PhD Position: A quantitative study on human-nature relations of bird watchers

Deadline:  30.11.2023

Department of Geography

PhD position in Human Geography 80 %

We invite applications for a PhD position at the interface of human geography (environmental social sciences) and environmental ethics based at the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich.


About the position


The PhD project is integrated into the interdisciplinary research project 'People's Place in Nature', in which we study how people in different contexts relate to nature and value nature in their personal human-nature relationships. In the philosophical part of the project, we draw on the empirical insights to develop ethical arguments in favor of considerate approaches to nature. The notion of 'relational value' as the value ascribed to nature in relationships, plays a central role in this research.

In the preceding phase of the project 'People's Place in Nature' we studied human-nature relationships and relational values of mountain farmers to understand how the understanding and valuing of nature is affected by the professional and existential dependence on nature in farming. The advertised PhD project is part of the second project phase, in which we plan to deepen and broaden our understanding of human-nature relationships and relational values by studying birdwatchers as a community that interacts with nature in their leisure time (as a contrast group to the mountain farmers). Moreover, we aim to develop a systematic understanding of how relational values are related to different types of bird watching and different understandings of nature. The PhD candidate will conduct a SenseMaker survey in order to address these research aims. Cognitive Edge SenseMaker® is a survey tool that allows to combine quantitative evaluations with narrative elements and is thus an apt tool to study context-sensitive issues such as relational values.

The project 'People's Place in Nature' is led by the environmental philosopher Dr. Anna Deplazes Zemp (lecturer in Ethics and Philosophy of biology at the biology department of the UZH), who will be one of the two main supervisors of the PhD project. The second main supervisor is Prof. Norman Backhaus, a human geographer at the University of Zurich. The PhD student will work in Norman Backhaus's group Space, Nature and Society at the Geography Department of the University of Zurich and be member of Graduate School Geography & Earth System Science.


The candidate should

  • Bring a completed master's degree in geography, anthropology, development studies, sociology, political science or other social sciences.
  • Have knowledge and experience in quantitative methods of social sciences (including statistical evaluation) basic knowledge of qualitative methods as well as ethics and (analytic) philosophy is desired, a basic understanding of ornithology/biology is an asset.
  • Have a passion for and basic knowledge on the discourses on nature conservation and biodiversity protection.
  • Be motivated (ideally experienced) to work in an interdisciplinary team.
  • Excellent German language skills are an absolute prerequisite, and the candidate also needs a high standard of written and spoken English, knowledge of French is an asset.
  • Be able to start the PhD project between February and May 2024.


We offer
  • Four year funding for a PhD project.
  • A vibrant interdisciplinary and international working environment in environmental social sciences and environmental ethics.
  • Excellent working conditions at the University of Zurich, high quality of life in Zurich and supervision by two senior researchers (PIs).
  • Training in the framework of the Graduate School Geography & Earth System Science.

The application should include the following documents:
  • Curriculum vitae (including names of two reference persons)
  • Motivation letter, in which the candidate highlights his or her motivation to work at the interface of social sciences and environmental ethics.

Please submit the application documents as a single PDF document by 30th November 2023.
Start of the PhD project is between February and May 2024.
Submission Form
Further information: Dr. Anna Deplazes Zemp