Tony Belpaeme

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New PhD studentship filled

News! This position is no longer available: we’re happy to have Maria Pinto Bernal fill this position.

The AIRO group (Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, of IDLab-imec ( ) at Ghent University are offering a fully-funded PhD studentship to help with our research on social robotics.

Social robots are robots that interact with people in a natural manner by, for example, using speech, gestures, facial expressions and language. By using natural communication, these robots are easier to interact with and have many applications in entertainment, services, education, collaborative robotics and therapy [1].

However, these robots are only able to interact with us for a limited amount of time before we lose interest. Your research aims to change that. Your project will study what elements are needed for a social robot to become an engaging and relevant social partner. You will explore approaches to drawing people into a human-robot interaction, starting from first principles on what makes interaction long-term between people, and between people and other living creatures. Next, you will implement a number of studies to validate our theories and identify application domains where social robots can make a difference (such as education, support or customer service). You will very much use an explorative approach, using curiosity-led research to arrive at scientifically, societally and technically relevant results.

Your research has the potential to go in two directions, either it will have a predominantly technical focus in which machine learning of long-term Human-Robot Interaction is explored, or it will focus on the social mechanisms underlying interaction with robots. Which way the research goes entirely depends on your profile and interests.

You will be supervised by Prof Tony Belpaeme ( and will be part of a vibrant and interdisciplinary research team, focusing on human-robot interaction, unconventional robotics, cognitive systems and machine learning. You will have access to the full facilities of IDLab, including high-performance computing/GPU clusters and the HomeLab living lab.


Ghent University ( is an international 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 tomorrow’s tech.

Profile of the candidate

You must have an MSc background in computer science, electrical engineering, (technical) cognitive science, Human-Computer Interaction psychology or areas relevant to the research topic (for example, sociology with a keen interest in robotics and AI). Good programming skills are required (C++, Python, or other) as you will programming robots and equipment and will be running data analyses. 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 start date can be negotiated, but is tentatively set at 1/10/2021.
  • The net amount of the scholarship will be approximately €2000 per month. 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 conferences and workshops.
  • 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 and AIRO lab encourages equal opportunities. We will consider applications based only on your potential as an early career researcher and your fit to the research programme.

How to apply

For informal queries, do not hesitate to contact Tony Belpaeme (

Your application should include

  1. A letter motivating your application. Why do you wish to pursue a PhD in social robotics? How does your expertise match the research? What is your -if any- prior experience?
  2. A full curriculum vitae. If appropriate, copies of relevant exams, grades, MSc thesis or publications.
  3. The names and contact details of at least 2 referees. Recommendation letters can be included with your application, but are not needed at the time of application.

Applicants should send their application to with subject “PhD application Sep 2021”. The application deadline is 30 September 2021. Selected candidates will be invited for an online interview.

Additional reading

Introduction to HRI at

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