PhD Position Psychologically validated digital twins of human decision-making in urban mobility (1,0 FTE)

PhD Position Psychologically validated digital twins of human decision-making in urban mobility (1,0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
10 May 31 May Utrecht

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How do operational and strategic decisions affect mobility behaviour and choices in a stadium or an in-town public festival? Interested? Join us.

Job description

Digital twins of urban mobility are widely used to understand and predict traffic flow in and through cities, such as Utrecht, using agent- or activity-based modeling. Although successful, the psychological grounding of individual variation in these models, and therefore validity, is limited. The PhD research project will investigate how individual differences in decision-making can be modeled in digital twins of urban mobility (e.g., cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation in different urban settings) in a validated, more psychologically plausible way. The project offers an exciting opportunity for interdisciplinary research at the intersection of AI, Cognitive Science, Geosciences, and Computer Science. Moreover, there is active collaboration between Utrecht University, the research institute TNO, crowd simulation company uCrowds, and the municipality of Utrecht.

To realize the project’s aims, the PhD candidate will investigate individual differences in human decision-making for urban mobility scenarios that involve one or multiple forms of mobility (e.g., walking, cycling, taking public transportation, or a different kind of mode) in different urban settings. The PhD candidate will investigate two levels of decision-making and how it impacts mobility: operational level decisions (e.g., how small decisions such as whether to briefly pause to determine where to go next impact travel speed) and strategic decisions (e.g., how a preference to avoid crowded areas impact an agent’s route). For both types of decision-making, the PhD candidate will:

  • Study experimentally how individuals differ in their decision-making;
  • Use computational cognitive models to identify how individuals differ and what factors predict these differences;
  • Create an algorithmic decision-making model;
  • Incorporate this model in a digital twin, in collaboration with TNO and uCrowds.
As a starting point, the PhD candidate will focus on city events: mobility around events such as a stadium or an in-town public festival. How do operational and strategic decisions affect mobility behaviour and choices here?

Funding and Supervision Team
The project is funded through Utrecht University’s AI Labs and TNO. The PhD candidate is supervised at Utrecht University by an interdisciplinary team of AI researchers with additional backgrounds in HCI and Cognitive Science (Dr. Chris Janssen - daily supervisor; Dr. Leendert van Maanen - promotor), Computer Science (Dr. Roland Geraerts), and Geosciences (Dr. Bas Spierings). The PhD candidate will be based at the division of Experimental Psychology (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht University). The candidate will also collaborate with Dr. Taoufik Bakri of TNO (The Hague), and spend on average one day per week at TNO. The candidate will also collaborate with uCrowds (via Dr. Geraerts) and the municipality of Utrecht. Finally, the Ph.D. candidate will also be embedded in the Helmholtz Research School and the Netherlands Graduate School of Urban and Regional Research (NETHUR).


Utrecht University


The ideal candidate for the position:

  • Has a passion for scientific research that aims to understand human behavior for the purposes of improving AI in urban mobility contexts.
  • Has a passion for multi- and interdisciplinary research (esp. from psychology, geosciences, and computer science) from both a theoretical and an applied perspective.
  • Has (nearly) completed an MSc degree in a relevant area such as Artificial Intelligence, Human-Computer Interaction, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Geosciences, Computer Science, Human Factors, Cognitive (Neuro-) Science, or Applied Data Sciences.
  • Has demonstrable experience with Artificial Intelligence techniques that are relevant for understanding human behavior and thought, such as computational cognitive modeling.
  • Has demonstrable experience with experimental methods and techniques, especially with experimental design, conducting controlled experiments, and statistical and quantitative analyses of empirical data.
  • Has demonstrable experience with programming.
  • Has demonstrable experience with multi- or interdisciplinary perspectives. For example through following a multi- or interdisciplinary degree program (e.g., AI or HCI), taking a Bachelor’s and a Master's degree in complementary disciplines, or taking advanced courses from different fields (e.g., social sciences, geosciences, and/or computer sciences).
  • Is able to communicate clearly in English in speaking and writing. Speaking the Dutch language is not required, but preferable for communication with external partners.

Conditions of employment

We offer a temporary position (1.0 FTE) for one year. Upon a positive performance, the appointment will be extended for three further years. The exact duration depends on whether the candidate chooses to spend 10% or 20% on teaching. In case of a higher teaching percentage, part of that time will also be spent on obtaining additional training and qualifications (e.g., complete parts of a University Teaching Qualification – BKO – trajectory). The gross salary starts at €2,541 gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of €3.247 gross per month in the fourth and final year (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) gross per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8 % and a year-end bonus of 8.3 % per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, professional development, (partly paid) parental leave, sports and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. Utrecht University is located in one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, with a charming old centre and an internationally oriented culture. At the university, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes.  Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability. You can watch the Utrecht University Campus Tour to get an impression of our university.

In the area of AI, there is a university-wide focus area (Human-Centered AI) and various AI labs where the university collaborates with private partners. The project takes place in the AI labs. As such, the PhD candidate will be embedded in a broad research context of AI researchers.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences is one of the leading faculties in Europe providing research and academic teaching in cultural anthropology, educational sciences, interdisciplinary social science, pedagogical sciences, psychology, and sociology. Almost 7,000 students are enrolled in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate programmes. The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences has some 1,100 faculty and staff members, all providing their individual contribution to the training and education of young talent and to the research into and finding solutions for scientific and societal issues. 

The faculty strives for diversity among its employees and students and is committed to creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone, as can be read in Utrecht University's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy.

The faculty attaches great importance to the fact that its employees can be widely deployed in the university organization, now and in the future, to further professionalize the support of education and research. To encourage this, every employee is given the time and facilities – for example in the form of training – at some point in their career to participate in projects or work in other departments. Characteristics that the faculty considers important are involvement, the ability to collaborate and flexibility.

The faculty is located at Utrecht Science Park near the historical city centre of Utrecht.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1209741



Heidelberglaan 1, 3584 CS, Utrecht

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