Vacancy for Phd student

Are you interested in surveys, official statistics, apps, and sensors and do you have the ambition to contribute to scientific progress as well as perform socially relevant research? Then a PhD position at the department of Methodology and Statistics of Utrecht University & Statistics Netherlands (CBS) might be just the right job for you.

You will work on a project “Push-to-app: Effective recruitment and retention in smart surveys”. With the increased use of smart devices such as smartphones, wearables, and smart home sensors by individuals, using these devices for data collection is a next logical step for official statistics. The demand for timely and high-quality data to aid policy making can no longer be met through traditional (face-to-face, telephone, online) surveys as response rates are continuously falling. Thus, exorbitant methods of novel data collection are needed. Most potential is promised by augmenting self-report with sensor measurement, using smartphones and other devices. Official statistics has started integrating sensor measurement, using smartphones in data collection. There is already an existing infrastructure with open-source transparent modular apps developed for the CBS travel survey, household budget survey, and the time use survey.

However, the first studies that collect information about the general population, using sensors and apps, show that initial participation rates are still not ideal. Moreover, noncompliance is a challenge with participants not providing information once the app is installed. The main research question of the PhD is: How to obtain high and balanced completion rates in surveys employing smart features. The corresponding goals of this PhD are:

  • to consolidate the existing knowledge about the novel data collection methods;
  • to obtain an in-depth understanding of participation and retention;
  • to provide usable recommendations that are ready to be implemented into the data production process of official statistics.

The PhD project will build upon existing knowledge that has been obtained from the WIN research programme (a CBS and UU collaboration) and international projects funded by Eurostat, it will provide an integral in-depth look at the sensor-and-app data collection lifecycle. Today, data collection systems become more complex and multi-source: mixed-mode multi-device surveys with high-frequency Experience Sampling measurement and potentially always-on sensor components, with an option to link to auxiliary data and donate digitally collected personal data from digital platforms, apps, wearables or smart devices. Such augmentation of surveys and replacement of questions results in complex designs with multi-stage recruitment and consent procedures.

Outline of the project The data quality of the components of data collection systems will be assessed by applying an adapted Total Survey Error framework. The individual studies will focus on optimizing recruitment and retention. Four studies are foreseen. The candidate will help shape the studies, the description below is meant as a tentative work programme.

The first study will be a meta-analytic review of the existing app-and-sensor projects, both conducted in the past by CBS (e.g., the travel app study, consent experiment, physical activity tracking) along with studies with international partners (e.g., Household Budget Survey with Luxemburg and Spain), as well as other international studies (IAB SMART, UK Understanding Society’s app, etc.). The aim of this study is to identify which features of recruitment and retention strategies yield increased participation and retention. The results of this study will inform the remaining three studies.

The second study will focus on improving recruitment success. From previous (experimental) studies we know that privacy concerns play a central role in obtaining participants’ consent to novel data collection and data donation. However, it is not well-understood yet how to gain participants’ trust and how to mitigate privacy concerns for different types of smart (i.e., app and sensor collected) data. Sharing geolocation for a travel survey involves different decision making than taking pictures of receipts for a budget survey, for example. The donation of Google History Location data involves yet other considerations. This study will use a mixed-methods approach with a qualitative component of in-depth interviews with (a) selected participants about reasons for nonparticipation and (b) interviewers about their observations during the recruitment process.

The third study will investigate methods to increase retention and methods to increase donation of already existing digital data as an additional task. The focus of this study will be on increasing participants’ motivation by providing feedback about the data that is provided by a participant. Existing studies focus on promising feedback to improve recruitment rates, or incentives. Providing personalized feedback to a participant about the data that they are sharing can be a cost-efficient way to increase retention, and a way to increase transparency, hence also increasing participant’s trust which seems to be crucial to participation in novel data collection. Within this study, a detailed look will be taken at the motivation of participating in app-based data collection. Tailored feedback can be implemented into one of the existing app infrastructures of CBS or outsourced. This project will also link to the PDI SSH “Digital Data Donation Infrastructure (D3I)” project on data donation.

The fourth study will focus on tailoring the recruitment strategies to maximize both recruitment success (push-to-app) and retention, building on the findings from studies two and three. Using the administrative data linked to the prior sensor survey data (e.g., Household Budget Survey), the PhD candidate will identify hard-to-recruit groups and set up an experimental study to tailor the recruitment strategy (e.g., prior communication materials making certain study features salient to the participant, incentives, interviewer assistance, and other features identified as relevant in study one) to a participant based on the observable (demographic, regional) characteristics. Further, tailoring strategies to increase continued data collection will be developed for the groups of individuals that are less likely to comply as identified from prior studies (part of study one).

Anticipated output As a result of each of the studies, the candidate will – as part of or in addition to scientific articles – produce a set of actionable recommendations that can be implemented into the data collection practices at CBS and inform the operations of the international partners.

The PhD position The PhD candidate will be appointed at the Department of Methodology and Statistics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. As the PhD position is a joint venture between Utrecht University and Statistics Netherlands, a guest appointment at Statistics Netherlands will be created as well. Within the guest appointment access to microdata will be arranged both through on-site and remotely. We expect the successful candidate to be willing to work at Statistics Netherlands in The Hague for one day a week (or more) and be willing to occasionally travel to the CBS office in Heerlen from which all data collection is coordinated.

Your work will also include some teaching activities. Of course, you will be well guided and supported by your supervisor. Profiel

We are looking for an enthusiastic colleague (m/f/x) who meets the requirements below:

- You have a Master’s degree in the field of methodology and statistics, social data science, data science, computer sciences, statistics or quantitative social science.
- You have a proven interest in Big Data, surveys, and/or official statistics.
- Further interest in augmenting surveys through app and sensor measurement, and data donation is advantageous.
- You have a passion for research.
- You have well-developed analytical skills.
- You have a basic knowledge of Dutch or are willing to learn basic Dutch. We offer free Dutch language courses.
- You are a motivated and collaborative team member, communicative and open for collaboration across scientific fields. You are able to work independently and have excellent verbal and written communication skills in English.


You will work in a collaborative, social and dedicated team. We will guide you in your research and teaching tasks, which will help you develop your academic career.

The PhD position (1.0 FTE) is available for a period of four years, starting as soon as possible. The gross salary ranges between €2,443 in the first year and €3,122 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. The salary is supplemented with an annual holiday pay of 8%, and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% per year.

We encourage you to grow professionally, and we support a healthy work-life balance. That’s why we offer employment benefits such as professional development, leave arrangements, partially paid parental leave and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model.

And that’s not all. We are happy to have you as a new colleague and will give you a warm welcome. We host a good introduction process for our new colleagues where we will introduce you and show you around our faculty and university. Over de organisatie

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University externe link, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences externe link is one of the leading faculties in Europe providing research and academic teaching in cultural anthropology, educational sciences, interdisciplinary social science, pedagogical sciences, psychology, and sociology. We are a faculty at the heart of society and one which cooperates closely with others. Our almost 6,000 students are enrolled in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate programmes. We have approximately 900 faculty and staff members, who all work closely together to educate and train young talent and to research and find solutions to scientific and societal issues. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth and Institutions for Open Societies.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences aspires to have a diverse body of staff and students and strives to create and sustain a safe and inclusive environment for everyone, in line with Utrecht University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy.

For additional information, please contact Bella Struminskaya externe link by email:

To apply to the position, please click on this link

Peter Lugtig
Associate Professor of Survey Methodology

I am an associate professor at Utrecht University, department of Methodology and Statistics.