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Interdisciplinary PhD programme


The VUB is the only university in Belgium—and one of the few internationally—that offers a PhD degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. This program has been set up in large part under the impulse of CLEA. Our motivation was that under the old regulations, PhDs in CLEA always needed to be formally situated in a particular discipline and faculty (e.g. psychology), even when the research extended across several disciplines (e.g. psychology and computer science), thus creating needless restrictions and administrative complications. 

Making a PhD usually takes about 4 years, with a legal minimum of 1 year (which only makes sense for people who already have done most of the work before they register as a student). The official language at the VUB is Dutch, but practically everybody is fluent in English and French, and the work can be done wholly in English. It is in principle possible to work part of the time outside of Belgium, as long as there is sufficient contact with the promoter to allow supervision of the on-going work. This will depend on the promoter and the topic.

While you are registered, you are supposed to report yearly on the work you have done, so as to allow the PhD committee to check on your progress. For more details on the deadlines and procedures have a look at the VUB website for the Central PhD Regulations. 

When the PhD work is finished, you must submit and defend the thesis for a jury of VUB professors and invited international experts from other institutions. If the jury accepts the thesis, you get your degree. However, your promotor will see to it that poor PhD work is remedied before the stage where it is defended before a jury.

For more information on all aspects of becoming and working as a PhD student at the VUB, see the website of the Central PhD support programme


Candidates and their topics

CLEA attracts a particular profile of researchers: very open-minded, bright, non-conformist, passionate, and ambitious in addressing difficult and unconventional issues. Researchers are free in choosing their research subjects and approaches. However, in order for us to provide the required supervision, there must be a clear connection with the topics where CLEA has special expertise, as listed on our research page.

Given that we receive many applications, while having only limited capabilities for supervision, we are quite selective in the candidates we accept. Our selection criteria are not so much based on degrees or specific expertise, but on intrinsic intelligence, motivation, creativity and open-mindedness, as well as on proven ability to produce high-quality work, such as papers or dissertations, and on the relevance of the topic to our general research philosophy.

We offer candidates an environment that is very free and open, socially and practically supportive, and intellectually stimulating and challenging. Young researchers are guided by seniors and peers, in part through seminars and forums in which their as yet unfinished ideas are subjected to in-depth discussion. This provides them with plenty of feedback and suggestions for extending their approach. Thus, through their research output they gradually build up a portfolio and CV that will help them in their further academic career. 


Formal requirements / How to apply

To get a PhD at the VUB, you need to fulfill the following basic requirements:

  • The default requirement for admission as a PhD researcher is a Master’s degree (or equivalent). Non European degrees might have to be certified to be equivalent to a Belgian master.
  • find a professor who is willing to be the formal "promoter" (supervisor, thesis advisor) of your research. For a PhD at CLEA this most likely will be the CLEA director  Francis Heylighen, It will in general be necessary to find a second, "co-promoter" who would actually guide the work. Another senior CLEA researcher more specialized in the PhD topic can be a co-promotor. For a (co-)promoter to decide whether he would be willing to supervise your work, s/he should at least receive a clear statement of your interests, your curriculum vitae, and, if possible, some samples of work (papers) that you have done before. These are preferably discussed by email. If these seem acceptable, a meeting can be arranged in Brussels for in-depth discussion.
  • Once a promoter is found, the PhD candidate will have to apply to be allowed to enter the PhD program at the VUB. This is normally a formality for people with a Belgian degree, but demands some extra effort for people with a non-European degree. You can find more information on the prerequisites, the necessary documents and fees on the following page 



There are  different ways to fund your PhD research. It is, for example, possible to be hired by the university as a research assistant or to apply for a scholarship or grant by submitting a research project to some funding agency. However, there is a lot of competition for such grants, so you should not count on easily getting one. You can also rely on your own finances, e.g. by working part-time on your PhD while having a paid income from another source. Find out more about mandates, vacancies and funding resources