PhD position AI-Lab (Marie Curie, ESSENCE)

PhD position at VUB Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Marie Curie, ESSENCE)

We are looking for someone who has (or who is about to complete) a master’s degree in computer science, artificial intelligence, or equivalent possibly with an interest in natural language modelling. You will work on a PhD project that is part of the VUB AI-Labs ESSENCE (Evolution of Shared Semantics in Computational Environments) project. The essence project is a prestigious Marie Curie ITN (Initial Training Network) which has a special focus on international mobility. A considerable amount of time will be spent at prestigious partner universities and companies in the project:

  • The University of Edinburgh (UK)
  • The University of Trento (Italy)
  • Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Barcelona (CSIC, Spain)
  • The University of Amsterdam, The institute for logic, language and computation (ILLC) (Netherlands)
  • Sony Computer Science Laboratory, Paris (France)
  • Playence, Madrid (Spain)

Specifically for this project you will have to visit the SONY Computer Science Labs in Paris and the University of Edinburgh.

The ESSENCE project

ESSENCE is a European Marie Curie Actions Project (FP7, ITN)  that aims to improve robustness and resilience of natural language processing systems. In everyday life, humans exhibit strong skills in resolving communication problems by re-negotiating what they mean. Modern-day computational systems, however, are lacking in resilience and robustness in this respect. Whenever different components with different vocabularies and models of meaning interact within distributed, open enviroments, they have to rely on their human designers’ abilities to resolve problems of miscommunication.

The aim of the ESSENCE network is to translate these abilities of natural communicating systems to computational systems in order to improve their resilience and robustness, and by doing so to also make these systems more comprehensible to human users. To this end, we will bring together research on phenomena observed in human communication with research from areas that investigate heterogeneous computational communicating systems.

More information and all other positions here:

The PhD project

Your work consists of designing, implementing and conducting computational experiments with agent-based computer models in the evolution of language. These models will be both in simulation and in later stages can be deployed on robots. You can build further on existing software built at the AI-Lab and will contribute to this software during your research project. The project thus consist of both research and (software) development. 

We are looking for candidates with a serious interest in a scientific career, with good writing skills and with experience in building learning systems. You should have experience with functional and object oriented programming paradigms, versioning systems and software engineering.  Experience with language research or robotics is a bonus.


  • Design and implement processing and learning systems that improve robustness in new and/or embodied scenarios.
  • Further software development of state-of-the-art natural language processing frameworks as part of an international team of software developers and researchers.
  • To identify the basic building blocks of cognition and interaction with others in a shared environment that are needed for meaningful language semantics to emerge.
  • To improve our understanding of how open-ended and robust language processing can be grounded in real robots for robot-robot/human-robot interaction and of how the integration of all aspects of intelligence necessary for this can be achieved.


You apply for a four year PhD scholarship of approximately approximately € 36 000 - € 38 000 (plus mobility allowance €8000 – €12000) (before taxes) per year, with additional money to visit conferences. You will mainly work in the VUB AI-Lab which has just celebrated its 30th year anniversary and is one of the most prestigious international AI laboratories. The AI-Lab is part of the computer science department. You might be asked to do a limited amount of teaching and supervision, but that will take up no more than 20% of your working time. 

How to Apply

We need a letter of motivation, a CV, a copy of your master’s thesis (or in case you have not completed this, another sample of your writing), a list of your grades and the contact information of two people who can provide references. You can send these in pdf format to Pieter Wellens: mentioning “ESSENCE PhD” in the subject. For inquiries you can send a message to this same address, or phone +32 2 629 3723. The deadline for application is December 15, 2013.

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel has been a leading player in Flemish Higher Education for 40 years. The University has 10.000 students and together with its hospital employs more than 5.500 people.

The following form part of the University’s mission:

  • the development, the communication and the application of a high level of academic education and scientific research, free from all preconceived ideas;
  • the translation of these ideals and knowledge into society in the spirit of social engagement;
  • the creation of a society in which everyone is capable of engaging in critical thinking.

Working environment

As an employee of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel you work in a dynamic, diverse and multilingual environment. Both our campuses are set within green oases on the outskirts of the centre of the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe. This centre, with all its opportunities, is within reach by public transport in less than half an hour.

Depending on your experience and academic merits you will receive a salary on one of the pay scales laid down by the government. Health insurance and free use of public transport for travel to and from work are standard conditions of employment. If you would rather cycle to work, compensation is also available for that. Both campuses have extensive sporting facilities that are at your disposal and a nursery is within walking distance.

More information is available at under the heading ‘future employees’.

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