Improving the security, privacy, and integrity of human-centered AI research

Call for Applications: Funded PhD Research Position: Improving the security, privacy, and integrity of human-centered AI research

The Position

Become a funded PhD student in Human-Centered Computing (HCC) or Computer Science (CS) at Clemson University, working on a project to improve the security, privacy, and integrity of human subjects research. 

The Project

As a Research Assistant (RA), you will gain experience working on an NSF grant project which is funded by the Cybersecurity Innovation for Cyberinfrastructure (CICI) program. This CICI project leverages cybersecurity techniques such as data-minimization to help human-centered AI researchers better protect research participants’ privacy while ensuring their studies’ statistical power and generalizability. In collaboration with the human-centered AI research community, this project builds a usable toolchain for generating data-minimizing demographic survey questions and determining statistically well-powered study sample size and demographically diverse composition to ensure the integrity of research results. The system maximizes the privacy of human subjects and recommends a sample size and composition which balances statistical power and representativeness. This approach promotes the quality of scientific discoveries at the point of study design. Through a process of need-finding, iterative toolchain refinement, and usability testing with AI researchers, this project builds a system for more secure, efficient, and robust human-centered AI research. 

Your role in this project would be to assist in organizing, conducting, and communicating the findings of research studies. Leveraging your specific expertise and research interests, you will contribute to tasks like conducting user research and usability studies, building and testing prototypes of tool features, and preparing findings for publication. You will gain experience collaborating with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, preparing technical reports to disseminate information about the project and its outcomes to key stakeholders, developing plans for research projects and the development of materials and systems to promote best practices for human subjects research. Under the direction of the project PIs and research team and in conjunction with your PhD coursework, you will gain the skills and experience necessary to eventually lead your own dissertation research on related topics (e.g., cybersecurity innovation, usable privacy and security, privacy decision-making, recommender systems).  

The Team

Throughout your PhD program, you will have the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Kelly Caine and Dr. Bart Knijnenburg, Associate Professors in the School of Computing and co-directors of the HATLab at Clemson University. Dr. Caine and Dr. Knijnenburg are experts in usable privacy and security, privacy decision-making and recommender systems, and research methods. In your RA-ship, you will work with an interdisciplinary team of HCC and data science researchers, including Dr. Caine, Dr. Knijnenburg, and Dr. Sidnam-Mauch (Clemson University).

The PhD

Through this funded studentship, you will have the opportunity to earn your PhD in Human Centered Computing (HCC) or in Computer Science (CS) at Clemson University’s School of Computing. Both programs are designed to prepare you for advanced research positions in industry and the academy. Dr. Caine’s and Dr. Knijnenburg’s HCC and CS PhD advisees have gone on to prestigious positions in both academia (e.g., UMich, NYU) and industry (e.g., Google UX Researcher, Meta Research, Microsoft Research) after graduation. 

The Ideal Candidate

You have completed or will soon complete your B.S. or M.S. in computer science, human factors, or a related field. You aim to start a Ph.D. in Human-Centered Computing or Computer Science at Clemson University in either Spring or Fall 2023. Your previous research experience and academic record demonstrate you have the potential to excel in a top-tier graduate program. You have pursued or are interested in pursuing research on topics related to cybersecurity infrastructure, usable privacy and security, or human-centered AI. You believe the experience you will gain working as an RA on the NSF CICI grant project will help further your related research goals, and you believe you have expertise and skills that could uniquely contribute to the NSF CICI research project.

How to Apply

To apply for this position, you will need to 1) submit a CV and Letter of Intent to the project team and 2) apply to either the HCC or CS PhD program at Clemson University. 

To submit your Letter of Intent: Send an email with the subject line “CICI RA Application” to Attach your academic CV and a letter of intent (500 words or less) describing how you see the CICI project work aligning with your overall research goals and highlighting one specific project or experience that you believe prepares you to contribute to this project successfully. In your email, please state the PhD program to which you are applying (HCC or CS) and note the status of your application to the Clemson graduate program (e.g., not started, in-progress, submitted). 

To submit your other application materials: Apply to Clemson’s HCC or CS PhD program via the applications page ( Make sure to note Dr. Caine and Dr. Knijnenburg in your application materials and state your interest in working with them on this project (CICI) in particular. 

Apply by January 1, 2023 for full consideration for the Fall 2023 semester.  

Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Qualified applicants will be contacted via email to schedule an interview with the project team after their application to the Clemson graduate program has been submitted and reviewed. 


Who can apply? 

Anyone qualified to begin their HCC/CS PhD in Fall 2023 may apply. Both domestic and international applicants are welcome to apply. The PIs are open to applicants with training in fields related to HCC/CS, particularly those with research methods, statistics, and open science experience. 

Will I need to relocate for this position?

Yes, you will need to be able to relocate to Clemson, South Carolina in order to attend the classes for your PhD coursework. While some courses offer remote participation, many are transitioning back to in-person classes. You may need to conduct in-person research for the project, as well. 

Should I submit my letter of intent or my PhD student application first?

You may submit these materials in any order. Ideally, you will submit your letter of intent and PhD school application within the same week so the team has access to all your application materials at once. There is no specific deadline for these materials, but applications will be considered as they are received. Applications received by January 1, 2023 will receive full consideration for the Fall 2023 semester.