ESR6 : Alignment in human-machine spoken interaction

PhD fellowship


In the context of a dialogue game in which interlocutors describe objects to each other as part of a task, ESR6 will investigate the extent to which people align with each other and with a natural-language generation system, and how this impacts on task success. Starting from a simple referential communication game, in which objects may be referred to by means of different terms, ESR6 will move on to more naturalistic tasks such as determining a route through a complex environment. By manipulating the performance of the generation system (e.g., use of preferred vs dispreferred terms), we can determine what characteristics enhance alignment and task success. Manipulations will be directly relevant to alignment (e.g., whether the system always aligns with the person) as well as related to other aspects of the task (e.g., when and how often backchannels are used). ESR6 will also manipulate the human-likeness of the system.

Expected results:

Alignment is expected to lead to task success (a deceptively simple claim that needs carefully-controlled experimentation to test). Specifically, we expect a direct relationship between alignment of the generation system and alignment of participants (i.e., if the system aligns with you, you will tend to align with it). The effects of other manipulations are likely to be less direct; for example, backchannels may lead to more succinct descriptions and it may be easier to align on these descriptions.

Based in Edinburgh, UK

Full-time three-year contract, starting September 2020

PhD enrolment at: University of Edinburgh

Main supervisor’s institution: University of Edinburgh

Main supervisor: Prof Martin Pickering


  • DAVI, Puteaux: training on using real-time dialogue systems in experimental settings (5 months);
  • Furhat Robotics, Stockholm: to test the system with a physical agent/robot (5,5 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

  • DAVI, Puteaux, France
  • Furhat Robotics, Stockholm, Sweden


The ESR will be contractually employed for 36 months by the main institution, and will be covered under the social security scheme of the enrolling country. She/he will monthly receive a Living Allowance, a Mobility Allowance and a Family Allowance (if applicable) compliant with the applicable EC Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions-ITN general conditions.

Note that the Mobility Allowance is intended to cover the costs associated with the fact that the ESR has moved to another country in order to take her/his position, and is for her/his private use only.

The net salary for ESR6 will be about €2.300-2.700 according to her/his situation.

In addition, funds administered by the host institution will be available to cover the ESR’s participation in the project. This includes:

. Visa and residency card (if needed)
. Registration fees requested by the university in which the ESR will enroll as a PhD student
. Consumable and supplies costs involved in the ESR’s research
. Travel and accommodation expenses associated with the ESR’s stays in places of secondment
. Travel and accommodation expenses associated with the ESR’s participation in the seven COBRA training events
. Registration, travel and accommodation expenses associated with the ESR’s participation in conferences
. Publication fees

Eligibility criteria:

Experience eligibility requirement: Eligible applicants must be in the first 4 years of their research careers (full-time equivalent research experience) at the signature of the contract (measured from the time the Master’s degree has been obtained).

Eligible applicants must not hold a Doctoral Degree yet.

Mobility eligibility requirement

The fellow must not have resided in the main institution’s country for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the recruitment date, and not have carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in that country.

Selection process

February 2020: Opening of the call

Applications must contain the following:

  1. An up-to-date CV, without gaps, in order for the selection committee to easily check the mobility and experience requirements. CVs that either do not clearly show the applicant’s past experience, or have gaps, will be considered ineligible;
  2. A letter exposing her/his motivation for a COBRA PhD fellowship, and her preference for two of the fifteen PhD projects proposed in COBRA;
  3. At least 1 reference letter (in English) from one former supervisor and/or professor;
  4. The scan of the degree (usually the master’s degree) which would formally entitles her/him to embark on a doctorate, either in the country in which the degree was obtained, or in the country in which the researcher will be recruited. If the degree has not been obtained yet, the applicant will have to provide a declaration of her/his university stating that the degree will be obtained before the expected starting date;
  5. Transcripts of records (document indicating the applicant’s ranking and/or marks within her/his master’s degree as well as the courses/modules she/he has followed).

The complete application should be provided in the form of one single pdf file, named as follows: lastname-firstname.pdf.

The extended deadline for the submission of applications is 15 April 2020, 5 pm GMT.

In addition to the COBRA website application, candidates applying for the ESR6 position must also compulsory apply through the University of Edinburgh (UoE) application portal via the following link (UoE Vacancy Ref: 051570):

Admission timeline

  • April 2020: Selection & ranking of pre-selected candidates
  • May 2020: Pre-selected candidates’ interviews
  • June 2020: Notification of the selected candidates
  • September-October 2020: Beginning of contracts

Additional comments

REQUIRED EDUCATION LEVEL: Master’s degree or equivalent
REQUIRED LANGUAGE: ENGLISH (Good or higher level)

Specific Requirements:

Applications must be in English and will be evaluated against the following criteria:

  • Educational record;
  • Scientific quality of the applicant’s CV;
  • Expected impact and benefit to the fellow and to the project;
  • Previous experiences in the area of the COBRA research programme.

COBRA supports equal opportunity.

In the event that the ESR recruited has a disability such that her/his participation in the project is not possible without extra financial support, the host institution will apply for a dedicated Special Needs Lump Sum allowance (SNLS) to the European Commission.

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