Masters fellowships in social-ecological regime shifts for 2018

SARChI Research Chair in Social-Ecological Systems and Resilience
Centre for Complex Systems in Transitions, Stellenbosch University


Regime shifts, long-lasting shifts or changes in the structure and function of social-ecological systems often occur abruptly and unexpectedly. These changes have substantial impact on ecosystem services such as crop production or food regulation that directly impacts human wellbeing. The South African Research Chair in Social-Ecological Systems and Resilience, held by Prof Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, aims to contribute to theory, methods and understanding that can improve our capacity to assess risks and build resilience to regime shifts that may jeopardize ecosystem services and human wellbeing. This work centers on the Regime Shifts Database (, an initiative that is being conducted in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden. The core goals of the initiative are to provide synthesis of regime shifts that have occurred in different social-ecological systems, their drivers and consequences for ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

Dryland degradation, the shift from a highly productive vegetated regime into a marginalised unvegetated state is an important type of regime shift in southern Africa and one of the major environmental issues of the 21st century. Drylands which can be defined as arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas cover 41% of the earth’s surface and support around 35% of the global population. The communities found in drylands are often remote from markets and distant from centres of decision makers and are sensitive to various social and ecological pressures. Maintaining the livelihoods of these communities relies on identifying and detecting the main drivers responsible for regime shifts in drylands to increase the resilience of these systems. We seek a Masters student that is interested to contribute to understanding this important regime shift.

The Chair and associated researchers and students are hosted by the recently established NRF Flagship initiative on ‘Complex Systems in Transition’ (CST) at Stellenbosch University. The CST builds on a strong history of transdisciplinary research and complexity studies, and hosts several leading scientists and students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, providing a vibrant hub for solution-oriented, transdisciplinary, sustainability science. The Chair and CST are also partners in an exciting new collaborative research program, Guidance for Resilience in the Anthropocene: Investments for Development (GRAID), working together with the CSIR and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden. The primary objective of the CST is to provide transformational knowledge on the dynamics of multi-scale social-ecological change, and strategic insights into the new modes of research and governance that can bring about a just transition to a more equitable and sustainable society, in southern Africa and globally.


Call for applications

We seek a motivated individual to contribute to understanding regime shifts in southern African drylands, most likely focusing specifically on the Karoo. Interested individuals should have a strong track-record, strong analytical skills particularly in Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing. Candidates must have a keen interest in social-ecological systems and resilience thinking, an interest and ability to integrate across the social and natural sciences, and enjoy collaboration. The candidate should be an independent thinker and have an interest in inter-disciplinary approaches to research.

Successful candidates will be co-supervised by Dr Kristi Maciejewski and Prof Oonsie Biggs. Degrees will generally be registered within the School for Public Leadership in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University, but other options can be considered.


Value: Masters full-time over 2 years: R 70,000 pa

Requirements: All students applying for a Masters degree should have completed a four-year undergraduate degree or equivalent to be eligible. All candidates should show evidence of strong scholarly performance and commitment to publishing.

Applications are particularly invited from South African nationals, especially women and candidates from previously disadvantaged groups. Preference will be given to students who can work independently, are well organized and who will be willing to participate in the regular activities of the CST.

To apply: Interested candidates should send:

  • a motivation letter (detailing your previous experience, your general area of interest, as well as an outline of potential research topics of interest),
  • a detailed CV that includes your academic record, previous work experience, any scientific publications on which you have been an author, and the names of at least two academic referees,
  • transcripts of academic qualifications,
  • at least one example of recent written work (e.g. a paper, report, thesis chapter).


Please submit your applications electronically to our dedicated email address: We encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible, but latest by 15 September 2017.




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