PhD position: "Rethinking ownership and responsibility in wastewater technologies"

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)
Delft, Netherlands
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
University/Academia/Research/Think tank
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 
Advanced Degree (Master's or JD)
Apply By: 
20 May 2021
11 days remaining

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In this project we focus on wastewater technologies as a cluster of technologies that are developed with the promise of lower environmental impact and possible re-use of scarce minerals. While few people would deny the desirability of circular processing of wastewater, the implementation of circular wastewater technologies is challenging and it may require to radically rethink our conception of waste and resources. One of the pressing challenges is that circular wastewater technologies require us to revalue a product that we traditionally valued as undesirable (“waste”), which prompts questions of ownership and responsibility. If wastewater becomes something that creates (economic) value instead of something that needs to be processed, the economic system behind wastewater treatment may also need to change, with citizens being paid for the wastewater they produce, instead of paying, via their taxes, for having it collected. Also the roles and responsibilities of treatment plant operators may change, as the successful implementation of these technologies may require a role that differs from their current legally prescribed role. The actual transition to a situation in which wastewater treatment is largely circular is probably even more challenging, as it may require having different waste systems in parallel.

The objective of the project is to gain insight in the socio-ethical considerations that are relevant for the ethically desirable implementation of wastewater technologies. The research question is how to rethink ownership and responsibility in the transition to a circular biobased economy, focusing on wastewater technologies particularly. The PhD candidate will focus on (philosophically) identifying relevant notions of ownership and responsibility using the literature on the subject. As part of the project, the PhD candidate will look at how relevant notions of ownership can be included in the design of wastewater technologies, and what this implies for the implementation of these technologies at the system level.

The PhD candidate will closely collaborate with the environmental biotechnology research group of Delft University of Technology. A specific secondary goal of the project is to gain methodological insights on how to carry out ethical research on disruptive technologies, including insights on how the moral frameworks gained in the project can be made applicable to technological researchers.

Research Setting
This PhD position will be part of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies program, a new ten year long international research program of seven academic institutions in the Netherlands that has started in January 2020. This program has a combined budget of € 27 million, and is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research in the Gravitation funding scheme for excellent research, and by matching funds from the participating institutions. The duration is from January 2020 to December 2029. The program has the aim of achieving breakthrough research at the intersection of ethics, philosophy, technology/engineering and social sciences, and to position its consortium at the top of its field internationally. A key objective is to investigate how new technologies challenge moral values and ontological concepts (like “nature”, “human being” and “community”), and how these challenges necessitate a revision of these concepts. The program includes four research lines, “Nature, life and human intervention” (nature-line), “The future of a free and fair society”, “The human condition” and “Synthesis: Ethics of Technology, Practical Philosophy, and Modern Technology-Driven Societies”. More about the ESDT research program and its four research lines can be found here.
This PhD position is situated in the nature-line of the Gravitation program.


TU Delft offers PhD-candidates a 4-year contract, with an official go/no go progress assessment after one year. Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2395 per month in the first year to € 3061 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. For international applicants we offer the Coming to Delft Service and Partner Career Advice to assist you with your relocation.

Selection process

Please note that there will be other vacancies in the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies program at different participating universities. In case several are of interest to you, we want to encourage you to apply to them simultaneously.

TU Delft stands for diversity and inclusion. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

To apply, please submit the following documents online no later than 19 May 2021.

• a one-page letter of motivation
• a curriculum vitae of maximum 3 pages
• the names and contact information of two references
• a one-page research note setting out your ideas about how you propose to carry out the project described above
• a writing sample of maximum 20 pages
• academic grade transcripts of your MA degree program

The first round of interviews with selected candidates will presumably take place in the first half of June 2021.

-You can only apply online. We will not process applications sent by email and / or post.
-Incomplete applications will not be processed.
-A pre-Employment screening can be part of the selection procedure.
-Acquisition in response to this vacancy is not appreciated.

Additional comments

For more information about this position, please contact Prof. Neelke Doorn,

For more information about the selection procedure, please contact Annekee Vervoort, HR manager, email:

Web site for additional job details

Specific Requirements

The successful candidate will work under the supervision of Neelke Doorn and Udo Pesch. Neelke Doorn holds a chair in ethics of water engineering. Udo Pesch’ main focus is on the democratization of infrastructures, most notably within the context of the energy transition. The project will be carried out in close collaboration with the environmental biotechnology group of Mark van Loosdrecht.
The candidate will be encouraged to spend a semester abroad, and a budget is available to cover expenses, and generous (conference) travel budgets are available for the position.
The candidate is expected to play an active role in the program described above and to participate actively in the workshops, public events, courses and other activities of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies program in general and the “Nature-line” in particular. The position is based at the Ethics and Philosophy of Technology Section at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management at TU Delft, which provides a stimulating and internationally oriented research environment. To this end, the candidate will participate in the activities of the Graduate School of TU Delft, the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management at TU Delft, and the 4TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology.

• You will have completed, prior to appointment, a Master’s degree or equivalent degree in Applied Ethics or Science and Technology Studies. Other Master’s degrees will also be considered if you have demonstrable expertise in conceptual problems and approaches to normative justification, in close connection with the themes of the research project.
• You have proven affinity with the application domains wastewater, biotechnology, or circular biobased technology.
• Relative to experience, you have excellent research skills and excellent academic writing and presentation skills.
• You can work both independently and as part of a team.
• You have a high level of proficiency in English.