Filip Ilievski

Assistant Professor


About Filip

I am an AI researcher with international experience in Natural Language Processing and Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, and a cross-disciplinary perspective on the fundamental challenges of commonsense reasoning, robustness, and explainability. I hold a PhD in Natural Language Processing from VUA’s Faculty of Humanities. My PhD focus area was the (still) understudied challenge of identifying long-tail entities in text, where my responsible AI approach was based on knowledge engineering processes informed by linguistic and philosophical theories of reference. During a six-month PhD research visit to prof. Hovy at CMU’s prestigious Language Technologies Institute, I first gained a transatlantic perspective and explored cognitively inspired methods for generalization over entity knowledge.

After completing my PhD and a short postdoctoral position, my interest in responsible and generalizable AI led me to address the longstanding AI challenge of commonsense reasoning at the University of Southern California’s renowned Information Sciences Institute (USC/ISI). Quickly, I grew into a research lead at USC/ISI and became a Research Assistant Professor at USC’s Computer Science department. With my team, I developed new methods for generalizable out-of-domain reasoning by leveraging curriculum learning, data augmentation, and transfer learning. Moreover, observing that black-box techniques are not trustworthy for users, I broadened my scope towards the development of collaborative and explainable commonsense agents. My collaborative methods combine neural and symbolic techniques for mental modeling, state tracking, and planning, while my explainable methods are based on interpretable learning, large-scale knowledge resources, and analogical reasoning. My research on commonsense AI has been constantly informed by cognitive psychology ideas such as analogy, prototype learning, and lateral thinking. These directions have attracted the attention of a variety of funding agencies: developing methods for procedural reasoning over stories has been funded by personal grants from NSF and ARL, the application of commonsense AI to traffic has been supported by an industrial gift, applications of our knowledge graph toolkit have inspired funding by the Swiss government, AFRL, and Novartis, while my methods for scene imagination in stories attracted joint funding from USC/ISI and ARL to develop coherent dialogue agents.

Seeing VUA’s leadership in Hybrid Intelligence, in Fall 2023 I returned to the Netherlands to accept a position as a Senior Assistant Professor (UD1) of Computer Science. My vision at VUA is to address the challenge that my research has led me to over the years: how to develop synergistic AI agents with common sense, designed to effectively augment people’s ability to perform complex tasks such as problem-solving and counterfactual reasoning. This vision unifies my four research thrusts in my proposed Vidi research on analogical reasoning over what-if questions. As a leader in neuro-symbolic AI, generalization, and commonsense reasoning, I have been publishing books, chapters, and refereed articles in top-tier journals and conferences, developing tools, and actively chairing workshops, tutorials, competitions, and symposiums. I have been a guest editor for special issues on commonsense reasoning in the Semantic Web Journal and the Neurosymbolic AI journal. I am frequently approached to serve as a reviewer and area chair for major conferences, guest in podcasts, and invited speaker at international events.

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Doing a PhD at VU Amsterdam

At VU Amsterdam we have two types of PhD candidates: internal and external. Internal PhD candidates are paid employees of the university and enter into an employment contract with VU Amsterdam. External PhD candidates do their PhD at VU Amsterdam with foreign funding or a scholarship, or are self-funded professionals or candidates.

Application and admission

Internal PhD candidates are paid employees of VU Amsterdam and they can apply through our dedicated site for vacancies: PhD vacancies.

External PhD candidates can apply for a PhD trajectory which is funded through external means. Application as an external PhD candidate is usually done by:

  • Contacting a member of the VU Amsterdam faculty, Graduate School or Research Institute directly to indicate your interest in working with them.
  • Using the PhD application form where a member of the PhD recruitment team will facilitate the contact to your preferred supervisor on your behalf: Apply for a PhD.

Within the Research Portal it is possible to search for a suitable supervisor for a PhD trajectory.

In order to apply for a PhD programme at VU Amsterdam you will need the following documents:

  • Master's degree certificate or equivalent qualification
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Preliminary research proposal (up to 800 words to indicate fields of interest)
  • Copy of ID
  • Language requirements/Scores from TOEFL and GRE tests (if applicable)

For more detailed information about doing a PhD at VU Amsterdam please visit our dedicated PhD page where you can find sections on how to apply, immigration, housing and the requirements of a PhD trajectory.

We also encourage you to take a look at our PhD brochure for further insight into the life of a PhD candidate at VU Amsterdam.


About VU Amsterdam

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam) is an internationally renowned research university hosting more than 30,000 students in the international, multicultural and vibrant city of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The high quality of research and education at VU Amsterdam can be demonstrated by its excellent performance in international rankings.

At VU Amsterdam we provide three or four year research intensive PhD programmes, or part time PhD programmes with a duration above four years, organized in graduate schools of nine VU Amsterdam faculties. We expect our doctoral graduates to become internationally engaged scientists with transferable skills and opportunities to plan a career in or outside academia.

We offer customized training and supervision with a strong emphasis on the development of research as well as professional skills such as the ability to work in teams and collaborate. In short, we wish to develop engaged and responsible academics and future professionals who constantly explore and push back the boundaries of existing knowledge. Our doctorates are internationally-oriented, multi and interdisciplinary, curiosity and results driven, creating an impact in science, society and economy.

Earning a doctorate from VU Amsterdam often leads to a career as a scholar and researcher in universities, and non-universities (universities of applied sciences); non-profits and think tanks; consultancies and corporations.

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