PhD + Postdoctoral Research Fellow positions @ Deakin University – Healthy Food, Healthy Planet, Healthy People

PhD + Postdoctoral Reaserch Fellow Opportunity – Deakin University, supervised by Dr Michalis Hadjikakou

Deakin University is seeking expressions of interest for one Postdoctoral Fellowship (2-years at Academic Level A or B) and one PhD Scholarship (3-years, fully funded) in food system sustainability assessment as part of a Centre of Research Excellence on “Healthy Food, Healthy Planet, Healthy People”, in collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health.

Research topic and background

The food system is a key determinant of human health as well as a key driver of global environmental impact. A major transition in the food supply has resulted in widescale distribution and consumption of meat-based and increasingly highly processed food and beverage products that are contributing to poor health outcomes and have high environmental footprints. In Australia, extensive transformation of the food system is needed to reduce the large and increasing prevalence of diet-related diseases and to enable the transition towards net zero emissions and staying within planetary boundaries.

While emerging work has focused on the impacts of broad agricultural commodities (notably animal source foods such as meat and dairy), existing footprint databases are not fully representative of the many packaged products most of us consume on a regular basis. Consumers are increasingly concerned about environmental issues, yet they are currently unable to access the right information about the sustainability of food and beverage products. Similarly, the food industry is in desperate need for sustainability data on the types of food and beverage products that are likely to have lower environmental impact and are unlikely to attract regulatory and fiscal disincentives in the longer term. Governments also require reliable information to inform policies designed to support a more sustainable food production and consumption environment. A rigorous and comprehensive analytical framework capable of providing reliable estimates of the environmental impacts associated with the entire food supply chain (from farm to fork) of food and beverage products is needed to provide information for all market actors.

The Healthy Food, Healthy Planet, Healthy People NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence will address the impacts of food on human and planetary health by providing the granular data and insights required to undertake the systemic changes necessary for meaningful transformation of the food system.

Project aim

The aim of this project will be to develop a state-of-the-art hybrid life cycle assessment approach to of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other critical environmental sustainability indicators such as water, land use and biodiversity impact for ~100,000 food and beverage products contained in the FoodSwitch database. This will involve using a combination of both bottom-up (ingredient-based, process-based life cycle inventories) and top-down (economy-wide, environmentally extended input-output analysis) sustainability assessment approaches, along with a sophisticated handling of uncertainty and error propagation associated with each of the major stages in the food supply chain (food production, processing, distribution, retail and food preparation).

The Postdoctoral Fellow and the PhD candidate will work together on the development of the life cycle assessment approach and on delivering comprehensive food and beverage environmental footprint database. They will then be in a unique position to apply the approach and database alongside other unique datasets offered through the “Healthy Food, Healthy Planet, Healthy People” NHMRC Centre of Research the Excellence to answer questions such as (but not limited to):

  • How do different healthy and sustainable diets made up of different combinations of available food products perform across different environmental indicators?
  • How can the environmental footprint data be meaningfully combined with nutrition quality algorithms to produce ratings and food labelling that identifies the degree of alignment or misalignment between environmental and health outcomes within and across product categories?
  • How important are GHG emissions related to transportation/processing and the cooking method across different products?
  • To what extent can increases in production efficiency and/or uptake of renewable energy reduce the environmental footprint of different food products?
  • How do consumers react to having more granular information? What type of information is most effective in pushing them towards healthier and more sustainable diets?

Research Environment

The Postdoctoral Fellow and the PhD candidate will be principally supervised by Dr Michalis Hadjikakou and will work within Deakin University’s Planet-A lab, led by Alfred Deakin Professor Brett Bryan, the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Centre for Integrative Ecology. Planet-A offers a unique research environment with a strong focus on sustainability assessment of the land use and food system, notably through its involvements in the Land Use Futures project. The position is based at the Melbourne/Burwood Campus.

Co-supervision and mentoring opportunities will be available through the “Healthy Food, Healthy Planet, Healthy People” NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence partners at the George Institute, Imperial College London and Oxford University.

Selection criteria

Applications are invited from candidates with a strong tertiary qualification in environmental science and/or management, ecology, geography, sustainability assessment, ecological economics, environmental/sustainable engineering or related fields. Candidates with a working background in life cycle assessment, environmental footprinting, input-output analysis, life cycle assessment, food systems modelling, integrated assessment modelling or similar fields are particularly encouraged to apply. Candidates with a background in social science, economics, nutrition science or public health with strong quantitative skills and with an interest in sustainability, will also be considered.

Essential Skills (Postdoctoral Fellow and PhD candidate)

  • Sound technical ability and experience working with quantitative data as evidenced by prior work;
  • Excellent data management, numerical and programming skills are essential;
  • Proficiency in English, including excellent written and oral communication skills;
  • Evidence of ability to publish or disseminate academic research, or similar.

Essential Skills (Postdoctoral Fellow)

  • Prior experience in the development or application of quantitative sustainability assessment methods such as life cycle assessment;
  • On-time delivery of project tasks, reporting and other deliverables of research;
  • An ability to manage research projects and willingness to develop good working relationships with other researchers in the field and project collaborators.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must be either a domestic or international candidate currently residing in Australia. Domestic includes candidates with Australian Citizenship, Australian Permanent Residency or New Zealand Citizenship.

To be competitive for the Postdoctoral position, you must have:

  • Recently obtained or just submitted a PhD in environmental science and/or management, geography, sustainability assessment, ecological economics, environmental/sustainable engineering, nutrition science or public health or related fields;
  • An emerging track record of academic publications in the field showcasing your ability to carry out quantitative analysis.

For the PhD position, you must:

  • Meet Deakin’s PhD entry requirements;
  • Be enrolling full time and hold an honours degree (first class) or an equivalent standard master’s degree with a substantial research component;
  • Applicants are expected to have 1st class Honours (or equivalent ranking) in a suitable undergraduate degree and a top-ten grade in relevant postgraduate degrees;
  • Please refer to the research degree entry pathways page for further information.

Application Procedure

Enquiries and expressions of interest should be sent to Dr Michalis Hadjikakou ( The formal application procedure is expected to open shortly. Interested candidates will be expected to a include a cover letter referring to the essential skills outlined above along with academic transcripts, a CV and the names and contact details of two referees. The deadline for applications is expected to be 31 November 2021. Candidates would ideally commence in February 2022.

For more available positions within the CIE please visit our Current Vacancies page.