PhD fellowship "la Caixa INPHINIT" in environmental degradation and COVID-19

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    Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
    Natural sciences
    First Stage Researcher (R1) (Up to the point of PhD)




Group Leader: 

Prof. Federico Demaria

Research Project / Research Group Description

Human health and wellbeing have improved in the last centuries, but this has been achieved through an unprecedented rate of exploitation of natural resources. These changes define a new geological era: The Anthropocene. The environmental changes induced by human exploitation of the planet compromise any further improvement and maintenance of both human health and wellbeing at a global scale. Following the Planetary Health approach, we aim to investigate the interlinkages between human health and the health of the planet. This refers to the attainment of the maximum level of health of the human civilization worldwide through the integration of various human systems (political, economic and social) that respect the limits of the Earth’s natural systems.

Environmental threats such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and soil degradation endanger basic aspects of human through complex and often unexpected pathways. An example of such complex associations is the link between environmental degradation and the onset of new infectious diseases. There is evidence that environmental degradation has led to increased rates of emerging and re-emerging diseases such as malaria and Ebola. However, the complete causal sequences and impacts of ecological changes are still poorly understood. Frequently these emerging zoonosis appear and spread in circumstances that denote the effects of economic activities that destroys natural habitats and animal populations, in the absence of effective protection and regulatory policies. For instance, in the case of COVID-19, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Sars-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, came from wild animals, whose meat was sold at the Hankou's market in Wuhan. In this project, we will use COVID-19 as an example to study such complex interactions, as it has been defined as a paradigmatic case of an Anthropocene disease.

Job position description

The candidate will join a multidisciplinary team of talented researchers working on environmental sciences and public health. We propose to use COVID-19 as a case study to investigate (i) how environmental degradation -and specifically habitat destruction and biodiversity loss- can facilitate the origin and spread on new infectious diseases; and (ii) how COVID-19 contribute itself to environmental degradation. To address these research questions, the project will (i) explore the drivers of environmental change, the link between biodiversity loss and risk of emerging infectious diseases, and the practical policies and interventions to minimize such risk; and (ii) evaluate the environmental costs at a global scale of treating COVID-19 (e.g. environmental cost of health systems), and the environmental risks related to COVID-19 treatment and prevention (e.g. protective measures including the lockdown). The specific focus of the project will be discussed with the student, according to her/his own research interest, background and expertise. During the first year of the PhD, the candidate will (i) conduct literature reviews, (ii) contribute to define the specific study objectives, and (iii) participate in the selection of the most suitable methods to achieve the study objectives. The candidate is expected to publish at least three research papers in peer reviewed journals.

The project will be carried out from the vantage viewpoint of both ecology and environmental epidemiology. To this end, supervision of the student will be taken care of by the project leader Federico Demaria based at ICTA UAB, together with Cristina O'Callaghan-Gordo based at The Barcelona Institute for Global Health. Ideal candidates would come from public health and/or ecology. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this project, candidates from any discipline are welcome, as far as they are highly motivated. In this case, additional training might be required, i.e. epidemiology and statistics.

What is funded

Salary is €34.800 gross, plus €3.564 per year for additional costs (conferences, courses, etc.). An additional prize of €7.500 is paid upon completion of the PhD.


3 years


The selection process is very competitive and candidates should have an excellent academic record.

The candidate will apply through “la Caixa” foundation. Deadline 4 February 2021 at 2 pm (Central European Time - CET).



Eligible candidates must have resided or carried out their main activity in Spain for less than 12 months in the last 3 years, have a B2 English degree, and have a higher education degree that gives access to doctoral studies.


The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona is a research centre accredited with the Spanish Seal of Excellence María de Maeztu in 2020, the perfect place to carry out your PhD project through an INPhINIT Incoming fellowship.

For more information, please contact Ms Silvia Martínez (silvia.martinez.sinibaldi AT uab.cat).



The responsibility for the funding offers published on this website, including the funding description, lies entirely with the publishing institutions. The application is handled uniquely by the employer, who is also fully responsible for the recruitment and selection processes.