PhD: Climate change-related mortality in different population groups in urbanized Belgium

Category:  PhD

1 - Working at the VUB

For more than 50 years, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has stood for freedom, equality and solidarity, and this is very much alive on our campuses among students and staff alike. 


At the VUB, you will find a diverse collection of personalities: innovators pur sang, but above all people who are 100% their authentic selves. With some 4,000 employees, we are the largest Dutch-speaking employer, in the private sector, in Brussels; an international city with which we are only too happy to connect and where (around) our 4 campuses are located. 


Add to this our principle of free research - in which self-reflection, a critical attitude and an open, creative mind around scientific and social issues are central - and you have a university that is fundamentally groundbreaking and pioneering in education and research. In short: the VUB all over again


Moreover, the VUB is a member of EUTOPIA, an alliance of like-minded European universities, all ready to reinvent themselves.

2 - Position description

The Faculty of Engineering, Department Elektronica en informatica, Research Group Electronics and Informatics: Research – Development - Innovation is looking for a PhD-student with a doctoral grant


More concretely your work package, for the preparation of a doctorate, contains: 

You will take part in the 4-year project financed by the FWO (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), titled “ClimaTE change-related Mortality in different Population groups in URbanized Belgium (TEMPUR)”. The project is a collaboration between Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Ghent University, Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium, UCLouvain and Sciensano. Prof. Dr. Lesley De Cruz will be your academic promoter.  


Summary of the project 

Climate change is established to be unequivocal and has been unanimously identified as one of biggest threats to health worldwide. Greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of these global rising temperatures, affecting health and mortality worldwide. Currently almost half of the global population lives in urban areas, usually characterized by their higher environmental hazard burden (e.g., elevated levels of heat and air pollution). With future projections of both population growth and climate change, exposure to environmental hazards and subsequent health risks are only expected to increase. For Belgium, one of Europe’s most urbanized countries, most of climate change-related research has focused on health- and mortality associations in relation to heat and has been mostly investigated at country- and citywide level using classical regression methods. Evidence for the Belgian context is still scarce regarding climate change-related health impacts at high spatiotemporal resolution. The main aim of this project is to evaluate for the first time in Belgium climate change-related (cause-specific) excess mortality attributed to temperature under different future climate and population projections at high spatiotemporal scale for the entire country. 


Your research tasks 

Climate change is an escalating global health crisis, especially for the 50% of the world population that lives in urban areas, which suffer from the urban heat island effect and higher air pollution levels. It is therefore crucial to understand the impact on our health, to take the most effective measures.  

The aim of this project is to use urbanized Belgium as a test bed to go beyond the classical city-wide regression methods associating heat with health effects. A more detailed, high-resolution analysis will be made possible thanks to the unique cross-pollination of scientific domains represented by the different project partners, which combine high-resolution climate, air quality, health, mortality, socio-economic, demographic, and geographic data.  

Your role in this project is to combine these unique, high-resolution data sets with innovative machine learning methods to create a method that provides an interpretable local estimate of heat, heat stress and health impacts, given the large-scale temperature, local properties of the city (e.g. presence of greenspace, water...), and the individual socio-economic and health background. Your method will then be applied to future climate and demographic projections, to estimate the future evolution of heat-related health impact, but also to investigate which measures we can take to harness our cities against heat-related health problems. 


You will have a limited set of teaching responsibilities. This includes the practical or exercise sessions for a course in the Master in Applied Computer Science (MACS) programme (e.g. Techniques of AI), and the co-supervision of a Master’s thesis related to your research. 




For this function, our Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering Campus (Elsene) will serve as your home base. 

3 - Profile

What do we expect from you?


  • You have a Master's in mathematics, physics, (bioscience) engineering, computer science or geography 



  • You have a good knowledge of either of these topics, and a strong interest and motivation to explore both: 

    • Urban climate studies 

    • Machine learning and deep learning 

  • Good programming skills (Python and libraries such as sklearn, Tensorflow or PyTorch) are a must. 

  • You are curious, you have a critical and scientific mindset, and can work both independently and as part of a team. 

  • Experience with meteorological model or observation data is a strong plus. 

  • You have excellent oral and written communication skills and are fluent in English. 


  • You have not performed any works in the execution of a mandate as an assistant, paid from operating resources, over a total (cumulated) period of more than 12 months.


The VUB wants to be a reflection of the society where everyone's talent is valued, regardless of gender, age, religion, skin color, migration background, disability and neurodiversity.

4 - Offer

Are you going to be our new colleague?


You’ll be offered a full-time PhD-scholarship, for 12 months (extendable up to max. 48 months, on condition of the positive evaluation of the PhD activities), with planned starting date 01/09/2024


You’ll receive a grant linked to one of the scales set by the government.


IMPORTANT: The effective result of the doctorate scholarship is subject to the condition precedent of your enrolment as a doctorate student at the university.


At the VUB, you’re guaranteed an open, involved and diverse workplace where you are offered opportunities to (further) build on your career.


As well as this, you will also enjoy various other benefits:

  • Extensive homeworking options, a telework allowance of 50 euros per month OR an internet fee of 20 euros per month;
  • An open and informal working environment where attention is paid to work-life balance, and exceptional holiday arrangements with 35 days of leave (based on a fulltime contract), closure between Christmas and New Year and 3 extra leave days;
  • Cost-free hospitalisation insurance;
  • Full reimbursement of your home-to-work commute with public transport according to VUB-policy, and/or compensation if you come by bike; 
  • A wide selection of meals in our campus restaurants at attractive prices;
  • Excellent and affordable facilities for sport and exercise, a range of discounts via Benefits@Work (in  all kinds of shops, on flights, in petrol stations, amusement parks...) and Ecocheques
  • Nursery near campus, discount on holiday camps
  • The space to form your job content and to continuously learn through our VUB learning platforms and training courses;
  • And finally: great colleagues with a healthy drive.

5 - Interested?

Is this the job you’ve been dreaming of?


Then apply, at the latest on 20/06/2024, via, and upload the following documents:

  • your CV;
  • your motivation letter;
  • your diploma (not applicable for VUB alumni).


Do you have questions about the job content? Contact Lesley De Cruz at or on 026292930.


Would you like to know what it’s like to work at the VUB? Go to, and find all there is to know about our campuses, benefits, strategic goals and your future colleagues.


Would you like more information about EUTOPIA? Go to, and read more about the role of the VUB in the development of the EUTOPIA alliance.


You can contact the person mentioned in the job description.