PhD requirements

What are the formal requirements to make a PhD at the VUB/ECCO?

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

  • have a university degree that is considered equivalent to a Belgian Master's degree. If you only have the equivalent of a Bachelor's, it is possible to get a Master's here. There are some Master's programs at the VUB in English, e.g. a MSc in computer science that may include courses on adaptive systems, AI and other topics related to the ECCO domain.
  • find a professor who is willing to be the "promotor" (supervisor, thesis advisor) of your research. For a PhD at ECCO this most likely will be the ECCO director Francis Heylighen, who officially is affiliated with the philosophy department. However, for administrative reasons, for people without a philosophy background, it will in general be necessary to find a second, "co-promoter" in the department of their specialization, although that is usually a formality. 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, submit a number of documents and forms depending on the specific faculty (speciality) which need to be processed by the administration before you can be formally registered. This is a minor formality for people with a Belgian degree, but demands some extra effort for people with a non-European degree.
  • pay a yearly registration fee (about 250 Euro or $400 for the first year, 60 Euro for the following years), at least in the year when you plan to defend your thesis, or during the whole period of your study work if you want to profit from having a "student" status. However, formal registration as a student is not strictly required in the first years of the research, although it would be necessary to get a student visa for non-EU residents desiring to live in Brussels.
  • 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.

There are no other official requirements, except that while you are registered, you are supposed to write short yearly reports on the work your have done, so as to allow the faculty to check on your progress. PhD students do not have to do coursework or take examinations, but are encouraged to participate in the PhD support program that organizes research seminars, and practical training in research-related skils such as academic writing, making presentations, applying for funding, etc.

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.

Every PhD student is further encouraged to go to conferences (for which some funding is normally available), give lectures and publish papers, thus exchanging ideas with other researchers, locally and globally. In the end, whether you succeed or not will depend wholly on the dissertation itself, but any paper written or seminar given will be a significant step forward towards this end. See further which activities are expected from a PhD student in ECCO.

Making a PhD usually takes between 3 and 7 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.