) factors contribute to inequality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility, and (2) establishing how nature and nurture jointly shape inequalities in life chances.

Specifically, at VU Amsterdam, this concerns ESSGN project 4

Project 4: Causal G×E interplay for socio-economic status (SES) and health. This project seeks to explore what explains the large disparities in health between SES groups, using genetic, socioeconomic, & administrative microdata of the Dutch population on health and SES to estimate causal genetic and environmental effects in G×E interplay.


  • Applicants must have obtained (or be about to obtain), an MSc/MRes/MPhil (or equivalent) in an appropriate area of social science (e.g., demography, economics, epidemiology, political science, psychology, sociology, statistics) or medical science (e.g., genetics, epigenetics)
  • Strong quantitative skills
  • Excellent written and spoken English
  • Strong cooperative attitude, strong organizational skills, willingness to engage in international, interdisciplinary collaborative research and a willingness to travel for research, workshops conferences
  • Following the EU Marie Curie eligibility criteria, the researcher to be appointed must not have resided or carried out his/her main activity (work, studies, etc) in the Netherlands for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to his/her recruitment. Moreover, he/she shall at the date of recruitment be in the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of the research career and have not been awarded a doctoral degree.
  • Professional experience is a plus, but not a must

More information and apply via: