Spatio-temporal modelling of fresh water snails as vectors for schistosomiasis


KU Leuven


Monday, December 10, 2018

Start Date

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Geography and Tourism Research Group at KU Leuven and the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) (Belgium) seeks applications for a Phd position on spatio-temporal modelling of snail populations, beginning in February or March 2018. The PhD-researcher will be based at Leuven and RMCA (Belgium) and spend circa 2x2 months in Western-Uganda over the course of his/her PhD for field work.

The research forms part of an international collaborative project of the Royal Museum for Central Africa funded by DGD Belgium, named ‘ATRAP’: Action Towards Reducing Aquatic snail-borne Parasitic diseases’. Schistosomiasis, the most prominent snail-borne parasitic disease, is considered a global public health priority, as it ranks second only to malaria in terms of prevalence and morbidity. This disease affects more than 200 million people worldwide, with the vast majority living in Africa. It is caused by parasitic worms that are transmitted by freshwater snails. The overall aim of the ATRAP project is to contribute to a more effective prevention of snail-borne diseases in Uganda and Congo, through a multi-disciplinary approach.

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Within the project, 5 PhD researchers affiliated to universities in DR Congo, Uganda and Belgium will tackle various research questions ranging from the biological/ecological aspects of the infection cycle to the societal mechanisms at play determining schistosomiasis risk perception and knowledge transfer. The research conducted by the selected applicant for this position will have a strong bio-physical focus and will aim to (i) identify key local and regional drivers of snail populations, (ii) develop spatio-temporal models to represent snail distribution and (iii) identify putative transmission hotspots for schistosome parasites.  

The candidate will work at the Geography and Tourism Research Group, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of science, KU Leuven under the supervision of Dr. Lies Jacobs and Prof. Anton Van Rompaey ( and at the Biology Department of RMCA under the supervision of Dr. Tine Huyse ( The candidate will conduct a PhD at the Arenberg Doctoral School (ADS) – for more information on conducting a PhD at ADS see

Key activities of the PhD-scholarship:

  • Identify key factors influencing snail population dynamics over time based on in-field measurements and remote sensing data acquisitions.
  • Collect data on abiotic and biotic factors influencing snail populations through field work. 
  • Develop a spatially explicit model representing snail population dynamics over time with inputs from the project team and a network of citizen scientists collecting snail population data in the field. 
  • Incorporate scenarios for targeted snail control and their expected effects on the developed models. 
  • Translate model results to a comprehensible online mapping tool, accessible and usable by policy makers and administrators
  • Take active part in the teaching activities organized at the division of Geography and Tourism
  • Synthesize results of research in peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Supervise Masters-level interns in collection of field data and analysis of the results
  • Presenting results to academic and policy audiences in meetings, forums, workshops and conferences


  • M.Sc in Geography or in a related discipline that is broadly associated with land system science (e.g. bio-science engineering, environmental science or biology, natural resource management), with a strong research interest in the geography of neglected tropical diseases
  • Having obtained at least a distinction (cum laude)
  • Programming experience (e.g. in R, Python or matlab) 
  • Basic understanding of statistical and machine learning algorithms commonly used for spatial modelling (e.g. logistic regression modelling, random forest, support vector machines).
  • Advanced skills in analyzing geospatial data collected through field work or remote sensing in GIS (e.g., ArcGIS, QGIS, etc.) and the ability to source, manage and harmonize diverse data types in spatial analyses across a range of spatial scales
  • Experience in research focused on spatial modelling is an advantage
  • Experience with field work in developing countries is an advantage
  • Excellent communication skills in English – both orally and written
  • Ability to work collaboratively in the transdisciplinary space in developing countries, with academics, NGO’s, and government agencies at different scales and across different sectors
  • Ability to ensure that professional ethics are followed in gathering, processing and disseminating research information so that the rights, interests, values and welfare of people who take part in the research are not compromised
  • Strong interest in integrating knowledge across the natural, social, economic and health sciences, and in developing science-based products that meet policy and implementation needs

A competitive full-time PhD scholarship (at RMCA) for the duration of four years

  • Expected 4/5 days at KU Leuven, 1/5 days at RMCA. Employment by RMCA.
  • The possibility to follow academic, thematic and skills training courses at KU Leuven 
  • A dynamic and multi-cultural work environment 
  • Participation in a collaborative international research project 
  • Participation in policy dialogue with public sector, private sector and civil society actors.

Interested candidates should submit an application, including a motivation letter and CV, no later than December 10th through the online KU Leuven submission system at

For further information about the vacancy contact

Shortlisted candidates will be notified by December 20th. Only shortlisted candidates will be notified. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed the second week of January 2019.

You can apply for this job no later than December 10, 2018 via the online application tool
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