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The Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs (FGGA) at Leiden University is looking for a PhD candidate in the field of terrorism studies to join a project funded by the European Research Council and administered by the FGGA.


Project Description
The Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) seeks to appoint a full-time PhD candidate to carry out research activities related to adaptations and evolution in violent non-state actors’ tactical and strategic behaviors and decision-making. The successful candidate will join the Terrorism and Political Violence Research Group at ISGA. This is a 100% research position, but opportunities to develop teaching expertise, gain experience, and potentially obtain a BKO (Basic Teaching Qualification) can be provided in consultation with ISGA and the PhD supervisor. The research should lead you to obtain a PhD within a four-year timeframe.

The PhD candidate’s research is part of the project Terrorist Group Adaptation & Lessons for Counterterrorism (TERGAP). To understand why terrorism is a persistent problem, we must explore and analyse how terrorist groups adapt their strategic use of violence and group decision-making in response to changes in their environment. For example, when governments install or expand security checkpoints, some groups adapt their violence by recruiting and deploying (more) female suicide bombers because they are less vulnerable to interception at checkpoints. TERGAP builds from this logic of adaptation to theorize and identify systematic changes and patterns in terrorist groups’ strategic violence in response to two changes in their environment: 1. New opportunities to radicalize, recruit, and mobilize aggrieved and vengeful individuals following government repression; 2. New counterterrorism policies, practices and operations.

To study the impact of the first change and identify adaptative mechanisms, TERGAP integrates emerging arguments in political science and international relations that rely on political psychology theories to understand how individuals’ needs influence group-level strategies. To study the impact of changes in counterterrorism, TERGAP identifies empirical models of organizational, organism, and/or other adaptation or adaptive behaviors and applies and tests them using new counterterrorism policy and/or counterterrorism event datasets generated by the project.
Terrorist groups have found ways to adapt to changes in their environment and stay relevant. We need to rethink existing frameworks of terrorism and counterterrorism strategies to improve our understanding of terrorist group adaptation that enables the continued threat.


The project is structured around three key pillars:

  1. Terrorist Group Behavior:
    Reframe how we think about terrorist groups’ motivations for violence to focus on recruitment and building support by developing a theoretical model and testing the expectations using statistical analyses and big data analytics. It is widely accepted in the empirical study of political violence, that terrorist groups are rational and strategic actors, but these groups rarely accomplish their political goals yet continue to use violence. This creates a fundamental puzzle. We accept terrorist groups as strategic, but we do not understand their motivations. One of the basic principles TERGAP explores is that in addition to the political objectives of terrorists, recruiting individuals seeking vengeance or retribution is of central importance to terrorist groups and motivates adaptation in their strategic use of violence.
  2. Measuring Counterterrorism
    Build two new cross-national datasets. The first data collection effort is completed using human-coding and focuses on counterterrorism policies and institutional practices. The second data collection effort uses NLP and/or LLMs machine-coding and focuses on identifying and recording counterterrorist actions and events.
  3. Identifying Adaptation Patterns & Behaviors
    Improve our understanding of terrorist group adaptation by applying inter/cross-disciplinary empirical models and using the new datasets to test the models and expectations. The datasets will also be submitted to machine learning algorithms and models to detect patterns of terrorist group adaptive behaviours. If patterns are detected, they can be used to develop and test predictive analyses that could empower our ability to forecast what terrorist group adaptation could look like in response to counterterrorism choices.


Description of the Position
The PhD candidate can support all three pillars and is integral for executing pillars 2 and 3. To align with the project’s objectives, the PhD dissertation should build on innovative approaches in terrorism and counterterrorism studies that apply theories, models, or frameworks from health and natural sciences to better understand how terrorism survives, and sometimes grows, in the face of well-funded and high-priority counterterrorism policies and operations. Therefore applicants can, but do not have to, have diverse educational and professional backgrounds that motivate their interest in studying terrorism and counterterrorism. The dissertation could lead toward new frontiers in political violence and conflict studies that strengthen our understanding of violent non-state actors’ adaptation and survival. During the PhD process, the candidate is expected to attend international conferences to present their research; financial support for conference travel and associated costs can be provided in consultation with the PhD supervisor.

The PhD candidate is required to support pillar 2 by assisting in collecting data on countries’ counterterrorism policies, changes in legislation, and institutional approaches and practices. The project/candidate will collect cross-national data so regional or country expertise is not required, but knowledge, experience, or interest in MENA, Africa, and/or Asia is appreciated. The source documents are already identified and will be provided to the PhD candidate. In addition to supporting the coding project, the PhD candidate can collect, code and use additional information included in the source documents for their dissertation.

The project’s principal investigator is a quantitative social scientist and will be focused on applying large-N/big data techniques, but applicants are not required to have statistical expertise. The successful applicant is expected to develop their empirical or statistical prowess and capabilities during the PhD process. Training and courses are available through ISGA and Leiden University and financial support for external additional training courses can be provided in consultation with the PhD supervisor.

Prospective candidates need to demonstrate a clear affinity with research on political violence, armed conflict, terrorism/counterterrorism, and/or international or national security. The quality of the research statement received outlining the candidate’s contribution to the project will influence the selection committee’s decision. Please see below for what to include in the research statement.

The PhD candidate will be supervised by Dr. Graig Klein (Assistant Professor in Terrorism and Political Violence; Project Principal Investigator) and promoted by Dr. Joachim Koops (Professor of Security).


Key Responsibilities

  • Conduct collaborative and novel research in the field of terrorism and/or counterterrorism;
  • Assist in counterterrorism data collection and coding;
  • Conduct independent and collaborative data analyses;
  • Present their work to academic and professional audiences, both independently and with team members;
  • Submit independent/solo-authored manuscripts to internationally recognized peer-reviewed academic journals;
  • Contribute to co-authored manuscripts to internationally recognized peer-reviewed academic journals;
  • Support the research team’s building of an international network that spans both academics and policymakers/practitioners working in terrorism and counterterrorism;
  • Support the research team’s management of journal articles at various stages of review;
  • Actively participate in discussions at the institute and research group level on research and teaching innovation;
  • Follow PhD courses based on an individual training and supervision plan, including through the Graduate School;
  • Obtain a PhD by completing either an unpublished monograph (thesis) or publishing several articles in peer-reviewed academic journals on a topic related to the project outlined above within a four-year timeframe.

Selection Criteria

  • Master’s degree completed by the time of the appointment, ideally in political science, international relations, security studies, STEM-related, computation social science, computer science, or mathematics. But Master degree in other disciplines will be considered if degree or field of research is relevant to the inter/cross-disciplinary objective of adaptation or evolutionary models. A research master degree is considered an asset;
  • Demonstrable ability and enthusiasm for research at the intersection of conceptual and policy-oriented research;
  • Experience with quantitative research methods and willingness to develop expertise;
  • Availability to travel outside the Netherlands if necessary;
  • Demonstrable good time-management skills;
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team in an organized and results-oriented fashion;
  • The PhD thesis and/or journal articles will be written in English and therefore excellent command of English is required. Dutch language skills are not a requirement, but will be seen as a plus.
  • Additional (non-English and non-Dutch) language skills will be seen as a plus, particularly if spoken/used in MENA, Africa, or Asia;
  • An explicit interest in terrorism and political violence;
  • Academic publications will be seen as a plus.

Our organisation
Leiden University is one of Europe's foremost research universities. It is the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in February 1575, and currently ranks in the top 100 of most international rankings. The University has approximately 34,000 students and 7,500 staff members.


The Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs
Located in The Hague – the International City of Peace and Justice – the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs offers a range of other programs focused on international relations, security, international law and international organization. It also hosts the Leiden University College (LUC), an international honors college of Leiden University situated The Hague. Firmly rooted in the academic tradition, the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs provides an inspiring and challenging education and research environment, with a strong interdisciplinary character and international orientation; it is a meeting place for students, scholars and professionals, a platform for innovation and entrepreneurship.


Institute of Security and Global Affairs
The Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) is a leading research and education institute, focusing on the most pressing local, national, European and global security issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. It currently hosts more than 120 academic and support staff members and offers the BA in Security Studies, the MSc in Crisis and Security Management, the Advanced MSc in International Relations and Diplomacy, the executive MSc in Cyber Security as well as a variety of innovative teaching offerings in the professional and MOOC fields. In addition, ISGA runs popular Minor Programmes in Global Affairs, Security, Safety and Justice and Intelligence Studies as well as the Faculty’s Honour Programme in Security and Global Affairs.

ISGA operates from The Hague, the third major city of the Netherlands, center of national governance and International City of Peace and Justice and advances both theory-informed and policy-oriented research.


Research Group
The PhD candidate will join the Terrorism and Political Violence Research Group at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA). Our research group is comprised of a number of academic researchers and practitioners who share a research interest in terrorism, counterterrorism, inter/national security, social movements, and political violence. Our core teaching activities within ISGA focus on the specialization track in Governance of Radicalism, Extremism, and Terrorism in the Crisis and Security Management (CSM) MSc programme. We also contribute to other teaching programmes within ISGA. You can find more information about the research group on the website.


Terms and conditions
The successful candidate will be part of an ambitious and dynamic team. He or she will be appointed for 1+3 years. The gross monthly salary is set on € 2.770,-- in the first year, increasing to € 3.539,-- gross per month in the final year, in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement for Dutch Universities.

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3%), training and career development and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.

All our PhD students are embedded in the Graduate School of Governance and Global Affairs. Our graduate school offers several PhD training courses at three levels: professional courses, skills training and personal effectiveness.


Diversity and inclusion are core values of Leiden University. Leiden University is committed to becoming an inclusive community which enables all students and staff to feel valued and respected and to develop their full potential. Diversity in experiences and perspectives enriches our teaching and strengthens our research. High quality teaching and research is inclusive.


Please submit online your application no later than April 1 2024 via the blue button in our application system. The position is envisaged to commence in August or September 2024.

Please ensure that you upload the following documents in PDF format, quoting the vacancy number:

  • Motivation letter, including your relevant interest and experience in the subject matter and in doing advanced research (max 1 page)
  • Curriculum vitae (if applicable list any publications, statistical program skills, and/or other programming/coding skills)
  • A writing sample (postgraduate thesis or publication)
  • A research statement, where you will pitch your specific ideas on how you would approach the project. This should include: your research question(s); how you would approach answering these questions (i.e. a preliminary research design, appropriate data, and analysis methodologies); and what you consider to be the academic (empirical and/or conceptual) contributions and relevance of the research (max 1000 words);
  • The names and addresses of two referees (no recommendation letters required at this stage).

Shortlisted candidates may be interviewed in April or May. Interviews could be held through an online platform.

Enquiries from agencies are not appreciated.