Two PhD positions in Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence for Mobility (1.0 FTE)

Updated: 15 days ago

Two PhD positions in Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence for Mobility (1.0 FTE)

Job description

Utrecht University (UU) is working together with the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS ) to translate challenging problems related to passenger mobility into scientific questions. The joint aim is to develop scientific breakthroughs to solve these problems and put them into practice.
Through a coalition formed by Ahold Delhaize, ING, KLM, Philips, and NS, an initiative was established called “Kickstart AI”, based on the conviction that artificial intelligence (“AI”) will become an increasingly decisive part of business operations and with the aim to increase the application level of AI within the Dutch business community and the Dutch AI training capacity. As part of Kickstart AI, NS and UU realized joint appointments, including two 5-year PhD positions.
You will work in an NS team lead by Leo van der Meulen, under the supervision of Professor Judith Masthoff. The positions include 70% research and 30% teaching. Two days per week you will be based at the NS Utrecht office. Three days you will be based in the UU AI & Mobility lab .
The research will focus on human-centred AI to (1) support existing NS customers in making the next-best actions and (2) regain customers by giving them tailored travel inspiration. The two PhD-students will research the following topics:

  • Personalized communication: Transparent, adaptive, interactive customer-AI communication, which allows customers to take control of and, consequently, influence their experience positively. AI-induced communication of when what, and how to provide information is central.
  • Context modelling: External influences can significantly influence the travel experience and preferences (e.g., concerts and soccer games, weather, and luggage). AI-induced, personalized context models steer when, what, and how these influences are taken into account.

In both topics, ethics and psychological mechanisms are key.
You will build on previous research on AI, personalization, adaptive interaction, and user/context modelling. You will use a mixture of qualitative (e.g., interviews and focus groups), quantitative (e.g., empirical studies), and AI (e.g. data-driven user modelling) methods. Your research will result in both high-quality scientific publications and novel AI-induced NS products to realize real world impact.
You will be involved in supporting the preparation and teaching of BSc and MSc courses, offered by the UU Department of Information and Computing Sciences . Furthermore, you will supervise BSc and MSc-student graduation projects, including internships of UU students with NS.


We are looking for candidates that meet the following profile:

  • an MSc-degree in Artificial Intelligence, Human-Computer Interaction, or a related field (or graduation within the next months);
  • experience in human-centred AI research;
  • a strong interest in conducting research in the area of adaptive interactive systems;
  • good knowledge of cognitive and communication sciences;
  • good prototyping/programming and data analysis skills;
  • committed to inspirational teaching;
  • good communicative skills in both Dutch and English, both in writing and speech; and
  • good critical thinking and collaboration skills.


We offer an exciting opportunity to conduct research in an applied setting. You will receive appropriate training, personal supervision, and guidance for both your research and teaching tasks, which will provide an excellent start to an academic or industrial research career.
In addition, you will have

  • a full-time position for 5 years;
  • the opportunity to design an individual training plan to further strengthen your knowledge base;
  • a full-time gross salary starting at €2,395 in the first year and increasing to €3,061 in the fourth year (scale P Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities, CAO);
  • 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • the opportunity to work in collaborative, social, and dedicated teams at both the UU and NS ; and
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions , based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (CAO).

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the CAO for Dutch Universities, UU has its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.
More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here .

About the organization

The Department of Information and Computing Sciences  is nationally and internationally renowned for its fundamental and applied research and education in Computer Science, AI, and Information Science. In our constantly changing (digital) society, the department is constantly looking for new, realistic ways to push the boundaries of both science and application. We contribute to innovative information technologies through the development and application of new concepts, theories, algorithms, and software methods. The department currently comprises 16 Chairs and 146 other scientific staff, including Postdocs and PhD candidates.
You will work in the department’s AI & Mobility Lab , led by Marjan van den Akker. This lab collaborates with different organisations (e.g., NS, Prorail, and QBuzz) on the development of AI techniques to resolve challenges in mobility, public transportation, and logistics. You will also join Professor Judith Masthoff’s Human-Centred Computing group , which is composed of researchers who are experts in personalized, adaptive, and recommender systems and persuasive technology, among several other topics.
At the Faculty of Science , there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.
Utrecht University (UU) is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our familiar atmosphere and the can-do mentality of our people. This lively and inspiring academic environment attracts professors, researchers, and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the University and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and diverse community.
About NS
Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS ) is active in the public transportation sector, encouraging the use of public transportation and keeping the Netherlands moving. Travellers have the highest priority in all NS activities. The NS does its best to make their trip as pleasant and sustainable as possible from door to door.
Commerce & IT (ComIT ) works on continuous improvement of passenger services, through products such as NS Flex and information services such as and the NS App. It collaborates with Data Innovation & Analysis (DIA) on data driven solutions. You will be part of the Sigma team led by Leo van der Meulen. This team, of 12 people, works on Advanced Analytics solutions for ComIT and consists of Data Scientists and Data Engineers. It is responsible for the development and production servers for AI and the applications running on these. Current applications include Seatfinder and Crowding Estimation on short notice. Seatfinder uses data such as train weights and CO2 levels to determine the dispersion of passengers in the train. Crowding estimations are made on a daily basis with data such as chipcard transactions and weather forecasts. The Agile team works with Scrum in two-week sprints. They are experienced in developing machine-learning solutions and bringing them to production. As such, they make a difference for customers with up-to-date crowding information.

Additional information

If you have any questions about this position, please contact Professor Judith Masthoff via .
Do you have a question about the application procedure? Then please send an email to .


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives and we attach great importance to diversity and gender balance. Applicants are encouraged to mention any personal circumstances that need to be taken into account, for example, parental leave or military service.
If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, then simply respond via the “Apply now” button! Please enclose the following documents in English:

  • your letter of motivation;
  • your Curriculum vitae;
  • the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references;
  • a copy of your MSc certificate or a letter from your MSc thesis supervisor indicating when you are likely to graduate;
  • transcripts showing grades obtained on your Bachelor and Master courses.

If this specific opportunity is not for you, but you know someone else who may be interested, please forward this link to them.
Please note: Due to the current situation regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) the process of selection and interviews is subject to change. Initial interviews may be conducted online.
Some connections are fundamental – Be one of them

The application deadline is 05/09/2021
View or Apply

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