PhD scholarship in Social studies of controversial algorithms and data (2021-224-03460)

Updated: about 1 month ago

PhD scholarship in Social studies of controversial algorithms and data (2021-224-03460)

The department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University (Copenhagen Campus) invites applicants for a 3-year PhD scholarship beginning 1 September 2021, or as soon as possible thereafter.

Job description

The PhD scholarship is part of the research project Algorithms, Data and Democracy (the ADD-project)

funded by the Villum and Velux Foundations. The PhD student will be a member of the Techno-Anthropology Research Group at the Department of Culture and Learning in Copenhagen. The applicant will be supervised by Professor Torben Elgaard Jensen and will work closely with other participants in the ADD-project. The purpose of the position is to study issues of privacy and cybersecurity that have emerged around major Danish IT infrastructures such as NemID, MobilePay, SmitteApp or Rejsekortet.

The ADD-project is a large, 10-year project conducted by partners and research groups at five Danish Universities. The project also includes a significant outreach activity organized by Mandag Morgen. The ADD-project addresses the democratic issues associated with the rapidly increasing use of algorithms in all sectors of society. A frequently voiced concern is that algorithms may lead to biased and untransparent decision making, which again may erode the trust in key societal institutions and decision-making processes. The overall aim of the ADD project is understand the processes and circumstances that give rise to controversies around algorithms, to raise the public awareness of algorithms and to promote a democratically legitimate development of algorithms in the Danish society. The project will do basic computer science research on algorithmic bias and it will conduct a substantial number of qualitative case studies of algorithm controversies in areas such as privacy & cybersecurity, public administration, finance, health and innovation practices. Further descriptions of the project can be found here:

The PhD will contribute to the overall research project by conducting case studies of when, where and how the algorithms and data practices in major Danish IT infrastructures become subject to criticism, mistrust or controversy. The research involves qualitative and ethnographic studies of key stakeholders as well as an exploration of design processes, development and practical use.

In the early stages of the project, the PhD student and other members of the project team will use digital methods to generate a broad overview of types of controversies concerning data and algorithms. Later, particularly relevant cases will be selected for in-depth case studies. The applicant will independently investigate two or more infrastructure cases, but may also participate in joint empirical projects.

In the course of the project, the applicant will participate in workshops and network meetings with researchers from the partnering universities and will contribute to an on-going collective project of developing new theories and perspectives on algorithms in society.

Based his or her own empirical and theoretical work, the PhD student is expected to:

  • Publish both independently and in collaboration with the supervisor and project participants in relevant peer reviewed journals.
  • Contribute to panels at relevant international conferences.
  • Participate in research seminars and network meetings.
  • Contribute to outreach activities and popular dissemination of research findings


Applicants must hold a master degree in techno-anthropology, anthropology, sociology, ethnology, or an adjacent field in the humanities or social sciences.

Applicants are expected to document the following qualifications:

  • Excellent academic skills and a strong educational record
  • Experience with ethnographic field studies of technology in practice
  • Knowledge of theories within several or all of the following fields: science & technology studies, infrastructure studies, design studies, innovation studies and critical data studies
  • Good command of English as a working language
  • Good communication and collaboration skills

The following qualifications will be considered an asset: 

  • Experience with academic publication
  • Experience with mixed or quali-quantitative methods
  • Experience with or knowledge of technical aspects of algorithms and data
  • Experience with or knowledge of institutional and organizational practices related to the development, implementation or use of algorithms.
  • Experience with interdisciplinary collaboration 

Specific requirements for the application

The written application should contain all the elements listed in the application procedure below. In addition, candidates are required to submit a tentative, max 2-pages research plan. In this plan, applicants should select two specific IT infrastructure cases that they would consider studying, and they should elaborate their reasons and motivations for this particular (tentative) choice of cases. The research plan may be a part of the application letter or uploaded as a separate document.
Qualification requirements
PhD stipends are normally for a period of 3 years. PhD stipends are allocated to individuals who hold a Master’s degree, or expect to have obtained the Master’s degree before the employment date (Statement from thesis supervisor, verified transcripts, thesis contract and documentation of the date of the exam must be enclosed). According to the PhD Order, the PhD study comprises among other requirements: Participation in active research environments, including stays at other, mainly foreign, research institutions, private research enterprises etc.
General information
It is a prerequisite for allocation of the stipend that the candidate will be enrolled as a PhD student at Doctoral School of the Faculty of the Humanities, in accordance with the regulations of Ministerial Order No. 1039 of 27 August 2013 (PhD Order).

Please visit the website of the doctoral school   for further information on the PhD programme, application procedure, and admission requirements.

The application must include the following and be written in English or Danish

  • Application for enrollment
  • Copy of diplomas/transcripts
  • Curriculum vitae (CV)
  • Project description
  • List of written work (optional)
  • Sample of written work, e.g. Master's thesis (optional)
  • Applicants WHO are planning to complete a doctoral thesis in English and who do not have English as a first language or WHO have not completed an English language-based Master's programme (or an equivalent educational achievement in English) shall provide documentation that they have passed one of the following official tests with the respective minimum score: IELTS (band score): 7, TOEFL (paper-based): 600, TOEFL (internet-based): 100. The language test must be no more than five years old at the time of the application.

Shortlisting will be applied. This means that subsequent to the deadline for applications the head of department supported by the chair of the assessment committee will select candidates for assessment. All applicants will be informed whether they will be assessed or not.

The application can only be submitted by using the link on AAU’s job-portal (not other online job portals that may have reposted the position). Please note that zipped files are not supported by the recruitment system, please upload only Word or PDF files.


For further information about the PhD position, and to obtain a full academic description of the project, please contact professor Torben Elgaard Jensen on tel. +45 4077 9596 or e-mail:

For general information about the application process etc., please contact Mette Bjerring, e-mail: , phone: +45 9940 9591.


Appointment and salary as a PhD fellow are according to the Ministry of Finance Circular of 29 June 2019, on the Collective Agreement for Academics in Denmark, Appendix 5, regarding PhD fellows, and with the current Circular on the employment structure at Danish Universities. AAU wishes to reflect the diversity of society and welcomes applications from all qualified candidates regardless of personal background or belief.

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Online application - some good advice

Aalborg University uses an electronic recruitment system for receiving applications. Towards the bottom in the respective job advertisement you will find a link, which you need to use when applying for the position. Before uploading your application it is important that you have all relevant documentation ready in a Word or PDF format, as you need to upload all material at the same time. You cannot leave the application and return to it a couple of hours later without having to start over.

The system does not support ZIP or images files. Filenames can only contain numbers and letters, and each document must take up no more than 20 MB.
If you experience technical problems, we encourage you to try again. If the technical problems, contrary to expectation, cannot be solved, please contact the member of staff listed as the contact person in the job advertisement.

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