PhD Position ‘Uncovering Biased Language Use: Understanding the Communication of Stereotypes in Natural Language’

Do you want to study how biases in language use contribute to the communication and maintenance of stereotypes and prejudice? Then come work with us in the NWO-funded project ‘Uncovering Biased Language Use’ and apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

FTE: 1.0

Job description

The PhD candidate’s task will be to carry out empirical studies (experiments and content analyses) that test how and when stereotypes about social-category members are expressed in natural-language descriptions, and how and when this results in stereotype maintenance. The research is conducted in collaboration with an interdisciplinary supervisory team (communication science, social psychology, computational linguistics) and embedded within a broader project in which we develop methods for automated detection of stereotyping in natural language.

About the project Daily language use contains many (implicit) expressions about social categories, like minority, age, and gender groups. These expressions can construct and maintain stereotypes, and, often unknowingly, feed prejudice and discrimination. In the NWO-funded project Uncovering Biased Language Use: Implicit Communication of Stereotypes in Natural Language, we aim to create a thorough understanding and awareness of stereotype communication. The PhD candidate will take on a subproject to study when and how stereotypes about social categories are reflected in, and inferred from, spontaneously produced natural language. This will be done in experiments in which participants produce spontaneous descriptions of presented target individuals or groups. You will annotate their language use for various aspects, including levels of generalization of labels and behaviour descriptions (i.e., language abstraction), negation use, linguistic agency, and inclusion/exclusion in references. In a content analysis, stereotype expression is studied in natural language ‘in the wild’, using actual news and/or (social) media content in which specific social-category members are described. Annotation of language use (Dutch and English) will be done manually or automated (where possible).The PhD project is closely embedded in the larger interdisciplinary project in which we develop computational methods to automatically detect stereotypes and prejudices in texts (led by a computational linguistics postdoc). This toolset can uncover implicit biases in a variety of real-life contexts and thereby facilitate further (applied) research, content monitoring, correction, prevention, and education about stereotyping. Moreover, we will work with various scientific and societal partners to discuss potential applications of our learnings, for instance in the area of diversity and stereotyping in the practice of organizations, journalism and media, government, and education. The research is conducted at the Department of Communication Science. Supervisors are dr. Camiel Beukeboom, prof. dr. Christian Burgers, and dr. Pia Sommerauer, who have ample experience on the topics of investigation.

Your duties As a PhD candidate..

  • you carry out your research and data analysis in the subproject described above, according to international standards, thereby contributing to the broader project and resulting in an English-language PhD dissertation consisting of research articles, to be completed within the appointment period;
  • you make your research and experiments publicly available and reproducible, such as through publications in international academic journals, presentations at (inter)national conferences, and brief reports or blogs accessible to the public at large. Thereby following the principles of Open Science;
  • you collaborate effectively with the other researchers in the project;
  • you work with and visit the (inter)national advisors and societal partners of the project;
  • you present your work at national and international conferences;
  • you are an active member of the Department of Communication Science and its research groups (including a PhD club), and relevant (inter)national networks and associations (e.g., ICA intergroup communication, NeFCA);
  • you follow a doctoral education program within the VU Graduate School of the Faculty of Social Sciences;
  • you perform a limited number of teaching tasks.


  • A completed (Research) master’s degree in Communication Science, Social Psychology, Communication and Information Studies or a related field;
  • Interest in the topic and methods of the project;
  • Knowledge of and experience with quantitative studies and research designs (experiments and content analysis), and preferably (computational) linguistics;
  • Advanced statistical and analytical skills with a willingness to learn or experience with programming in R or Python (e.g., for computational text analysis);
  • Good academic writing skills;
  • Good command of written and spoken English (IELTS score of 7 or higher) and Dutch, as the studies will focus on both languages. Successful completion of an English-language BA/MA program also counts as evidencing good command of English;
  • Good organizational skills;
  • Open to feedback, organized, flexible and having attention to detail;
  • Ability and interest to work in an interdisciplinary team as well as work independently.

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts to €2,541 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,274 (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 expected to be full time. The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a total duration of 4 years.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
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package.

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 30,000 students. We employ over 5,500 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Diversity We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

Faculty of Social Sciences The Faculty of Social Sciences examines the major social problems of our time from multiple perspectives. From bullying at school to dealing with transnational immigration, from the rise of populist politicians to creating a self-reliant society. Only at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam you will find all the academic disciplines needed to understand these ‘wicked problems’: alongside the traditional disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and politics, we also research and teach the new social sciences such as communication science and management & organization science. We do not settle for easy answers in our teaching and research. Our researchers and students are critical thinkers and doers who work together to devise surprising solutions to the problems of today.Working at the Faculty of Social Sciences means working with colleagues from a range of academic disciplines in an inspiring and personal work and study environment with excellent research facilities. We employ more than 350 staff members, and we are home to around 3,000 students.

About the department of Communication Science The department of Communication Science in which you will be employed has been ranked at a strong #10 of all departments/universities worldwide in the prestigious 2020 Shanghai ranking, the research program received excellent review scores in the last assessment, and the teaching program was positively evaluated and accredited in the last assessment (2018/2019).  


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and uploadyour curriculum vitae and cover letter no later than Sunday June 11. Please also include a grade transcript with course names and grades in bachelor and master program.The job interviews will take place in person on July 3 or 4, 2023, with potential follow-up interviews on 10 or 11 July. Preferred starting date is September 1, 2023. Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact: Name: dr. Camiel Beukeboom, Position: Assistant Professor
E-mail:, Telephone: +31 (0)20 598 6854 (secretariat)