PhD position Implementation of Circular Business Models: lessons from practice

Job description

While this body of work is very useful for scholars to try to grasp what the circular economy is about, at the level of individual firms it presents little insights into the dynamic transition and innovation process these firms are going through. Also, while the theoretical body of knowledge on Circular Business Model Innovation (CBMI) is growing, there is a need for more empirical insights, and a translation of these insights into recommendations and guidelines for strategic and operational business decisions. What firms need to know to make a successful transition is not “what is circularity about?”, but rather “how do we get there?”.

As a PhD researcher, you will contribute to create a better understanding of transition pathways towards effective, scalable, and resilient circular business models, by analysing past and current trajectories of firms that have been attempting to implement circularity in their business. Investigating the origin and evolution of circular entrepreneurial endeavours allows you to identify the main driving and shaping factors as well as (solutions to) barriers from the perspective of the firm or entrepreneur in relation to external actors and trends. Analysing a large number of cases in different sectors and contexts in a structured way will enable you to identify change trajectories, fruitful combinations of circularity strategies, pitfall mitigation tactics, and success factors to aspire and protect. More specifically, you will be in charge to build a unique large-scale database on circular business models, based on survey and interview research. Based on this database, you will investigate circular business models in the broader context of internal and external influencing factors for entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial decision making. You will publish and discuss the insights from this research in scientific papers, as well as in an accessible and applicable format or tool that can be used by practitioners in industry and policy makers.

Description of the vacancy

This PhD position focuses on empirical work, making use of relevant academic concepts and theories. At the core of the PhD is the building of a large-scale European database on circular business model implementation across a wide variety of industrial sectors. This will entail the design and roll-out of a large-scale survey, data collection and processing, statistical analysis, as well as qualitative empirical research such as interviews, focus groups, etc. Underpinning literature research will be instrumental to assure scientific sound empirical work. The geographical scope of your empirical work will focus on Belgium and the Netherlands, but also other European countries can be addressed depending on your own interests and contacts. Based on your interests or former experience, you will further scope research questions and subtopics to focus on (e.g. change management, governance, capabilities, value chain collaboration, etc).

This PhD position is granted within the collaboration between VITO (B) and the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development at Utrecht University (NL). You will be mainly stationed at VITO (Mol, Belgium), where you will be embedded in an application-oriented circular economy research team under supervision of Wim Van Opstal and Saskia Manshoven. Your academic supervision is located at Utrecht University, where you will be able to follow courses, seminars, and enjoy network opportunities with other researchers on circular business models. The academic supervisory team includes prof. dr. Marko Hekkert, dr. Julian Kirchherr, and dr. Christina Bidmon. Both institutions are output-oriented, with a strong focus on applicable knowledge development.
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We offer

  • A research position in a stimulating and multi-disciplinary environment on the nexus of academia (Utrecht University) and applied research (VITO), with access to a solid industrial network.
  • Support in publishing in high-ranked international scientific journals.
  • The opportunity to work towards obtaining a PhD degree within four years, in an international network of both academia and industry.
  • A strong delivery-oriented environment where you can see the results of your work at early stages in your PhD trajectory.
  • Frequent interactions with a joint supervisory team from Utrecht University and VITO, that will support you in achieving your research milestones and outputs in an efficient and impactful way. For more information about our approach, we can refer to Kirchherr, J. (2018). The lean PhD: Radically improve the efficiency, quality and impact of your research. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • The unique opportunity to create, analyze, and present the first large scale survey-based database on circular business models in Europe.

The procedure

Please submit your application through the VITO application portal by uploading your CV, letter of motivation, and bachelors and master degree transcripts. The selection procedure will start as soon as we receive your CV.

  • Step 1: After a screening of your CV, you will be invited to perform a written assignment.
  • Step 2: If selected, you will be invited to an online interview with the joint Utrecht-VITO supervisory team, followed by an on-site interview in Mol with VITO management.
  • Step 3: After being selected as PhD candidate, you will prepare a formal PhD application and defend it for a VITO-jury, either on June 2nd,  2023 (registration deadline 29/03/2023) or on September 27th, 2023 (registration deadline 31/07/2023), depending on your preference. A successful defense is a prerequisite to start the PhD. The effective starting date of the PhD will preferably be between September 2023 and December 2023.

Job requirements

  • You hold (or are about to obtain) a master degree relevant to the position (e.g. (applied) economics, commercial engineering, innovation studies, (bio)-engineering with postgraduate studies in (applied) economics, …), for which you obtained a high GPA (a cum laude level is a prerequisite).
  • You have a goal- and output-oriented mindset and an entrepreneurial attitude. You are eager to take initiative, not afraid to pursue innovative ideas and you are able to work autonomously as a driver of your research.
  • You have strong communication skills and are eager to engage with practitioners and entrepreneurs, e.g. through networking, interviews, and surveys.
  • You are strong in stakeholder management, being able to translate multiple visions and feedback into feasible plans that work.
  • You are passionate about academic writing and translating practical knowledge into scientifically sound research.
  • You have strong reading, writing and conversation skills in English and Dutch (C1 proficiency level), other languages (e.g. French) are considered as a plus.
  • Relevant professional experience is considered as a plus.
  • You are willing to work in Mol (B) with regular visits to Utrecht (NL). Residential facilities for PhD students are available close to VITO premises, for more information click here.
  • Preferably, you have a driver’s license (B).