PhD on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Sustainability and Human Well-being – University of Barcelona

Deadline: 20 March 2024
Position: PhD Studentship, Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Sustainability and Human Well-being*
Location: University of Barcelona, Spain
Salary: 22,250 euros per year, plus payment of tuition fees

*Note: This is one of several ecological economics research positions available at the University of Barcelona. You can find the other openings on the Jobs page of this website.


The University of Barcelona is looking for an outstanding PhD candidate to work on an exciting new project on the impact that trends in artificial intelligence (AI) could have on environmental sustainability and human well-being. This funded PhD position will contribute to a new Horizon Europe research project entitled Models, Assessment, and Policies for Sustainability (MAPS). Funding is available for 3–4 years, with an anticipated start of September 2024.

The development of AI is already beginning to have an impact on society, and this impact is likely to increase exponentially in the coming years. AI is likely to have profound effects on employment, environmental resource use, and ultimately human well-being. To date, these effects, and how to manage them, remain vastly under-researched.

Position Description

This position will estimate the impact of different scenarios of digitalisation, automation, and artificial intelligence on the labour and resource use requirements of economic activity, and estimate the potential impact of these trends on human well-being. It will explore questions such as: (1) What impacts would different AI scenarios have on resource use and environmental sustainability? (2) What impacts would different AI scenarios have on employment, time use, and human well-being? (3) What policies would help steer AI development towards the achievement of a good life for all within planetary boundaries? (4) Can AI be aligned with the goals of a “post-growth” economy?

The methods used will include techniques such as environmentally-extended input–output analysis, time-use analysis, machine learning, and scenario modelling.

The position will be based at the University of Barcelona (Spain), under the primary supervision of Dr Daniel O’Neill.


Essential — The successful candidate will have:

  • A first-class BSc and MSc degree (by the end of the 2023–2024 academic year). Candidates must have top grades to be considered (e.g. 8 out of 10 on the Spanish scale, Distinction on the UK scale, an A- or higher on the US scale).
  • A background in an area such as ecological economics, computer science, environmental studies, or other relevant natural/social sciences.
  • Experience in quantitative research methods (e.g. one or more of: input–output analysis, time-use analysis, machine learning, scenario modelling, material flow analysis, etc.)
  • Motivation and initiative to work both independently and as part of an interdisciplinary team
  • Excellent verbal and written communications skills
  • Excellent organisational and time management skills
  • Fluency in English

Desirable — The successful candidate may have:

  • Knowledge of post-growth research topics
  • Experience in computer programming
  • Proficiency in Spanish and/or Catalan
How to Apply

Please submit your CV, transcripts from previous degrees, and a motivation letter (max 2 pages) to Dr Daniel O’Neill at by 20 March 2024, 23:59 CET. The subject of your email should be: “Application to PhD on Impact of Artificial Intelligence”.

Within your motivation letter, please indicate how your skills and experience match the essential/desirable specifications listed above, and discuss how you would assess the impact that trends in artificial intelligence could have on environmental sustainability and human well-being.

Within the body of your email, please specify for both your undergraduate and master’s degrees: (1) the title of the degree, (2) the institution and country, (3) the years in which your started and competed the degree, and (4) the average grade for your degree. Please include this grade (a) on the original grading scale, and (b) on either the Spanish, UK, or US GPA grading scale. If your master’s degree is not yet complete, please indicate the expected completion date. If your degrees are from Europe, please also include the number of ECTS. Please provide this information for each degree separately. 

Please ask two referees to submit reference letters for you to by 20 March 2024, 23:59 CET. The subject of their emails should be: “Reference for YOUR NAME”.

Deadline to apply: Wednesday, 20 March, 2024, 23:59 CET

Start date of position: September 2024

Salary: €22,250 per year, plus payment of tuition fees

Online interviews are expected to be held 8–12 April.

The successful candidate will be invited to submit an application for admission to a PhD programme at the University of Barcelona. There is some flexibility on the choice of PhD programme based on the candidate’s previous background (e.g. economics, computer science, environmental science, sociology, etc.)

The MAPS Project

There is an urgent need for a new economic paradigm that reconciles human well-being with environmental sustainability — one based on a “post-growth” approach. High-income countries must move beyond the pursuit of GDP growth as a policy goal, and instead pursue policies that improve human well-being while reducing resource use.     

The aim of the MAPS project is to broaden the range of policies, models, and assessments to help achieve sustainability, equity, and human well-being. It is a 4-year Horizon Europe research project coordinated by the University of Barcelona, with nine other partners across Europe. 

The successful candidate will join one of the top groups of post-growth researchers in the world. We work closely as a team, and the successful candidate is expected to live and work in the Barcelona area.  Barcelona is a dynamic city on the Mediterranean, with a very high quality of life. The University of Barcelona is generally regarded as the top university in Spain, and one of the best in Europe.

We are committed to advancing the careers of junior women researchers, and researchers from under-represented backgrounds, who are encouraged to apply.