PhD position in the history of health complexity

PhD position in the history of health complexity
  • KU - SUND - MUSEION - Kbh K
  • Bredgade 62, 1260 København K
We are looking for a highly motivated candidate for a three-year PhD project commencing 1 August 2024 or after agreement. The PhD position is available via a Carlsberg Semper Ardens Accelerate-funded project called “Health Matters: Complexity and materiality in the medical museum,” conducting historical and museological studies of health complexity (PI: Associate Professor Adam Bencard), at Medical Museion, the University of Copenhagen’s museum for the culture and history of medicine.

The project – about Health Matters
Most disease states today are complex, involving the interaction of biological, social, psychological, and economic processes that may be non-linear, adaptive, and have other features of complex systems. This demands new methods and approaches in health research but also concerns wider society, as communication about this multi-dimensional science can complicate understandings of health and illness. Both scientific models of health as well as communicative frameworks tend to favor simplification and reduction. Health complexity thus challenges both how we understand health and how we might begin to talk about it in ways that are responsive to the underlying complexity.

Health Matters takes up this problem by asking: How might we engage publics in health complexity, in ways that remain true to the non-reductionist, non-linear nature of complex systems? Health Matters approaches this problem through a particular medium: The medical museum. The project proposes that medical museums have a set of tools – historical objects, spaces and curatorial expertise – that are uniquely suited to the challenge of discussing health complexity. The central proposition is that objects and stories from history of medicine, through their materiality, can facilitate encounters with health complexity that are responsive to the non-linear and entangled nature of health and bodies.

Within this larger project frame, the PhD project will focus on histories of health complexity and how it has been understood in different periods. The project will be built around three historical studies of conceptions of complexity – in other words, moments in the history of medicine in which doctors thought about health as complex and entangled. The three proposed case studies are 1) 18th century humoral medicine, 2) 19th century metabolic science; and 3) the rise of environmental health in the early 20th century. However, these are up for discussion, should the candidate have particular ideas and knowledges. The studies will both form a reservoir of concepts that can be used to a) refract and contextualize contemporary understandings of health complexity, and b) as sites of material culture, from which objects used in museological research and object-based workshops can be gathered. This work will be done in collaboration with the other members of the research group. The student will thus be involved both in historical studies through archives, as well as through the museum collections.

Place of employment
The PhD candidate will be based at Medical Museion. As part of the PhD education, the candidate will receive teaching training and is expected to contribute to teaching of courses offered by Medical Museion and the Institute for Public Health.

The principal supervisor will be Associate Professor Adam Bencard. It is possible to suggest additional co-supervisors. The PhD student will also be able to benefit from feedback from the Copenhagen Center for Health Complexity, a newly established research center at the University of Copenhagen, Department of Public Health.

Who are we looking for?
We are looking for a highly motivated and enthusiastic PhD candidate with the following competencies and experience:

  • Applicants should have a Master’s degree (see specifications below) and educational background in a discipline of relevance for the Health Matters project, e.g., history of medicine (preferably), history and philosophy of science, science and technology studies, anthropology of health and medicine, or a related field of study.
  • Curious mind-set with a strong interest in idea-oriented history of the medical sciences.
  • Applicants should have good English skills, both written and spoken. Danish language skills are considered an advantage, as the project also involves participating in the planning and execution of public workshops in the museum.
  • It is considered an advantage that candidates have an interest in and possibly experience with science and medical museums.
  • It is desirable for candidates to be comfortable working in research groups and have an interest in collaborative work.

About Medical Museion and its research environment
The Medical Museion is a University Medical Museum at the Department of Public Health. It combines an interdisciplinary research group that looks at health and medical sciences in their cultural, historical, and philosophical context. The Center’s scientific research invokes fundamental questions about the relationship between medical science, clinical medicine and human experience; and the Medical Museion’s starting point is that biomedical research is an integral part of culture and history. We produce exhibitions, events, collection projects, and online communication, all informed by both biomedical science and our humanities research program covering philosophy of science, history of science, medical humanities, STS, museology, and anthropology.

Qualifications needed
To be eligible for the PhD programme, you must have completed a degree programme, equivalent to a Danish master’s degree (180 ECTS/3 FTE BSc + 120 ECTS/2 FTE MSc) related to the subject area of the project, e.g., in history and philosophy of science, philosophy, or science and technology studies. For information on eligibility of completed programmes, see General assessments for specific countries and Assessment database.

Terms of employment
Employment as a PhD fellow is full time and for a maximum 3 years.

Employment is conditional upon your successful enrolment as a PhD student at the PhD School at the Faculty of HEALTH, University of Copenhagen. This requires submission and acceptance of an application for the specific project formulated by the applicant.

The terms of employment and salary are in accordance with the agreement between the Ministry of Finance and The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations on Academics in the State (AC). The position is covered by the Protocol on Job Structure.

Responsibilities and tasks

  • Carry through an independent research project under supervision at the host institution
  • Complete PhD courses corresponding to approx. 30 ECTS / ½ FTE
  • Participate in active research environments, including a stay at another research institution, preferably abroad
  • Teaching and knowledge dissemination activities
  • Write scientific papers aimed at high-impact journals
  • Write and defend a PhD thesis on the basis of your project

Application and Assessment Procedure
Your application including all attachments must be in English and submitted electronically by clicking APPLY NOW below.

  • Cover letter explaining your qualifications and research focus (max. one page)
  • Motivation letter explaining your reasons for applying for this particular PhD position. The motivation letter should include a suggestion for a potential project on histories of health complexity, including a motivation for the study, research questions, and methodology. (max. two pages)
  • Curriculum vitae including information about your education, work experience (e.g., teaching), language skills, and other skills relevant for the position.
  • Original diplomas (bachelor’s and master’s degree or equivalent) and a transcript of records in the original language, including an authorized English translation, if issued in a language other than English or Danish. If not completed, a certified/signed copy of a recent transcript of records or a written statement from the institution or supervisor is accepted.
  • A writing sample (e.g., master’s thesis or other relevant material)
  • Publication list (if available)

Application deadline:
The deadline for applications is 30 April 2024, 23:59 CET.
We reserve the right not to consider material received after the deadline, and not to consider applications that do not live up to the above-mentioned requirements.

The further process
After the deadline, a number of applicants will be selected for academic assessment by an unbiased expert assessor. You are notified whether your application will be selected for assessment.

The assessor will assess the qualifications and experience of the shortlisted applicants with respect to the above mentioned research area, techniques, skills and other requirements. The assessor will conclude whether each applicant is qualified. The assessed applicants will have the opportunity to comment on their assessment. You can read about the recruitment process at

For specific information about the PhD fellowship, please contact Adam Bencard (

General information about PhD study at the Faculty of HEALTH is available at the PhD School’s website:

The University of Copenhagen wishes to reflect the surrounding community and invites all regardless of personal background to apply for the position.

Part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), and among Europe’s top-ranking universities, the University of Copenhagen promotes research and teaching of the highest international standard. Rich in tradition and modern in outlook, the University gives students and staff the opportunity to cultivate their talent in an ambitious and informal environment. An effective organisation – with good working conditions and a collaborative work culture – creates the ideal framework for a successful academic career.