Postdoctoral Research Associate in Philosophy of Science

Durham, United Kingdom
£35,845 per annum
29 Jul 2021
End of advertisement period
12 Aug 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Philosophy

Grade 7: - £35,845 per annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 24 month
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 12-Aug-2021, 6:59:00 AM

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

The Philosophy Department at Durham University is a centre for world-leading research in a wide range of fields, grouped into four research clusters: 

  1. Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics;
  2. History of Philosophy;
  3. Mind, Language and Metaphysics; and
  4. Science, Medicine and Society.

It leads several interdisciplinary research centres, including the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS), the Durham Centre for Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, the Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage and the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease. Collaborative interdisciplinary research is at the heart of our research and impact strategy, as is our very strong performance in external research funding.

At both postgraduate and undergraduate level, students can choose from a wide range of topics spanning the whole discipline of philosophy. Admissions to the Department’s undergraduate programmes is competitive, and we consistently perform strongly in national rankings for philosophy. We have one of the largest PhD programmes in the UK, and many of our students go on to pursue highly successful academic careers.

Benefitting from strong student recruitment, the Department has expanded significantly in recent years, investing in key research areas to create concentrations of expertise that will catalyse the development of our ideas. We are using this opportunity to create a scholarly community that is open, representative and diverse: our commitment to this is expressed through work of the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Group, and our Athena Swan Bronze award.

The Role

Applications are invited for a  Postdoctoral Researcy Associate to join ‘Exploring Uncertainty and Risk in Contemporary Astrobiology’, a Leverhulme Trust-funded research project led by Dr Peter Vickers, with Dr Sean McMahon, Professor Chris Greenwell, and Professor Martin Ward as Co-Investigators. The project also features a steering committee with six relevant experts: Carol Cleland, Catriona Menzies, Lynn Rothschild, Tom McCleish, Steven J. Dick, and Lee Cronin.

One thing that sets the field of astrobiology apart is the degree of uncertainty compared with other fields: open questions abound, and in recent decades astrobiologists have been surprised by unanticipated developments, both theoretical and empirical. Such uncertainty generates significant disagreement in the community, even concerning the central concept of a ‘biosignature’. In addition, astrobiologists are aware of the fact that some of the most important advances in the field have had surprising origins, and several projects and missions have made discoveries that were not anticipated at the planning stage or during competition for funding.

With guidance from the PI and Co-Is, the PDRA will critically analyse the spread of low/medium/high risk projects in the community, cataloguing projects and missions over the past ~20 years, and develop a strategy for improved balance of risk and reward in the field moving forward, as well as investigating how effectively risks and rewards are balanced during selected astrobiology mission operations. The work will be complemented by conducting (and eventually publishing) interviews with astrobiologists concerning their own experiences and perspectives of ‘risk’ and ‘reward’. With the PI, the PDRA will bring the ‘scientific community modelling’ literature to bear on the astrobiology field. The PDRA will also be expected to: develop project publications (as sole or joint author as appropriate), attend project events including reading groups, assist with organising activities such as conferences and seminars, and help mentor the project’s PhD student.

This position will come with a dedicated budget for research expenses such as travel and accommodation. This role offers an excellent opportunity for an early career scholar to develop her/his research profile as part of a multidisciplinary team.

The successful applicant will be expected:

  • To conduct individual and collaborative research under the direction of the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigators.
  • To convey research material of a specialist nature to the team through discussions, presentations, and online forums.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to both academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator and other colleagues in the research team, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods, and fulfil nominated research objectives.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others, and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To travel to and access appropriate archives.

This post is fixed term for 24 months from 01/10/2021, in line with the Leverhulme funding.

The post-holder is employed to work on a research project which will be led by another colleague. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in her/his own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1 October 2021.

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Peter Vickers, peter.vickers@durham.ac.uk. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential with respect to the requirements set out above;
  • A research article or PhD dissertation extract (of no more than 10,000 words) demonstrating some aspect of your prior research which is pertinent to this role.

We will notify you on the status of your application at various points throughout the selection process, via automated emails from our e-recruitment system. Please check your spam/junk folder periodically to ensure you receive all emails.

When appointing to this role the University must ensure that it meets any applicable immigration requirements, including salary thresholds which are applicable to some visas.

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include a presentation and interview. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment as soon as possible following the closing date.

The Requirements



  • A good first degree in philosophy, science, history, or a closely related discipline.
  • A PhD (or be close to submission) in philosophy of science, science, history of science, or a closely related subject.


  • Experience in conducting high quality academic research in a field pertinent to the project's activity.
  • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-regarded journals.
  • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at significant conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.


  • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
  • The ability to work with interdisciplinary approaches.
  • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.



  • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
  • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.
  • Demonstrable ability to develop research projects and publications in collaboration with other academics.
  • Experience in organising conferences and/or seminars.


  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research.

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable