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PhD candidate Development and evaluation of personalized conversational AI-agents (1,0 fte, 4 years)

Develop and conduct research; Write and defend a thesis within 4 years; Write (at least) three peer-reviewed papers for submission to international journals …

2 maanden geleden


Warandelaan, Tilburg, Noord-Brabant
Tijdelijk contract / Tijdelijke opdracht
Uren per week:
40 - 40 uur


  • Develop and conduct research;
  • Write and defend a thesis within 4 years;
  • Write (at least) three peer-reviewed papers for submission to international journals or leading conference proceedings in the first 3 years
  • Give presentations about study results on a regular basis on workshops and conferences;
  • Co-organize project workshops;
  • Participate in all project related activities including valorization activities;
  • Participate in the Graduate Schools’ education program.


Candidates for this position should have a (research) master’s degree in:

  • Either closely related to computational approaches (computational linguistics, data science, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, cognitive science, or comparable) and (demonstrable) affinity with communication science and linguistics;
  • Or a field closely related to communication science (communication science, communication and information sciences, (applied) linguistics, (media) psychology, or comparable) and (demonstrable) affinity with language technology and computational techniques.

In addition, you:

  • have experience with (experimental) evaluation and statistical analyses;
  • have excellent English written and oral communication skills;
  • are collaborative and like to work in a team;
  • have a proactive and goal-directed attitude, good organizational skills, and the ability to get things done;
  • speak Dutch fluently, which is highly preferred given the nature of the data.


  • Fixed-term contract: 4 year.
  • A full-time position. Starting date is negotiable.
  • The selected candidate will start with a contract at Tilburg University at the Department of Communication and Cognition for one year, concluded by an evaluation. Upon a positive outcome of the first-year evaluation, the candidate will be offered an employment contract for an additional 3 years.
  • The PhD candidate will be ranked in the Dutch university job ranking system (UFO) as a PhD-student (promovendus) with a starting fulltime salary of € 2,395 gross per month in the first year, increasing up to € 3,061 the fourth year.
  • A holiday allowance of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% (annually);
  • Researchers from outside the Netherlands may qualify for a temporary tax-free allowance equal to 30% of their taxable salary. The University will apply for such an allowance on their behalf;
  • The University will provide assistance in finding suitable accommodation (for foreign employees);
  • Tilburg University is rated among the top Dutch employers and offers very good fringe benefits (it is one of the best non-profit employers in the Netherlands), also including excellent technical infrastructure, savings schemes and excellent sport facilities. The collective labor agreement of the Dutch Universities applies.

Additional information

The Department of Communication and Cognition at Tilburg University is looking for an enthusiastic new colleague. This PhD researcher will work within the NWO-funded project “Smooth Operator. Development and effects of personalized conversational AI”. Since organizations invest in AI to improve customer service but users perceive chat conversations as unnatural and employees struggle with collaborating with AI, this project aims to develop personalized AI-agents based on conversational norms of human communication.

We offer a fully funded, 4-year project, that takes a multidisciplinary approach by combining a computational and social perspective, which is reflected in two PhD projects. The current vacancy is focused on the computational perspective. The position is hosted at Tilburg center for Cognition and Communication (TiCC), and will be supervised by dr. Christine Liebrecht and dr. Emiel van Miltenburg (daily supervision) and prof. dr. Emiel Krahmer (promotor).

The goals of the computational project are to develop conversational agents that understand the variation and differences in customers’ and service employees’ language use and adapt their language use accordingly. In order to accurately measure the success of the conversational agents in a customer service setting, the PhD will also develop and test evaluation methodologies.

Although the PhD candidates will work on related but different sub-projects, a close collaboration is important for successful completion of the project. The second PhD project (social perspective) will be hosted at Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS (UiL OTS) (dr. Charlotte van Hooijdonk and prof. dr. Hans Hoeken) in collaboration with VU University Amsterdam (dr. Florian Kunneman and prof. dr. Hedwig te Molder). Moreover, eight private partners are involved (AI developers and conversation designers, companies that use AI in their customer service).


With the development of virtual assistants, like Apple’s Siri, social chatbots such as Woebot, and conversational agents in customer services, people become acquainted with conversational AI to contact companies for their questions and complaints. However, the technology does not live up to its full potential yet. Currently, people perceive their conversations with conversational AI as unnatural and not cooperative.

There are both technological and social challenges in the implementation of conversational AI in people’s everyday life. It is challenging to translate content into a conversational format taking the social context into account, and to optimize AI as valuable co-workers for employees. Also, users face challenges when interacting with AI: they fear that their intent will be misunderstood and evaluate the interaction as impersonal.

In the “Smooth Operator” project robust conversational AI will be developed as cooperative communication partners that personalize conversations in a human way within several business contexts. We therefore take a multidisciplinary perspective (i.e., technological component of AI development and social effects on users) with a mixed-methods approach (i.e., corpus analysis, machine learning, field experiments). Research will be conducted in the customer service context, where data can be obtained that match the confounding factors, and both employees and customers can be examined.

More information

Both PhD projects are expected to start in Spring 2021; the exact starting date is negotiable (but no later than April 1).

For more information on this position or the project, please contact dr. Christine Liebrecht (c.c.liebrecht@tilburguniversity.edu)