Vacancy: PhD researcher in trustworthy artificial intelligence (100%)

Deadline 15-12-2021



The Centre for Digitalisation, Democracy and Innovation (CD2I) at the Brussels School of Governance, the Centre for Studies in Media, Innovation and Technology (SMIT), both at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), and the HUMAINT project of the Digital Economy Unit, Joint Research Centre (JRC) site in Sevilla, European Commission, are calling for applications for one full-time doctoral researcher on the topic of trustworthy artificial intelligence. Prospective PhD candidates are hereby invited to submit project proposals on the themes described below. The deadline for submitting applications is 15 December 2021.

PhD Research on Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence

To apply, the candidate for the PhD position should develop a research proposal on trust in automated machine-driven decision-making.

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes more performant and present in everyday life, debates on an appropriate ethical, legal and social framework have followed. Importantly, the European Commission has proposed a legislative initiative (AI Act), laying down requirements for safe, lawful and socially acceptable AI that respects fundamental rights. In this research project, we start from the premise that trust is primordial to the development and acceptance of human-centric AI.

This doctoral research into trustworthy artificial intelligence will focus on how public interest values are defined in the AI (co)regulatory framework, embedded into the AI system design, and negotiated during its implementation. We are particularly interested in cases of automated machine-driven decision-making by public authorities, such as in allocating social benefits, integrating platforms for education and employment, smart cities, risk assessment (e.g. criminal justice) or decisions by health care workers.

Introduced in the European Commission White Paper on AI, public interest values relate both to the design/process (human agency and oversight; technical robustness and safety; transparency; accountability) and the use/outcome (protection of privacy and data governance; diversity, non-discrimination and fairness; promotion of societal and environmental well-being) of artificial intelligence. We approach technology from a critical socio-technical, user-centric and political perspective, recognizing the constraints and affordances that technology and law provide, interested in how trust ‘by design’ is built within, throughout and as a result of technology, user and policy action.



The successful candidate is required to:

  • Hold a Master’s degree in media and communication studies, sociology, engineering, computer science, political science, public policy, science and technology studies, law – or relevant human, social or engineering sciences – with excellent study results.
  • Have experience or interest in working within interdisciplinary teams and taking part in community initiatives. Having an interdisciplinary background (social sciences combined with technical/computer science) is a plus.
  • Know and understand the relevant academic literature.
  • Have research skills and good knowledge of research methodologies in social science and/or computer science. Experience in / understanding of design of algorithms or screen-based applications are an asset.
  • Be flexible, self-motivated and perseverant.
  • Be able to work independently, with good self-management and planning skills.
  • Think analytically and have good academic writing skills.
  • Be fluent and have excellent communications skills in English. Knowledge of additional languages is an asset.
  • Have the ability to communicate with stakeholders, among others high-level officials.


The selected candidate will be employed as a full-time doctoral researcher.

The researcher will have two contracts (and work places) throughout his/her doctoral project, one with VUB and one with JRC.

The PhD degree is a joint degree between VUB and JRC. It will be awarded in media and communication studies.

The selected candidate will be offered a full-time PhD-scholarship, for 12 months (extendable up to max. 48 months, on condition of the positive evaluation of the PhD activities), with planned starting date 1 April 2022 (or as soon as possible thereafter). 

At VUB you’ll receive a grant linked to one of the scales set by the government.

IMPORTANT: The effective result of the doctorate scholarship is subject to the condition precedent of your enrolment as a doctorate student at the university.

At VUB, you’re guaranteed an open, involved and diverse workplace where you are offered opportunities to (further) build on your career.

As well as this, you’ll enjoy various benefits:

  • Full reimbursement for your home-work commute with public transport according to VUB-policy, or compensation if you come by bike;
  • Cost-free hospitalisation insurance;
  • The space to form your job content and continuously learn via VUB LRN;
  • Excellent facilities for sport and exercise;
  • Ecocheques;
  • Delicious meals at attractive prices in our campus restaurants;
  • An open, family-friendly work environment where attention is paid to work-life balance, and exceptional holiday arrangements with 35 days of leave (based on a fulltime contract). 

In addition, the selected candidate will spend part of her/his PhD at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy. The candidate will join the HUMAINT team, Digital Economy Unit, located at the JRC site in Sevilla, Spain. For more information about the JRC, please consult and

While at JRC, the student will continue to be enrolled at VUB and offered a Grantholder contract for the time spent at the JRC. For more information about the Grantholder contract, please consult

The successful candidate is expected to split his/her time between VUB and JRC. In practice, the researcher will work for two years with the VUB CD2I and SMIT teams in Brussels, Belgium (year 1 and 4) and two years with the JRC HUMAINT team in Sevilla, Spain (year 2 and 3).

Office space and equipment will be provided along with a budget for travelling and other research-related expenses. Depending on the circumstances of the global health crisis, you may be expected to work from home.


How to apply

The PhD candidate will be selected on the basis of the quality of the project proposal, her/his expertise, work experience and qualifications. The following application documents are to be consolidated into a single PDF file sent by email to (subject heading: ‘Trustworthy AI PhD call’).

  • A completed application form (download it here)
  • A one-page motivation letter explaining the candidate’s interest in pursuing a PhD on the research topic
  • A curriculum vitae listing all academic qualifications, relevant research experience and previous publications (if any)
  • A project proposal featuring a problem statement, a research question and proposed hypotheses/assumptions, a methodological outline and an indicative work plan, condensed into no more than 1,500 words
  • A copy of the highest obtained diploma and transcript of academic grades
  • A copy of a publication (master thesis, academic report or a paper of a university class)
  • Candidates must also provide the names and contact details of two referees willing to provide reference letters upon our request.

The deadline for applications is 15 December 2021. Short-listed candidates will be informed by 15 January 2022. Interviews are expected to take place in the weeks thereafter. Interviews will be organised online or in-person as travel and sanitary conditions permit. The successful candidate can start as of 1 April 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.