PhD Position in Task-Based Question Answering

University of Amsterdam Informatics Institute


PhD position on Task-Based Question Answering

Publication date 4 August 2020

Closing date 15 September 2020

Level of education Master's degree

Hours 38 hours per week

Salary indication €2,395 to €3,061 gross per month

Vacancy number 20-470

Are you interested in developing conversational systems that support scientific discovery? We are looking for a PhD student who is interested in conducting research into question answering algorithms that are able to gather and synthesize complex answers in the task-based setting of a research platform.

Many recent advances in question answering and conversational search focus on factoid information. In the context of scientific discovery, more complex types answer types may be appropriate, such as reading lists, summaries, experimental designs, depending on the research task that a researcher is addressing. In this position, your challenge will be to develop neural models that can retrieve or generate answers from structured and unstructured resources conditioned on inferred or detected task and intent.

The research will take place within the Discovery Lab. This lab is a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Elsevier. Our philosophy is to drive scientific discovery using machine intelligence. Our goal is to study and develop technology, infrastructure and methods to support the current transformation of science, specifically regarding data-driven activity, where scientists increasingly rely on intelligent tooling for searching and reading scientific literature, to formulate hypotheses, and to interpret data.

In the Discovery Lab, PhD candidates can conduct academic research at the university, and apply their findings with real world data and systems. The lab is a collaboration between researchers with backgrounds in data engineering, information retrieval, knowledge representation, and machine learning. This position has an emphasis on the information retrieval aspects of the lab. We are also embedded within the Amsterdam data science and artificial intelligence ecosystem and value practice-informed and interdisciplinary research and outreach.

We strongly encourage applications coming from a unique perspective. Tell us how your background fits with the aims of the lab. We are also hiring for several other positions in the lab. See our website for other positions available in the lab.

What are you going to do?

You are expected to:

  • create, evaluate and describe novel algorithms and architectures for conversational search and complex question answering;
  • integrate and evaluate such algorithms in experimental scenarios, with a focus on academic search;
  • present research results at national and international conferences, workshops and journals;
  • become an active member of the research community and to collaborate with other researchers, both within and outside the Informatics Institute;
  • pursue and complete a PhD thesis within the appointed duration of four years;
  • assist in teaching activities, such as teaching labs and tutorials or supervising bachelor and master students.

What do we require?

  • A Master’s degree in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, or a closely related field;
  • a thorough understanding of both information retrieval and machine learning;
  • an interest in algorithm development and in their implications for people impacted by those algorithms;
  • solid programming skills and experience in Python and machine learning frameworks;
  • the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams;
  • a good knowledge of English (written and spoken).

Our offer

 A temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of 4 years (the initial appointment will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years) and should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students.

The salary, depending on relevant experience before the beginning of the employment contract, will be €2,395 to €3,061 (scale P) gross per month, based on a full-time contract (38 hours a week). This is exclusive 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus. A favourable tax agreement, the ‘30% ruling’, may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities is applicable.

Are you curious about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits like our excellent opportunities for study and development? Take a look here.


Do you have questions about this vacancy? Or do you want to know more about our organisation? Please contact:

  • prof. Maarten de Rijke

Applications should not be sent by email but be submitted through the link below this advertisement.

About the Faculty of Science and the Informatics Institute

The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 7,000, as well as 1,600 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the functioning of the brain.

The mission of the Informatics Institute is to perform curiosity-driven and use-inspired fundamental research in Computer Science. Main research themes are Artificial Intelligence, Computational Science and Systems and Network Engineering. Our research involves complex information systems at large, with a focus on collaborative, data driven, computational and intelligent systems, all with a strong interactive component.

Job application

The UvA is an equal-opportunity employer. We prioritise diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for everyone. We value a spirit of enquiry and perseverance, provide the space to keep asking questions, and promote a culture of curiosity and creativity.

The Informatics Institute strives for a better gender balance in its staff. We therefore strongly encourage women to apply for this position.

Do you recognize yourself in the job profile? Then we look forward to receiving your application by 15 September 2020. You can apply online by using the button below.

Applications should include:

  • a motivation letter that explains the reasons for applying to the position;
  • a CV, including a list of publications and open source projects if applicable;
  • a complete record of your Bachelor and Master courses, included grades and explanation of the grading system;
  • the names and contact addresses of at least two academic references (please do not include reference letters);
  • a link to or copy of your master thesis.

We will invite potential candidates for interviews during the fourth week of September 2020.

No agencies please

Apply now

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