Phd Position In Natural Language Processing: Subjectivity In The Detection Of Problematic Language (0.8 – 1.0 Fte)

Utrecht University
December 03, 2023
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PhD position in Natural Language Processing: subjectivity in the detection

of problematic language (0.8 – 1.0 FTE)

Job description

Variation in interpretation is particularly frequent with judgments that depend on an individual's subjective biases, such as deciding whether a joke is funny or not. This PhD project focuses on NLP methods for subjective interpretive tasks with a high societal relevance, such as offensive/abusive language detection, used e.g., by social media platforms to identify cases of problematic use of language that can be harmful to people. Judgments on whether a given utterance is problematic are notoriously subjective, where differences between judges can have difficult cultural, ethnic, and racial overtones. The project will develop models for detecting problematic language that take into account the fact that the judgments involved can be controversial.

  • What criteria should we follow in creating/choosing data sets to train models for recognising offensive/abusive languages? E.g., how should we collect annotations on potentially controversial text, where judgements can vary widely across annotators? And, is it possible to do this in an automatic fashion, e.g. by leveraging the stance of commentators on social media?
  • What kind of deep learning architectures are most appropriate for such tasks?
  • What is the best way for evaluating a model carrying out a type of interpretation when human judgments for that task vary based on factors such as age, gender, and religious belief?
  • This position also offers the opportunity to develop teaching skills, next to doing research. Typically, PhD candidates dedicate around 15% of their time to teaching in the department, in the form of tutoring or co-supervision of theses.You will join the Natural Language Processing (NLP) Group, which is part of the AI & Data Science division of the Department of Information and Computing Sciences. Our current research strengths include the following themes: NLP and Society, Natural Language Generation and, connected with the latter, Vision and Language. In all these areas we work closely with Utrecht University''s (UU) Language Sciences department. It is foreseen that all PhD projects in the AiNed project will be jointly supervised with Language Sciences. The NLP group contributes to various areas of teaching, for example via UU's cross-faculty Bachelor and Master's degrees in Artificial Intelligence. The group is strongly aligned with UU's focus area Human-centred Artificial Intelligence.This PhD position is one of five inter-connected PhD positions focussing on variation in NLP, under Utrecht University's AiNed project “Dealing with Meaning Variation in NLP”, led by Prof. Massimo Poesio. We are simultaneously recruiting for two other positions in this project. We invite you to also check out these interesting vacancies on our website: PhD position in Natural Language Processing: conflicting interpretations in dialogue and PhD position in Natural Language Processing: variation in co- reference and reference.


    We are looking for a motivated researcher with a curious and critical mindset to join our exciting project. We would also like you to bring:

  • a Master's degree in an area relevant to this project, which lies at the interface between computational social science, NLP, and deep learning. Thus, relevant areas could be Artificial Intelligence, Computational Cognitive Science, Computing Science, Computational Social Science, Linguistics, or Statistics.
  • A good mastery of deep learning and of NLP is essential. An understanding of social science methodology would be a definite bonus.
  • Excellent English communication skills.
  • You take a strong interest in at least two of the three following areas: (1) computational social science, (2) deep learning, and/or (3) NLP.
  • Offer We offer: About the organization

    A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Shaping science, sharing tomorrow.

    Additional information

    If you have any questions that you'd like us to answer, please contact:

  • Dong Nguyen (Assistant Professor in Computer Science) at [email protected] or
  • Massimo Poesio (Professor in Natural Language Processing) at [email protected]
  • Do you have a question about the application procedure? Please send an email to [email protected].

    As Utrecht University, we want to be a home for everyone. We value staff with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and identities, including cultural, religious or ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. We strive to create a safe and inclusive environment in which everyone can flourish and contribute.

  • your letter of motivation;
  • your curriculum vitae;
  • scans of BSc and/or MSc transcripts (incl. grade list), with a certified translation in English if the degree qualification is not in German, Dutch, or English
  • your MSc-thesis (if not available, then BSc-thesis)
  • the contact details of at least two references
  • If this specific opportunity isn't for you, but you know someone else who may be interested, please forward this vacancy to them.Some connections are fundamental – Be one of them#Fundamentalconnection

    The application deadline is 03/12/2023

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