Postdoc in Ethics of Big Data

The Department of Philosophy of the University Twente in the Netherlands is looking for a Postdoc (18-month position) in Ethics of Big Data as part of a large European project on ethical and human rights aspects of smart big data systems.


The Challenge

The aim of this postdoc project is to do an ethical study of big data systems and their implications for society, and to contribute to answers to the question as to how these systems should be regulated, what ethical codes and protocols there should be in place, and what the responsibility of various actors is with respect to them. This study will be performed in the context of a large European project, SHERPA, on ethical and human rights dimensions of big data.


In the postdoc project, about half your time will be devoted to ethical case studies and scenario studies of various types of big data systems and their use in various types of settings (including big data systems that process information about citizens, consumers, and employees). Some possible topics for case studies are: Google’s search engine, AI algorithms used in Facebook and other social media, Amazon’s Alexa home assistant, Apple’s iPhone with GPS tracking, predictive policing, block chain technologies, automated share-dealing, personal fitness applications. The remainder of your time will be devoted to developing ethical guidelines and regulatory options for the responsible development and use of big data systems. You will be writing reports for the project (often together with others), and you will also have some time to work on academic publications.


The SHERPA project

SHERPA is a prestigious and exciting 3 ½ – year international project that is funded through the European Union Horizon 2020 “Science with and for Society” programme with a budget of 3 million euros. It has eleven participating organisations, ranging from universities to industry (including F-Secure) to human rights organisations and others. The project will take place from May 1st, 2018 to November 1st, 2021, and is led by De Montfort University, UK (coordinator: Prof. Dr. Bernd Stahl).


The SHERPA project will investigate, analyse and synthesise our understanding of the ways in which Smart Information Systems (SIS – involving big data analytics and artificial intelligence) impact ethics and human rights issues. It will develop novel ways of understanding and addressing their challenges, evaluate with stakeholders, and advocate the most desirable and sustainable solutions. SHERPA will: (1) represent and visualise the ethical and human rights challenges of SIS through case studies, scenarios and artistic representations, (2) work with a range of stakeholders to identify their concerns and preferred solutions (via interviews, a large-scale online survey, a Delphi study, and a stakeholder board), (3) develop and publish a workbook on responsible development of SIS, (4) present technical and regulatory options (e.g., terms of reference for a regulator), (5) validate and prioritise the proposals through multi-stakeholder focus groups, and (6) advocate, promote and implement the most promising solutions through targeted dissemination and communication activities.


The project is supported by a stakeholder advisory board that includes organisations like the European Data Protection Supervisor, Facebook, Google, the European Organisation for Security, Big Data Alliance, Data Value Association, Postbank Germany, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, European Economic and Social Committee, and others.



You have a PhD in ethics, applied ethics, or a related field. In addition, you:

  • are familiar with the computer and information sciences (the ideal candidate would have done some studies in this area);
  • are interested in multidisciplinary collaboration;
  • have good analytical skills;
  • have good English language skills, both written and spoken;
  • have good social and communication skills in academic as well as non-academic contexts;
  • have an interest in policy and the practical applications of ethics;
  • ideally have some experience with interview methods and qualitative methods in social science; and
  • are able to work independently, but also motivated to collaborate with others, including project participants and stakeholders from different countries and with different backgrounds.


Our offer

An 18-month full-time postdoc position, starting May 1st 2018 (preferred). The gross salary is € 3.111,- to €4.453,- per month, depending on experience. On top of this, you receive a holiday allowance of 8% of the gross annual salary and an 8.3% end-of-year bonus. You will have a budget for traveling to SHERPA workshops and to international conferences.  We offer excellent auxiliary terms of employment, such as professional and personal development programmes; a secondary remuneration package; a dynamic environment with enthusiastic colleagues; and an organisation focusing on internationalisation and a high degree of responsibility and independence.


Job application

Your application should include the following documents:

·       a cover letter which explains your interest in the position and your qualifications for it;

·       a curriculum vitae which includes the name and e-mail address/telephone number for at least two referees.

·       a writing sample (preferably a published article related to the position);

·       either a summary and table of contents of your dissertation or the entire dissertation.


Applications should be uploaded via application link below. The application deadline is February 28th, 2018. Interviews will be held about one week after this date. Since only three documents can be uploaded per application, please combine documents if needed.


A copy of the project proposal is available upon request.


Your collaborators at the University of Twente in this project will be Prof. Philip Brey and Dr. Kevin Macnish. Prof. Brey is full professor in philosophy of technology, with a focus on ethics, and has published a lot on ethics of information technology. Dr. Kevin Macnish is assistant professor in ethics of technology, and has published extensively in the ethics of privacy, surveillance and security. For further information you can contact Dr. Kevin Macnish on phone number +31 53 489 7620 ().


About the University of Twente

We stand for science and technology, high tech, human touch, education and research that matter. New technology which drives change, innovation and progress in society. The University of Twente (UT) is a research university with a strong international orientation and a focus on science & engineering and social and behavioural sciences. We include more than 3,300 faculty and staff and 9,000 students. Our motto “high tech, human touch” expresses the aim of combining research in engineering with social and behavioural sciences. The University of Twente is the only campus university in the Netherlands; divided over five faculties we provide more than fifty educational programs. The University of Twente has a strong focus on personal development and talented researchers are given scope for carrying out pioneering research. The UT is a campus university, located in the city of Enschede, in the East of the Netherlands. Enschede is a lively city of 150,000, located in beautiful countryside and near spectacular nature areas. It is only two hours away from major European cities like Amsterdam, Cologne and Düsseldorf, three hours from Brussels and less than six hours from Berlin, Paris and London.


The department of philosophy 

The department of philosophy at the University of Twente ( is internationally leading in the philosophy and ethics of technology. At a recent research evaluation of philosophy programmes in the Netherlands, it ranked highest in the area of ethics and practical philosophy. The department currently includes eight tenured/tenure-track staff members, three postdocs, seven PhD students, and several part-time faculty. The department participates in the inter-university 4TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology ( Both the department and the Centre have a strong international orientation and include members from many different nationalities. The department’s research has a strong focus on ethics of emerging technologies and their impact on society (including information and communication technology and robotics, biomedical and neuro technologies and environmental technologies), the philosophy and ethics of human-technology relations, and the philosophy of engineering and social science.

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