PhD position autism assessment online: a machine learning approach

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • PhD position autism assessment online: a machine learning approach
  • University Graduate
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous neurodevelopmental condition, characterized by impaired social skills and inflexibility and high rates of co-occurring disorders. There is no cure for ASD, but adequate care can improve functioning, enhance quality of life and reduce societal costs. Mechanisms that influence the course of ASD are poorly understood. Longitudinal research is crucial to link these mechanisms to development and intervention outcomes. The Netherlands Autism Register (NAR), is a unique and diverse clinical longitudinal cohort, including >3300 autistic individuals (aged 2 to 84 years) and over 700 controls. Since 2013, the NAR included yearly measurements (see In our project, we aim to 1) enlarge and enrich the NAR with genetic and environmental data and innovative online assessments to map lifespan trajectories of individuals with and without ASD and assess their ability to predict diagnostic status and quality of life 2) embed digital interventions in the NAR aimed at the core ASD symptoms and the most prevalent and disabling co-occurring mental health conditions to optimize personalized care, and 3) implement the findings and make online screening and digital interventions available. The NAR is well-known for its close collaboration with and dissemination to individuals with ASD.

FTE: 1

Job description

For the whole project we seek three excellent PhD candidates. The project for which we now seek applicants is the first Project. With this project, we will enrich the NAR with online behavioral tests on social and non-social capacities. To date, ASD diagnoses strongly rely on subjective methods (like interviews and observations). We aim to complement these with objective assessments. Online tests will be conducted for social (perspective taking, reciprocity and emotion understanding) and non-social (sensory processing, central coherence, executive functioning) capacities, using validated tests. Evolutionary algorithms and machine learning techniques will be applied to investigate the vast amount of data collected to improve our understanding of ASD and to develop an objective tool for diagnosing ASD.

Your duties

The PhD student will program nine experiments to collect data from 500 adult participants with ASD and 500 controls. Data collection will be online, and the PhD students’ task is to analyse the data and publish the outcomes in international journals. Machine learning techniques will be applied to understand the vast amount of data collected from this project and other projects. At the end, we aim to develop an online tool for diagnosing ASD.


We are looking for candidates that hold, or will soon hold, a (Research) Master degree in Psychology, (computational) Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, or related fields, with a strong interest in ASD research, skills in programming and statistical analyses, and a motivation to pursue a career in science. Excellent programming skills are a must for the project, and previous experience with Machine Learning is also highly valued.

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 €2,325 (scale 85.0) per month during the first year and increases to €2,972 (scale 85.3) 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 vacant for at least 1 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 4 years in total.
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
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package
  • discounts on collective insurances (healthcare- and car insurance);

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. And to be a university where personal education and societal involvement play a leading role. Where people from different disciplines and backgrounds work together on innovations and on generating new knowledge. Our teaching and research embrace the whole spectrum of science – from the humanities, the social sciences and the pure sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,500 students. We employ more than 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Diversity is one of our university’s core values. We are an inclusive community, and we believe that diversity and international activities enhance the quality of education and research. We are always looking for people who can enhance diversity on our campus thanks to their background and experience.

Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences
The Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences focuses on the broad domain of behaviour and health. Our teaching and research programmes are devoted to current developments in society, from healthy aging to e-health, from juvenile crime to dealing with depression, from training for top athletes to social media as a teaching tool. We are unique in that we combine three academic disciplines: psychology, movement sciences and education.

Working at Behavioural and Movement Sciences means working in an ambitious organization that is characterized by an informal atmosphere and short lines of communication. Our faculty offers tremendous scope for personal development. We employ more than 600 staff members, and we are home to around 3,400 students.

About the department, institute, project
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Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until 6 December 2019. The job interviews are planned on 10 December 2019. When possible please take them into account when applying for the position. Start date: early 2020.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Sander Begeer
Position: Associate Professor
Telephone: 0205989698

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