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Are you exceptionally interested in (computational) communication research? Is it your ambition to become a top-tier researcher?

The Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) is the research institute for the Communication Science department at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. We are seeking two PhD candidates for participation in the NEWSFLOWS project, which is being funded by the European Research Council. The PhD tracks are part of the Political Communication programme group and the Computational Communication Science Amsterdam Lab. The candidate will work in close cooperation with the Digital Society Initative and the Digital Communication Methods Lab.

Poject description

Both vacancies are part of the NEWSFLOWS project. A brief description of the overall goals of the project is available at CCS.Amsterdam. At this time, we are recruiting for two subprojects. Please indicate whether you are applying for one or both of them.

Project 1: Feedback loops in the interplay of manual news sharing and algorithmic recommendations

This 3-year PhD project investigates the complex interplay of news sharing and algorithmic recommendations and consists of three complementary sub-projects. On social media, news dissemination is determined by both manual sharing behavior and algorithmic recommendations that rank and/or filter the news feed. This leads to reinforcing effects both within manual sharing (shares that attract more shares) and algorithmic sorting (as previous sharing can be an input signal). It is therefore insufficient to study both in isolation in order to understand the complex behaviour of positive and negative feedback loops (i.e., reinforcing and dampening effects). Project 1.1 uses a data donation approach to understand what people actually encounter and share. We will develop a tool that allows participants to extract and analyze their social media sharing behaviour on their own computer, and submit anonymized and aggregated summary statistics to us. Project 1.2 uses simulation approaches (agent-based modeling in combination with different recommender systems) to study how changes in the behaviour observed in the first study influence the overall outcomes. Project 1.3 uses online field-experiments to test the models developed in Project 1.2. Taken together, the results of Project 1 will be crucial building blocks for a theory that addresses the relationship between manual and algorithmic feedback loops.

Project 2: Feedback loops in cross-domain flows

This is a 3-year PhD project to study flows between fringe communities, mainstream media, and politics. Whereas Project 1 takes a user-centered approach, the three sub-packages within Project 2 employ a content-centered approach. Using large-scale automated content analysis, we detect how fringe content (both from legitimate special-interest sites and extremist communities on 4chan, 8chan, gab.ai, etc.) ends up in mainstream media and in political debates. Project 2.1 develops news item matching methods. Using state-of-the art approaches such as word embeddings and neural networks, we will develop better ways to track information between domains, even if very different wording is used. Project 2.2 applies these to web scraping data to map feedback loops between fringe communities and mainstream media, such as conspiracy content or so-called ‘fake news’ suddenly spilling over to mainstream media, in turn fueling and legitimizing the debate in the fringe communities; but also similar processes with involving legitimate peripheral actors like social movements. Project 2.3 applies the same approaches to study feedback loops between media content, social media content, and transcripts of political debates. It allows to track the effects-at-large that fringe content can have in the long run. Taken together, Project 2 will reconcile theoretical notions that extremist communities through the lens of radicalization and polarization with theoretical notions that focus on the influence these groups can have on discourse at large (e.g., normalization).

What will you be doing?

You will:

  • conduct research as outlined above, resulting in academic publications in leading journals and cumulating in a PhD thesis;
  • present your work at international conferences;
  • contribute to the vibrant academic life in Amsterdam by attending workshops, meetings, and lectures;
  • spend 5% of your time on teaching-related tasks.

What do we require of you?

You should:

  • hold a Master’s degree in communication science or a related field such as political science, sociology, but also computer science, information science, or similar;
  • have a firm basis in research methods and data analysis;
  • have an excellent written and spoken command of English. As you will (also) be working with Dutch news data, it is an advantage if you also have at least a passive understanding of Dutch or are willing to acquire it;
  • have excellent organizational skills;
  • have the ability and interest to work in a team;
  • be motivated to contribute to the emerging field of computational communication science and to engage with different academic disciplines (e.g., social sciences, computational linguistics, computer science);
  • have knowledge of a programming language, in particular Python, is essential. Data analysis skills in R can be an additional asset.

The exact starting date will be discussed, but preferably, you can start as soon as possible.

Further information

Do you have any questions or do you require additional information?

For both projects, you can contact:

In WP1, you will additionally work with Susan Vermeer; in WP2, with Anne Kroon 

Would you like to learn more about working at the University of Amsterdam? Visit our website.

Our offer

The position concerns a temporary employment contract of 38 hours a week for a maximum term of three years. The initial appointment is for one year. Following a positive assessment and barring altered circumstances, this term will be extended by a maximum of 24 months, which should result in the conferral of a doctorate. We will put together a curriculum which will also include the opportunity to attend training courses and both national and international events. You will also be tasked with teaching Bachelor’s students (5% of your contract).

Your salary will be €2,395 gross per month in the first year and will increase to €3,061 in the final year, based on full-time employment and in keeping with the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities. We additionally offer an extensive package of secondary benefits, including 8% holiday allowance and a year-end bonus of 8.3%.

What else can we offer you?

A challenging work environment with a variety of duties and ample scope for individual initiative and development within an inspiring organisation. The social and behavioural sciences play a leading role in addressing the major societal challenges faced by the world, the Netherlands and Amsterdam, now and in the future.

To work at the University of Amsterdam is to work in a discerning, independent, creative, innovative and international climate characterised by an open atmosphere and a genuine engagement with the city of Amsterdam and society.

About the Faculty

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG) is the largest social-science educational and research institution in the Netherlands. The Faculty serves around 9,000 students in numerous Bachelor and Master programs in Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Communication Science, Psychology, Human Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, International Development Studies and Educational Sciences. The academic staff is employed in education as well as research. There are over 1,200 employees at the Faculty, located in a number of buildings in the center of Amsterdam.

Job application

The UvA is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees. We value a spirit of enquiry and endurance, provide the space to keep asking questions and cherish a diverse atmosphere of curiosity and creativity.

Does this profile sound like you? If so, we are eager to receive your CV and motivation letter. Please also include some code you have written (either as a file or as a Github link) that you are proud of, such as a script you wrote for your thesis or an assignment, or a hobby project you liked.

You can apply online by clicking on the link below.

The deadline for applications is 4 December 2020. Interviews will take place on 17/18 December.
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No agencies please

Apply now

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