Two PhD Positions in Conversational AI

Two PhD Positions in Conversational AI

Published Deadline Location
8 Nov 7 Jan Amsterdam

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Job description

Come and join us to work on algorithmic solutions to challenges in conversational intelligence! We are a diverse team of researchers based at multiple universities in the Netherlands, with expertise in information retrieval, natural language processing, machine learning, and customer psychology. As part of the LESSEN project, which is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), we will work together with industrial stakeholders to develop chat-based conversational agents for lesser resourced tasks, domains, and scenarios. Scientific challenges of the project are (i) the development of neural architectures that are compute and resource efficient; (ii) domain adaptation and data augmentation; and (iii) safety, privacy, and transparency.

The Information Retrieval Lab Amsterdam (IRLab) at the Informatics Institute of the University of Amsterdam invites application for two fully-funded, four-year PhD positions on Conversational AI. There are two PhD projects corresponding to this vacancy: [A] the first is aimed at making neural networks for conversational agents more efficient, and [B] the second is aimed at generating synthetic data for training conversational agents.

PhD position A
The PhD project corresponding to this vacancy is aimed at making neural networks for conversational agents more efficient. How can we reduce their data and compute footprint, both at training time and at inference time? Knowledge distillation has emerged as a potential solution, allowing small student models to learn from, and emulate the performance of, large teacher models. In this project you will develop neural architecture search methods to effectively emulate large conversational models subject to limited memory and parameter budgets. Research for this opening will be conducted within the IRLab under supervision of Prof. Maarten de Rijke.

PhD position B
The PhD project corresponding to this vacancy aims to generate synthetic data for training conversational agents. One of the limitations of developing models for conversational agents is the availability and cost of labelled training data. A common approach to alleviate this need is to increase the amount of training data by data augmentation. In this project we will use controllable text generation techniques to develop alternative and unbiased dialogue trajectories to train conversational systems on. Research for this opening will be conducted within the IRLab under supervision of Prof. Evangelos Kanoulas.

What are you going to do?

Tasks and responsibilities:
  • Conducting research in Conversational AI, resulting in academic publications in peer-reviewed international conferences/journals, datasets, and open-source code;
  • Assisting in teaching courses in the bachelor and master programmes and supervising Bachelor and Master theses.


University of Amsterdam (UvA)


Your experience and profile:
  • MSc in artificial intelligence or computer science;
  • Substantial knowledge of machine learning;
  • Eagerness to tackle complex scientific problems;
  • Strong programming skills with experience using Python and deep learning frameworks;
  • The ability to communicate fluently in written and spoken English.
Ideally, you have worked with transformers and conversational assistants.

Conditions of employment

A temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of 4 years (the initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years). The preferred starting date is to be discussed. This should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students.

The gross monthly salary, based on 38 hours per week and dependent on relevant experience, ranges between € 2,541 to € 3,247 (scale P). This does not include the 8% holiday allowance and the 8,3% year-end allowance the UvA offers. The UFO profile PhD Candidate is applicable. A favourable tax agreement, the '30% ruling', may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Universities of the Netherlands is applicable.

Besides the salary and a vibrant and challenging environment at Science Park we offer you multiple fringe benefits:
  • 232 holiday hours per year (based on fulltime) and extra holidays between Christmas and 1 January;
  • Multiple courses to follow from our Teaching and Learning Centre;
  • A complete educational program for PhD students;
  • Multiple courses on topics such as leadership for academic staff;
  • Multiple courses on topics such as time management, handling stress and an online learning platform with 100+ different courses;
  • 7 weeks birth leave (partner leave) with 100% salary;
  • Partly paid parental leave;
  • The possibility to set up a workplace at home;
  • A pension at ABP for which UvA pays two third part of the contribution;
  • The possibility to follow courses to learn Dutch;
  • Help with housing for a studio or small apartment when you're moving from abroad.
Are you curious to read more about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits, take a look here.


Faculty of Science

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is the Netherlands' largest university, offering the widest range of academic programmes. At the UvA, 30,000 students, 6,000 staff members and 3,000 PhD candidates study and work in a diverse range of fields, connected by a culture of curiosity.

The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 8,000, as well as 1,800 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the functioning of the brain.

The mission of the Informatics Institute (IvI) is to perform curiosity-driven and use-inspired fundamental research in Computer Science. The main research themes are Artificial Intelligence, Computational Science and Systems and Network Engineering. Our research involves complex information systems at large, with a focus on collaborative, data driven, computational and intelligent systems, all with a strong interactive component.

The research of the Information Retrieval Lab Amsterdam (IRLab) focuses on information retrieval: technology to connect people to information. We work on search engines, on recommender systems, and on conversational assistants. There is a heavy emphasis on data-driven methods, for understanding content, for analysing and predicting user behaviour, and for make sense of context. We combine fundamental, experimental, and applied research, and we do so by using a broad range of data: text, images, structured information. We are involved in many projects with other groups, both within and outside academia. Our research is funded by NWO, KNAW, the EU and through a range of public-private partnerships. We are strong believers of great science with great impact and greatly value an entrepreneurial spirit.

Want to know more about our organisation? Read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.

Any questions?

Do you have questions about this vacancy? Or do you want to know more about our organisation? Please contact:
  • E: Maarten de Rijke, Professor in Artificial intelligence & Information Retrieval, for PhD Position A; or

  • E: Evangelos Kanoulas, Professor in Information Retrieval & Evaluation, for PhD Position B.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • max. €2541 per month
  • University graduate
  • 10798


University of Amsterdam (UvA)

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Science Park 904, 1098XH, Amsterdam

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