Come and learn me how to talk and think !! 2 Phd’s positions available

Piek Vossen & Leolani, VU Amsterdam. Fotocredit: Daan Muller.

Make robots talk! There is a lot of talk about robots taking part in our lives but there is little known about how to learn robots talk to us about the world we share. The Spinoza-project Understanding-Language-By-Machines looks for two ambitious, highly-motivated PhD students that want to work on our robot project Leolani. Leolani uses communication to learn about us and the world but she also needs to learn our language at the same time. Communicating and reasoning over the physical world and the people she encounters is a real challenge

If you want to take on this challenge and be part of an exciting team working on the forefront of communicating machines, please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

FTE: 0.8 – 1.0


You will define your own research topic within the Leolani framework and become part of the team of researchers that further develops the platform. Your topic may focus on the reasoning and the communication, taking a language understanding or a language generation perspective.

Your duties

  • Define your research topic within the framework
  • Carry out your research according to international standards
  • Publish at least one article per year in an A or B ranked journal or conference proceedings
  • Make your research and experiments publicly available and reproducible


  • Masters degree in (Computational) Linguistics, Computer Science or Artificial Intelligence
  • Knowledge of and experience with programming in Python
  • Knowledge of and experience with Natural Language Processing


A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,325 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €2,972 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for at least 0.8 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 4 years (or 5 years in case of a 0.8fte contract). Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:

  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus,
  • contribution to commuting expenses,
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package,
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge.


The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. And to be a university where personal education and societal involvement play a leading role. Where people from different disciplines and backgrounds work together on innovations and on generating new knowledge. Our teaching and research embrace the whole spectrum of science – from the humanities, the social sciences and the pure sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 24,500 students. We employ more than 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Diversity is one of our university’s core values. We are an inclusive community, and we believe that diversity and international activities enhance the quality of education and research. We are always looking for people who can enhance diversity on our campus thanks to their background and experience.

Faculty of Humanities
The Faculty of Humanities links a number of fields of study: Language, Literature and Communication, Art & Culture, History, Antiquities and Philosophy. Our teaching and research focus on current societal and scientific themes: from artificial intelligence to visual culture, from urbanization to the history of slavery, from ‘fake news’ in journalism to communication in organizations. We strive to ensure small group sizes. Innovative education and interdisciplinary research are our hallmarks.

Working at the Faculty of Humanities means making a real contribution to the quality of leading education and research in an inspiring and personal work and study climate. We employ more than 250 staff members, and we are home to around 1,300 students.

About the department, institute, project
The Computational Lexicology and Terminology Lab(CLTL) is one of the world’s leading research groups in Human Language technology. Prof. dr. Piek Vossen, recipient of the NWO Spinoza Prize, heads the group of international researchers that are working on ground-breaking projects, among which the Spinoza project ‘Understanding Language by Machines’. 

CLTL and the research you are involved in is also embedded in the VU-gravity project on Hybrid Intellegence. You will collaborate with many researchers on key notions such as collaborative, explainable, adaptable and responsible AI. 


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until 07/11/2019, 23:59.  In your application letter, describe breifly your ideas about the research you want to do and the methods you are going to use.

The job interviews are planned for December 2019, when possible please take them into account when applying for the position.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Piek Vossen
Position: Professor

Meet me @ Weekend van de Wetenschap (Oct. 5, 2019)

Word vrienden met een robot, ontdek een vlek op de zon of ervaar hoe het is om te sporten bij -20ºC in het Weekend van de Wetenschap op de VU! Ben je tussen de 8 en 12 jaar? Geef je snel op en ga met je ouders mee op de exclusieve VU VIP-tour.

Wanneer?Op zaterdag 5 oktober 2019

Hoe laat?Je bent welkom vanaf 12.30 uur on de centrale hal van het VU Hoofdgebouw (Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam)
Het programma duurt van 13.00-16.00 uur.

Start:om 13.00 uur door de bekende hersenprofessor Erik Scherder.

Deelname is gratis, maar je hebt wel een ticket nodig.

Laat je verleiden
Waarom vind je de nieuwste Nikes wél mooi maar dezelfde sneakers zonder merk niet? Doe mee aan ons experiment en ontdek de geheime marketingtrucs van bekende merken.
Door Anniek Eigenraam, School of Business and Economics

Nederland onder water
Wat als de zee overstroomt en het water zelfs je huis binnenkomt? Jij gaat aan de slag om Nederland opnieuw in te richten zodat we allemaal droge voeten houden.
Door Hans de Moel, IVM en Bètawetenschappen VU

Praten met robots
Stel je voor aan een robot en word een vriend van Leolaniof haar broertje Baratheon. Praat met hen over allerlei voorwerpen en stel al je vragen. Tegelijk oefen je je Engels.
Door Piek Vossen, Geesteswetenschappen VU

Meld je aan

Understanding Language By Machines: five years of research funded by NWO-Spinoza-Vossen (plus renewed website)


After five years of my Spinoza projectUnderstanding-Language-By-Machines, I am very pleased to inform you that today the first of 6 PhD’s is going to defend his thesis, entitled: “The meaning of word-sense-disambiguation research”, by Marten Postma. A fascinating report that reflects on more than 15 years of research to understand the meaning of language. As Marten clearly explained: it has still not been solved but we are starting to understand the problem and new ways of solving it. I am also proud that he will continue working as a PostDoc at my CLTL-labon the new NWO-project “Framing Situations in the Dutch Language


I am also very proud to present the renewed website

It explains three key notions of our research: identity, reference and perspective of language understanding.

What are the things in the world, what words and expressions in our language can refer to these and from what perspective do we choose to make reference in particular way? What makes this challenging is the massive ambiguity and variation in language which not even big data models can handle.

Four different projects have addressed these problems in the last five years:

Recently, a fifth project started in which all aspects come together in the physical embodiment of a robot called Leolani. Understanding the world and being able to talk about it with humans is a real challenge for robots:

Check our websites to find out about the next PhD’s in this year and our new research results:

Keynote talk @ Dialogue 2019 in Moscow is ONLINE on Youtube



Invited keynote talk by Piek Vossen on me: his communicative robot Leolani @ the Russian Conference on Computational Linguistics “Dialogue 2019“, Moscow, Russia, May 29 – June 1, 2019. 

We have also a publication: 

  • Vossen, P., S. Báez, L. Bajčetić, S. Bašić and B. Kraaijeveld, ”A communicative robot to learn about us and the world”, in: Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Computational Linguistics and Intellectual Technologies (Dialogue 2019), Moscow, Russia, May 29 – June 1, 2019.

Invited keynote talk and publication @ the Russian Conference on Computational Linguistics “Dialogue 2019” (May 29-June 1, 2019)



Invited keynote talk on my communicative robot Leolani @ the Russian Conference on Computational Linguistics “Dialogue 2019“, Moscow, Russia, May 29 – June 1, 2019. 

Also a separate publication: 

  • Vossen, P., S. Báez, L. Bajčetić, S. Bašić and B. Kraaijeveld, ”A communicative robot to learn about us and the world”, in: Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Computational Linguistics and Intellectual Technologies (Dialogue 2019), Moscow, Russia, May 29 – June 1, 2019.

Invited keynote talk at the Leiden University Florence Nightingale Colloquium (Apr. 9, 2019)


Invited keynote talk on “Understanding language by machines: from a reading machine to a reference machine” at the Nightingale Colloquium, Snellius Building, Leiden University, April 9, 2019. 

From the Data Science Research Programme a new series of seminars is being organized, in cooperation with the LIACS, MI and LCDS. In honour of Florence Nightingale, the famous statistician, monthly a leading speaker gives a lecture on a current theme on data science.