PhD Candidate

PhD Candidate

Published Deadline Location
5 Oct 31 Oct Utrecht

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Job description

The PhD position is in the context of the AUTOLINK project, the goal of which is to explore the synergies between requirements engineering and software testing and aims at their seeming integration into agile contexts. AUTOLINK will propose techniques that assist practitioners in increasing the quality of their software by testing it against the requirements, in an unobtrusive manner and with low cost and effort.

AUTOLINK employs user stories and acceptance criteria for expressing requirements, a pervasively used notation that compactly and precisely depicts the requirement from the user perspective. For testing, to avoid the writing and maintenance of test scripts, we will build upon scriptless testing, an emerging theory for testing at the user interaction level. This approach employs intelligent agents that mimic the user and decide what to test next through different action selection mechanisms.

Starting from the background research and tools of two collaborating research groups at Utrecht University and at the Open Universiteit, AUTOLINK will build and experiment with automated software tools that (1) establish a set of trace links between requirements and software, via natural language processing; (2) enable the effortless testing of requirements, through automated scriptless testing; and (3) increase the value over time by improving trace link accuracy and test effectiveness, via machine learning.

To gather empirical evidence on the effectiveness of our tools and techniques, AUTOLINK relies on in-vivo case studies within collaborating software companies such as Mendix, ING Bank, TestCompass, and AXINI.

Within the AUTOLINK project, we are hiring two PhD students. This opening describes the PhD position at de Open Universiteit (OU), with a focus on scriptless software testing. The PhD position with the University of Utrecht (with Dr. Fabiano Dalpiaz in the RE-Lab) focuses on requirements engineering; please see the opening at the University of Utrecht for that position here:  Both students will be physically co-located at Utrecht University, so to allow effective collaboration on the research.

The PhD student at the OU will be conducting research in the THIS (Towards High Quality and Intelligent Software) research line under the primary supervision of Prof. Dr. Tanja E.J. Vos. In particular, the work focuses on devising scriptless testing algorithms that automatically generate tests that cover the acceptance criteria from the user stories. The results will be integrated into the TESTAR tool (, the baseline tool of the OU that implements a scriptless approach for automated test case generation via agents that use an action selection mechanism.  This approach relies on a paradigm shift in GUI testing: from developing scripts to developing intelligent AI-enabled agents. Tasks will be related to:

- Extraction of models through testing

- Define test adequacy criteria definition based on the user stories

- Improved action selection through reinforcement learning that mimic the software tester

The candidate is also expected to participate for 10 to 15% of his/her time in educational activities within our Master Software Engineering and the Bachelor Computer Science. Also, valorisation activities form a considerable part of the daily activities of the candidate.


The Open Universiteit (OU)


  • An MSc degree, preferably in Software Engineering, with proven affinity and experience of artificial intelligence and reinforcement learning.
  • Very good programming skills (Java and Python are a plus) with experience in building system prototypes for demonstrating proof of concept
  • The candidate has good academic writing with a strong command of English, both in speaking and writing.
  • Knowledge of the Dutch language is an advantage.

Applicants must be strongly motivated for doctoral studies, possess the ability to work independently and perform critical analysis and also possess good levels of cooperative and communicative abilities.

Teaching experience and publications are not required but are considered an advantage if the candidate can demonstrate experience in these areas.


Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: The PhD candidate will be appointed for a period of 12 months. The appointment will be extended to 4 years when progress and performance are good.

The salary is determined in accordance with salary scale P of Appendix A of the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities and amounts to € 2.541,= gross per month upon commencement, in case of full employment.

The Open Universiteit provides good secondary benefits such as training, mobility, part-time employment and paid parental leave.


Open Universiteit

Flexible studying anywhere in the Netherlands and (Belgium) Flanders
The Open Universiteit is the part-time university in the Netherlands. Students follow personalised and activating academic distance education and disciplinary research is carried out within the various fields of science. Students can complete bachelor and master programmes, but also shorter programmes. The characteristics of education are openness, flexibility and quality (see The Open Universiteit has over 17,000 students and more than 750 employees. The OU has branches in the Netherlands and Belgium (see The main office is located in Heerlen.

The latest technologies and educational insights are applied both in the bachelor's and master's programmes and courses and in projects and programmes with partners. Nationally and internationally, the OU plays an important role in the innovation of higher education. Education is interwoven with research, which also ensures that the current state of science is incorporated. The Open Universiteit invests not only in disciplinary research in nine scientific fields, but also in research in a multidisciplinary programme: Innovating for resilience.


Faculty of Science

The faculty of Science is one of the six faculties of the Open Universiteit. Education, research and valorisation are the main tasks. The faculty offers academic bachelor and master programmes in the fields of Computer Science, Information Science, Environmental Sciences, and an Artificial Intelligence master programme is currently under development. The faculty’s research programme focuses on Innovating for Resilience. Furthermore, the faculty is partner in the Center for Actionable Research of the OU (CAROU). The faculty has Ph.D.-students who conduct research on various current topics within the research programme. As a result of the interdisciplinary focus on education and research, as well as the close link with practice, work at our faculty provides many innovative and challenging opportunities for entrepreneurial researchers.

Department of Computer Science
The Department of Computer Science is an enthusiastic and ambitious group of approximately 35 people (29 fte) focussing on artificial intelligence, educational and learning technology, software quality, and security and privacy issues. The group contributes to these challenges through excellent research and online teaching programmes, covering a large diversity of topics, e.g. deep learning applications in industry, intelligent tutoring systems, privacy-aware technologies, reinforcement learning, e-health applications, Bayesian networks, cyber-security, automated software testing, and responsible AI. The department’s research lines are presented in the research strategy “Towards high quality and intelligent software” for 2020-2025. The online academic educational programmes of this Department have received the highest accolades in the country in this domain for years.


  • PhD
  • Engineering
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • University graduate
  • AC/FAC/BW/22115


The Open Universiteit (OU)

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Postbus 2960, 6401 DL, Utrecht

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