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

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. Preferably there is a connection with the topics on which CLEA is specialized. 

See list of CLEA topics here.

We offer candidates an environment that is 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 "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". Another senior CLEA researcher more specialized in the PhD topic can be a co-promotor. For a promoter to decide whether he would be willing to supervise your work, 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 for a PhD at the VUB. This is a minor 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 many different ways to receive funding as a PhD researcher. It is, for example, possible to be hired by the university as a research assistant or to research a scholarship or grant. Find out more about mandates, vacancies and funding resources