PhD opportunity - call for application
Interested in working with us and unpacking China-Africa relations in the Congo Basin forests?

Context and aim

Forests and forestlands in the tropics are supposed to serve a multitude of global and domestic interests, including development, climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. All these interests have explicit assumptions in common over their positive contribution to the economic wellbeing and social equality of society. However, who – and whose society – benefits from ongoing deforestation and forest concessions in the tropics?  The FOREQUAL project aims to answer this question by analysing global, local and historic data to gain an understanding of the outcomes produced in trade and investment patterns in relation to forests and forestland in the Global South. The project focusses on the Congo Basin, specifically Cameroon and DRC, and the former colonial empires in Europe. We also aim to shed light on relations with China, as a new ‘external partner’. Here the focus is on understanding Chinese forest sector operations and the actors involved, their underlying beliefs, sustainability understandings and networks.

The University of Helsinki, of Kinshasa, of Yaoundé, of Goettingen, and the Chinese Academy of Forestry together with five PhD candidates in the FOREQUAL project are implementing this research.

Required qualifications and skills

The PhD candidate is expected to design a creative and original approach with mainly qualitative and potentially quantitative methods and conduct extensive case studies of Chinese forest sector operations in Cameroon and DRC. Potential research topics in addition to the grounding of Chinese forest sector operations in the Congo Basin could include desk research to investigate narratives of Chinese forest sector engagement in the wider scientific and popular literature/media, as well as additional quantitative approaches to investigate flows of timber and finance between the Congo Basin, mainland China, and elsewhere. The PhD candidate will lead at least two and contribute to at least one journal articles over the course of the PhD project. A successful applicant will be adventurous and enthusiastic about fieldwork, and excited to learn about new places and engage with diverse people from the local to the global level.

Specific requirements:

  • MSc degree in social sciences (international forest policy, (rural) sociology, political science, development studies, human geography, economics, area studies and related fields),
  • Scientific proficiency in both English and Mandarin is a must, French language skills are an advantage;
  • Previous research experience related to the forest sector and China-Africa relations,
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to work independently and in highly diverse research teams;


Location and funding

The selected PhD candidate will be based at the Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki in Finland, with extensive fieldwork stays Cameroon and DRC, in collaboration with the IRIC/University of Yaoundé 2, Cameroon, and the University of Kinshasa, DRC.

The selected candidate will receive a grant of 1250 EUR monthly for a period of 30 months (with possibility of extension up to an additional 18 months).

Costs for fieldwork and required travels to China and the Congo Basin are fully covered by the project.


To apply, please submit the following documents in English:

  1. Curriculum vitae (incl. language skills, a list of publications if applicable and contact information of 2 referees)
  2. Cover letter explaining your interest, motivation and expertise for the position (1-2 pages maximum)
  3. Brief research proposal providing an overview of the proposed PhD research and the research questions, brief insight in underlying  theory/conceptual framework and methods, and key references used (2-3 pages maximum)


Application Deadline

30 June 2022 by 17:00 Helsinki/Finland time

Selection Process

A short list will be made by a selection committee on the basis of the application materials. Candidates on the short list will be contacted and asked for an online interview in July 2022.

E-mail your application materials to: and