Job opening: PhD in "Large non-verbal Language Models (LnvLM) for human-agent interaction and cooperation" (21598)

Requisition ID 21598 – Posted 05/17/2023 – Job openings for academic staff – Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences

PhD position in “Large non-verbal Language Models (LnvLM) for human-agent interaction and cooperation.” (1 FTE)

  • Department: Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence
  • Location: Tilburg
  • Full-time equivalent: 1.0 FTE (40 hours per week)
  • Monthly full-time gross salary: €2.541 (first year) – €3.247 (fourth year)
  • Duration of employment contract: 12 and 36 months

Your position

The Cognitive Science & Artificial Intelligence department at Tilburg University invites applications for one fully-funded PhD position in the areas of robotics and deep learning, embedded within the AI for Robotics Lab (AIR-Lab, AI for Robotics Lab (AIR-Lab) is a newly established research lab at Tilburg University, co-directed by Murat Kirtay and Giacomo Spigler. AIR-Lab research activities focus on recent advances in AI for robotics to endow robots with advanced cognitive capabilities and state-of-the-art performance. The lab is organized along two main areas:

  1. Cognitive Developmental Robotics (CoDeRs) approach integrates insights from various fields –including machine learning, interaction design, computational neuroscience, cognitive/developmental psychology, etc.– to conduct interdisciplinary research in robotics and artificial intelligence. Our goal is to develop computational models for embodied robots, both physical and virtual, that can interact with humans and other robots.
  2. The DL4Robotics line focuses on incorporating the latest advances in deep learning into robotics. We are particularly interested in the development of fully end-to-end robot learning methods based on deep reinforcement learning, imitation learning, and self-supervised learning. Our applications span a variety of domains, including human-robot interaction, together with CoDeRs, and dexterous manipulation, for which we use the in-lab developed dexterous Tilburg robot hand.

AIR-Lab members have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art robot platforms, including a Franka Robot Arm, Humanoid Robots (Pepper and Nao), Unitree Robot dogs, and in-house built robots.

The PhD candidate will work on a project to build the first Large non-verbal Language Model (LnvLM). The project will combine ideas and methods from robotics, human-robot interaction, and deep learning, and in particular deep reinforcement learning, imitation learning, and reinforcement learning from human feedback.

Project description

When we think of communication, our first thought is language. Following this intuition, a vast amount of research in robotics (in particular, human-robot interaction (HRI)) has been dedicated to modeling spoken language. Nonetheless, a significant portion of information exchanged in human-human communication is non-verbal. Despite its importance, current non-verbal behavior by robots in HRI settings is either manually pre-programmed, or controlled by humans via teleoperation.The objective of the project is to build on recent advances in  language modeling and artificial intelligence to create large language models for non-verbal communication, including gestures, eye gaze, facial expressions, proxemics, etc. The developed models will be deployed on various robot platforms to test ecological validity of the proposed approach. Part of the validation will involve experiments with Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF), relying on the trained embeddings of non-verbal communication to both specify tasks and to extract reward signals.

Your qualifications

  • Master’s degree in computer science, robotics, artificial intelligence, or related fields.
  • Strong algorithmic and programming skills (Python).
  • Excellent knowledge of English and good academic writing skills.
  • Interest (and ideally, research and coding  experience) in deep learning techniques and frameworks (Pytorch, TensorFlow), Human-Robot Interaction, and Robotics.

Our offer

This is a position for 1.0 FTE (40 hours per week) of the full-time working week. The selected candidate will start with a contract for one year. Upon a positive outcome of the first-year evaluation, the candidate will be offered an employment contract for the remaining three years.The salary amounts to a minimum of €2.541 and a maximum of €3.247 gross per month for full-time employment contract, based on UFO profile PhD student and salary scale number PhD’s of the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities. Tilburg University uses a neutral salary system for scaling that is based on relevant education and work experience. You are entitled to a vacation allowance of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% of your gross annual income. If you work 40 hours per week, you will receive 41 paid days of leave per year.Researchers from outside the Netherlands may qualify for a tax-free allowance equal to 30% of their taxable salary (the 30% tax regulation). The University will apply for such an allowance on their behalf. We offer assistance in finding accommodation (for foreign employees).TIU has fine benefits such as an options model for terms and conditions of employment and reimbursement of moving expenses, also including excellent technical infrastructure, savings schemes and excellent sports facilities. The collective labor agreement of the Dutch Universities applies.

Tilburg University offers excellent employment conditions. We think flexibility, professional and personal development, and good employee benefits are important. We make clear agreements about career paths and offer all kinds of facilities and schemes to maintain an optimal balance between work and private life. You can also follow numerous training courses, for example, in the areas of leadership skills, personal effectiveness, and career development.   Tilburg University values an open and inclusive culture. We embrace diversity and encourage the mutual integration of groups of employees and students. We focus on creating equal opportunities for all our employees and students, so that everyone feels at home in our university community. Tilburg University has a lively campus in beautiful green surroundings that is easily accessible by public transport. We are committed to a sustainable society and challenge you to make an active contribution. Please visit working at Tilburg University for more information on our terms of employment. 

Information and application

More detailed project information can be provided on request: please contact Giacomo Spigler (

To apply, please submit:

  • a motivation letter in which you describe why you want to do this research, and why you are the right person to do it; 
  • a full curriculum vitae, demonstrating academic excellence, including publications (if applicable);
  • academic transcripts of your Bachelor and Master’s degrees;
  • a sample of writing, such as your Master’s thesis or a relevant paper;
  • contact details of two academic referees.

The only way to apply is online. The first deadline for application is June 16th. The position is open until filled. The application interviews will start from June 23rd. The starting date of this position is negotiable but preferably between September-November, 2023.

The School and the department

The Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence department (  at Tilburg University is part of the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences. The department emphasizes innovative research spanning a wide array of fields including computational linguistics and language technology, data-science, human-robot interaction, virtual reality and serious games. CSAI is a member of the Benelux Association for Artificial Intelligence, participates in the Special Interest Group for AI (SIG AI), and also participates in the Confederation of Laboratories for Artificial Intelligence Research in Europe (CLAIRE).Tilburg University and the CSAI department offer a vibrant international environment, with current CSAI staff originating from more than 10 countries.

Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences

Recruitment code

Tilburg University applies the recruitmentcode of the Dutch Association for Personnel Management & Organization Development (NVP).


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