Tony Belpaeme

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PhD position in social robotics and machine learning

This position is now filled. Welcome Pieter Wolfert.

The AIRO group (Artificial Intelligence and Robotics) of the IDLab at Ghent University is looking for a PhD student to help with our research on social robotics and machine learning.

Social robots are robots which interact with people in a natural manner by using speech, gestures, and facial expressions for example. As social robots use natural communication, they are easy to interact with and this knows many applications in entertainment, services, education, collaborative robotics and therapy.

Now however, these robots are programmed by hand, as automatically generating verbal and nonverbal behaviour is still largely impossible. Our research aims to change that. The project will study how a robot can use generative deep learning to observe video recordings of people interacting with each other, and learn which behaviours are appropriate under which circumstances. The goal is to have the robot learn to produce verbal and non-verbal behaviour at a level where people think the robot is a worthy conversation partner.

You will be supervised by Prof Tony Belpaeme ( together with Prof Francis wyffels and Prof Joni Dambre. You will be part of a new, vibrant and interdisciplinary research team, focusing on unconventional robotics, cognitive systems and machine learning.

Ghent University ( is a top 100 university in Belgium situated in the historical and trendy city of Ghent. With 41,000 students and 9,000 staff, the university is one of the largest universities in the wide region. Ghent University’s mission is to combine high-quality education with internationally leading research and a pluralistic social responsibility. You will join the AIRO group which is part of IDLab, a research lab consisting of more than 300 researchers developing today the tech of tomorrow.

Profile of the candidate

You must have an MSc degree in computer science, electrical engineering, technical cognitive science or areas relevant to the research topic. Good programming skills are required (C++, Python, or other), as is training in machine learning. English will be the primary language used (spoken as well as written). The PhD position is highly interdisciplinary and requires an understanding and/or interest in psychology and social sciences.

Further details:

  • The position starts on 1 October 2018 and runs for 4 years.
  • The net amount of the scholarship will be approximately €1900 per month, increasing to €2100 per month in the fourth year. You will also receive a holiday allowance and an end-of-year bonus, and will enjoy full social security cover. Additional financial support is available for attending conference and workshop.
  • You will be affiliated with the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics group of the IDLab. While the research will be based in Ghent, occasional travel to international conferences will be required.
  • You will be enrolled in the doctoral training programme offered by the Doctoral School of Engineering.
  • Ghent University encourages equal opportunities and will consider applications only based on your potential as an early career researcher.

How to apply

For informal queries, do not hesitate to contact Tony Belpaeme ( Your application should include

  1. a letter motivating your application.
  2. a CV, copies of relevant exams, grades, master thesis work or publications.
  3. the names and contact details of at least 2 referees. Recommendation letter can be included with your application, but do not need to be at time of application.

Applicants should send their application to The application deadline is 31 May 2018. Selected candidates will be invited for interview, which can be organised over Skype if necessary.


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