Call for applications (16 August): Researcher and PhD Candidate in "Protecting Personal Data Amidst Big Data Innovation"

The multidisciplinary Research Group on Law, Science, Technology & Society (LSTS) is an independent entity within the Faculty of Law & Criminology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). With more than 45 researchers at all levels of experience, LSTS has become a prominent European research institute in the area of technology regulation. The staff comprises several postdoc researchers, PhD researchers, associated researchers and affiliated professors. Research staff at LSTS have backgrounds in a number of areas, including law, ethics, philosophy, political science, sociology, chemistry, criminology, and others. Great emphasis is placed on incorporating a multidisciplinary perspective in all our work.

LSTS invites motivated researchers to apply for two PhD positions as part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network ‘PROTECT - Protecting Personal Data Amidst Big Data Innovation’, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme:

  • PhD position 1:“Privacy paradigm policy usability”

  • PhD position 2:“Digital Surveillance”

PROTECT is an international, interdisciplinary and cross academic-industry training network hosted across Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. It is recruiting 14 Early Stage Researchers (ESR) to undertake research towards PhDs in the disciplines of law, ethics or computer science, with the common goal of Protecting Personal Data Amidst Big Data Innovation.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) grant agreement No. 813497. More information here:


PhD position 1: “Privacy paradigm policy usability”

As part of his or her duties, the candidate will be expected to contribute to the develop of privacy paradigm policy rule sets based on an assessment of the usefulness of individual policies by users in selecting digital services and by service providers in managing regulatory compliance.


Expected Results: Input to the design of standard forms developed for privacy paradigm policies based on assessing their accessibility and usefulness to users and data controllers who will use them day-to-day. Provision of a set of digital service use cases for use in assessing different forms of privacy policy in service selection and usage scenarios, for different user demographics, e.g. by age, gender, income. Results in a repeatable methodology for assessing privacy policy notification that integrates probes for usability assessments with assessing legal sufficiency of the policy.


Planned secondment(s):

  1. 2 months (11-12) joint legal privacy assessment of PP policies for ADAPT case studies on personalisation from natural language and speech processing

  2. 6 months (20-25), legal assessment for RI case studies on quantified self

  3. 3 months (30-32) applying assessment method to legal case studies


PhD position 2: “Digital Surveillance”

As part of his or her duties, the candidate will beexpected to assess the privacy and ethical implication of personal data analysis and personalisation technologies ondigital surveillance of individuals. To assess the interaction of ethical assessment methodologies on the practice ofconducting privacy impact assessments in specific digital surveillance contexts.


Expected Results: An analysis of the surveillance potential provided by ubiquitous wearables, location tracking and speech recognition technology and how it may erode interpersonal trust, how companies might discriminate against certain groups of people based on personalisation outcomes, how patient privacy may be impacted by personalized eHealth systems and how states might limit people’s liberties based on personalised security concerns.

Planned secondment(s):

  1. 2 months (11-12), investigate ADAPT social media and speech recognition case studies from a legal data protection viewpoint

  2. 2 months (20-21) train in designing standards contributions around digital surveillance


The researcher is expected to: 

  • Conduct doctoral research under the auspices of the PROTECT training network.

  • Actively join in the academic activities of LSTS, helping the Centre in competing in national and European funding opportunities, attending and presenting in seminars, assisting in organising conferences and workshops, and by taking part in the development of an appropriate impact assessment framework for e-health technologies. 

  • Develop a proposal for a doctoral degree (PhD), in the respective areas.


Eligibility Criteria:


All researchers recruited must be Early-Stage Researchers (ESR). Early-Stage researchers are those who, at the time of recruitment by the host are in the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of their research careers and have not already been awarded a doctoral degree. This is measured from the date when they obtain the degree that formally entitles them to embark on a doctorate (either in the country in which the degree was obtained or in the country in which the researcher is recruited, even if a doctorate was never started or envisaged).


Researchers are required to undertake physical, transnational mobility (i.e. move from one country to another) when taking up their appointment. Researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of their host organisation for more than 12 months in the 3 years prior to their recruitment. Compulsory national service, short stays such as holidays, and time spent as part of a procedure for obtaining refugee status under the Geneva Convention are not taken into account. Note that the mobility rule applies to the country of the host where the researcher is recruited, and not to countries to which the researcher may be seconded.


We encourage in particular candidates that possess the following qualifications:

  • a master’s degree in law, criminology, sociology, philosophy, or STS, preferably with a specialisation in technology, awarded by the deadline for applications;

  • relevant working experience;

  • demonstrate enthusiasm by contributing to ongoing research activities and attracting external funding for research projects;

  • fluency in English, and the ability to conduct research in at least one other language;

  • good organisational and communicative skills;

  • the ability to work independently, under pressure, respect deadlines, and produce quality work.


Conditions of employment

The successful candidate will be integrated in a dynamic team, composed of both experienced and early career researchers, working under the guidance of Prof. Paul de Hert. The candidate will collaborate closely with the other members of LSTS and will have access to doctoral training offered by the VUB, as well as to all facilities of the university. Successful candidates are expected to work at the VUB premises in Brussels. Office space and equipment will be provided along with a budget for travelling and other research‐related expenses.

We offer employment as a full-time doctoral researcher. The PhD degree will be awarded in law. For more information about facilities and benefits of employment at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, please visit the heading ‘future employees’.

Contract: full‐time research grant for one year, renewable on an annual basis for a maximum of three years. Extension of the contract is subject to the agreement of the doctoral committee. Remuneration is at the level of a full-time research assistant at a Flemish university (i.e. approximately €1.900 net per month) and includes contributions for social security. Secondary employment is not allowed.


The candidate will be selected on the basis of the quality of the application, expertise, work experience and qualifications. The following application documents are to be consolidated into a single PDF file sent by email to istvan.mate.borocz@vub.beand

Application (in English) should include the following:

  • A completed PROTECT Eligibility Form (see at the end of the page) that captures the information need to monitor the eligibility, gender equality and researcher at risk outcomes of the recruiting process, specifically

    • Name

    • Nationality and Gender

    • Contact details

    • Summary of activities in the three years prior to 1stAugust 2019

    • Summary of education [to ensure possession of an award at the level needed and that candidate does not already have a PhD]

  • List of max 3 examples of work demonstrating prior achievement in research, enquiry or debate, e.g. publish paper or other work; software, standards or policy contribution; dissertation or masters thesis,

  • A covering letter explaining why the candidate wants the position and what qualifies them for it.

  • A CV. We recommend you use the Europass format:

Deadline for the submission of applications is Friday, 16 August 2019. 

The successful candidate will be notified by Monday, 2 September 2019.

The position will start on 1 October 2018 (the start date could be subject to change).

If you are interested in learning more about the project on which you will be working, its content, team, consortium, or about working as researcher at VUB-LSTS, please visit the LSTS website us an email.