Computer Science @ University of St Andrews

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Postgraduate degrees by research

  • Academics in robes with Vint Cerf
  • Lecture on web technologies
  • First year lecture
  • MSc students in the lab
  • MSc students in the lab
  • Undergraduate tutorial
  • Lecture
  • MSc students enjoying a sunny day
  • MSc students at the summer BBQ
  • First year students in a lab-based exercise class
  • MSc students in the snow after November graduation
  • MSc students after graduation
  • Undergraduate students after summer graduation
  • Blue sky thinking
  • Lecture
  • The Jack Cole building
  • Staff discussion

This page contains most of the information that you need to apply to postgraduate research programmes (excluding EngD) at the School of Computer Science of the University of St Andrews. This information applies to PhD, MPhil, and MSc(Res) programmes. For information on the Engineering Doctorate (EngD), please visit the St Andrews EngD in Computer Science website. For information on postgraduate taught programmes (MSc), please select the specific programme from the general postgraduate page.

Unless explicitly stated, information below applies to all three programmes (PhD, MPhil, MSc(Res))

Index

1. Research Community
2. Eligibility
3. Procedure
3.1. Initial Contact
3.2. Considering Supervisors
3.3. Application Proposal
3.4. Submitting Application
3.5. Interview
3.6. Rest of the Process
4. Funding and Stipends
4.1. Self-funded
4.2. School of Computer Science Scholarships
4.3. University Funding
4.4. Grant-funded Postgraduate Research
5. Advice for Applicants
6. Frequently Asked Questions
7. Other Resources

1. The St Andrews Computer Science Research Community

Computer Science at the University of St Andrews is a research intensive School with a long tradition of awarding postgraduate research degrees (see testimonials and recent dissertations from postgraduate alumni). We pride ourselves in our inclusive culture that respects and values diversity. Our supportive environment enables the growth as researchers of its members, within a collegial and friendly environment. We also strive to produce world-leading research at the highest standards in a range of disciplines. By the time of graduation, postgraduate students become fellow researchers capable of discovery at an internationally competitive level.

Postgraduate students also become members of the larger University of St Andrews postgraduate research community and live in a beautiful and buzzing town on the beautiful East coast of Scotland. As a St Andrews postgraduate student in Computer Science you will also be part of the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance, a confederation of all Computer Science departments in Scotland that provides support to the postgraduate community through workshops, courses, events, summer schools, internships and the SICSA graduate conference.

We especially encourage female applicants and underrepresented minorities to apply for our postgraduate research programmes. Admission is competitive but candidate selection takes into account the motivation, skills and previous experience of the candidates. If you are interested, please get in contact with us by e-mail even if you are not sure of your eligibility or strength as a candidate (write an e-mail to pg-admin-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk). The School endorses the Athena SWAN charter to recognize the advancement of gender equality and is actively working towards recognition.

2. Eligibility

Undergraduate degrees

Admission to MSc(Res) or MPhil degrees requires at least a good BSc or equivalent degree in an area appropriate for their proposed topic of study. This is usually Computer Science or Informatics, but it is not restricted to it and appropriateness of the previous qualifications is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Admission to the PhD programme requires at least a good BSc or equivalent degree in an area appropriate for their proposed topic of study. This is usually Computer Science or Informatics, but it is not restricted to it and appropriateness of the previous qualifications is decided on a case-by-case basis. An MSc is not required, although many PhD applicants hold MSc or equivalent postgraduate degrees.

Language

Applicants for postgraduate research programmes are expected to be fluent in English, which translates in having a score of IELTS of at least 6.5 or equivalent (see the university page on language requirements). Students who can prove that they are from a majority English-speaking country, or who have a higher-education degree from an institution in a majority English-speaking country are generally exempted from the language requirement.

3. Procedure

The application procedure starts with informal contact with our postgraduate administration team, which leads to a match with a potential supervisor, writing of a short proposal, the electronic submission of an application and, in most cases, an interview. We strongly recommend that you follow the steps as described in the following subsections.

3.1 Initial Contact

If you are considering starting a postgraduate research programme with us, but do not know yet who could be a potential good supervisor for your work, or you do not have a specific area of research in mind your first step is to contact the post-graduate administration team. We will work with you to find an appropriate potential supervisor (or supervisors), and guide you through the application process.

3.2 Considering Potential Supervisors

Once we have made a match with an academic member of staff (here is a list of research topics and papers of current academics) you can contact the academic directly (but we would appreciate if you can copy pg-admin-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk so that we can keep track and make sure that your query is considered), or we can make an e-mail introduction.

You should then have an exchange with your potential supervisor, via e-mail, Skype or in person to agree on a suitable topic for an application proposal. It is key that you contact your potential supervisor before you put significant work on your proposal, since a proposal on a topic that the potential supervisor is not interested in is much more likely to result in rejection.

3.3 Writing an Application Proposal

The application proposal is, together with the result of the interview, the most important document towards the acceptance of the application. The purpose of the proposal document is to assess the candidate's:

  • ability to communicate their ideas and write a coherent document,
  • ability to identify and describe a research-worthy topic,
  • ability to compile (a non-comprehensive list) of relevant background material (e.g., existing work in the area),
  • ability to pose specific research questions that need to be addressed,
  • ability to propose a preliminary, but appropriate course of action for research (e.g., mentioning possible methodologies),
  • genuine interest in the topic of study.

A good proposal document does not have to be lengthy (between 3 and 6 pages is acceptable). The structure and order of the document is up to the candidate, but we expect to see at least:

  • a motivation for the research or research problems,
  • a list of one or more research questions or hypotheses,
  • a discussion of possible solutions for the research problems
  • a discussion of methods to address the creation of the solution or the research questions or hypotheses,

For those who feel confident to do so, we would encourage you to also provide:

  • an outline table of contents for your dissertation
  • a proposed timeline for the work (assuming a 42 month study period).

Note that, if you are granted admission, you and your supervisor will work on a refined version of the proposal that does not have to adhere completely to what is in your admission proposal (there is flexibility during the first year to reorient the study topic).

3.4 Submitting an Application

Once you have your application proposal ready you can use the "apply now" button at the bottom of the University's central postgraduate application pages. Do not forget to nominate the potential supervisor(s) you have been in contact with.

Some documents can be submitted later (e.g., English certifications, references) but be advised that this might cause delays.

3.5 Interview

We will receive your application and within a few weeks determine if you are to be interviewed. If you are to be interviewed you will receive an appointment request from your potential supervisor. If you are in Scotland or nearby, we recommend that you attend the interview in person (we can also arrange a tour of our facilities and groups). However, if you are based overseas or lack the resources to visit St Andrews the interview will typically be done over Skype or telephone.

3.6 Rest of the process

After an interview we will make a recommendation to the University to either make you an offer or to decline your application. After the interview you would normally receive official notice within a month. However, you can track the state of your application earlier by writing to pg-admin-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk.

4. Funding and Stipends

To be a postgraduate research student in St Andrews you will need to cover post-graduate tuition fees as well as the costs of living in St Andrews (accommodation, food, etc). The yearly tuition fees depend on your fee status. For current fee information visit the university's tuition fees page.

Tuition fees and living expenses can be covered in essentially four ways: self-funding, School of Computer Science scholarships, University Scholarships, and Grant-funded Postgraduate Research.

4.1. Self-funded

Depending on your personal circumstances and qualifications you might be able to obtain a personal scholarship awarded by your country of provenance, a charity organisation (e.g., the Royal Society), or a generous donor. The external opportunities to obtain funding are numerous and highly dependent on your country of origin and personal circumstances, so we do not list them here (a quick internet search for "funding for postgraduate study" will reveal several internet resources).

In some cases these sources of funding will ask you for an acceptance letter or a detailed programme of study. We can provide assistance in these cases by completing the application process before funding is awarded (i.e., we can recommend that you are offered a place without funding after successfully going through the process detailed in the Procedure section above). When allowed by the external funder's conditions, potential supervisors in the School may also help students prepare suitable applications for areas of research within the supervisor's expertise.

Financially independent students, or students who are funded by their families are subject to the same entry standards described in the Procedure Section above.

4.2. School of Computer Science Scholarships

The School of Computer Science allocates multiple scholarships to national or international students. These scholarships cover PhD fees and provide a tax-free maintenance stipend of £14,296 per year for 3.5 years. Scholarships are allocated competitively once or twice per year. To apply for these scholarships, please select the option "I have applied for or I will be receiving a bursary or scholarship" in the "Funding 1" section of your application, and in the "Bursaries and Scholarships" Section below you should answer yes to the question "I will be applying for a scholarship through the University of St Andrews" - the award scheme is "School of Computer Science Scholarship".

School of Computer Science Scholarships are available to national and international students. The allocation of these scholarships is based on candidate merit, the quality of the proposal, the fit of the candidate with the research group and research environment and the outcome of the interview.

4.3. University Funding

The University, or the University together with some external funding organizations offer scholarships. Some of these are partial and are meant to help with a particular aspect (e.g., accommodation). Others are linked to sport or specific disciplines. For more information visit the University's page on scholarships for research postgraduate programmes.

If you are a Chinese national, the University of St Andrews offers, in conjunction with the China Scholarship Council a specific set of scholarships with stipend funding. For more information and the specific dates of application please consult the University of St Andrews-CSC pages. If you are interested in applying through this programme or need more information about how it works at the School of Computer Science, get in contact with us.

4.4. Grant-funded Postgraduate Research

Researchers at the School of Computer Science regularly obtain research grants. Some of these grants enable these researchers to offer PhD or MSc(Res) scholarships associated to specific research projects. These are usually advertised independently by the researchers through their webpages, blogs or social media, and tend to be very specific in terms of the required profile of the student. If you have a particular interest or expertise in a specific area and have identified the person you would want to work with (e.g., from this list), you are welcome to write an e-mail to the specific researcher and enquire about this kind of opportunity. We would, however, appreciate if you can copy pg-admin-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk in these e-mails, since we might be able to offer you alternative arrangements in the case that no grant-funded positions are available.

5. Advice for Applicants

Here are few pieces of advice if you are considering an application.

Let us know, even if you are not sure. We would like to encourage you to write to us (pg-admin-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk) if you are considering applying, even if you are not completely sure if your qualifications are sufficient or if you are hesitant about what it is like to do research in St Andrews. We have a wealth of information and can offer you candid advice.

Pay close attention to supervisor choice. It pays to know about your potential supervisor and their research interests. Your potential supervisor will become your advocate through the admission and funding allocation process and no places or funding is allocated without the potential supervisor's agreement.

Avoid SPAMMING academics. A shotgun approach where you approach many potential supervisors with a generic e-mail that does not demonstrate knowledge about the specific research of the academic is extremely unlikely to succeed. These are often discarded without a response. If you want to boost your chances of being offered a place and/or funding be specific and focussed, and do your research. You also do not want to be stuck on a research area that is not of interest and excitement to you.

6. Frequently Answered Questions

Do I need a masters for a PhD?

No. We accept students into the PhD programme straight from an undergraduate. However, a previous postgraduate degree or significant industry experience might help your application.

Must I have a degree in Computer Science?

No. We regularly accept students with backgrounds in engineering, but also other degrees such as Psychology, Mathematics or even the arts. The key requirement is that the previous skills and experience of the candidate fit the requirement of the proposed research.

Do you fund international students?

Yes. St Andrews and its School of Computer Science is committed to attract the best talent from anywhere in the world.

Does the PhD programme require courses/modules or taught components?

No. Unlike in other countries and universities, there is no requirement to follow taught components during the PhD. However, it is possible to audit specific subjects (modules) or even register in subjects and modules if in agreement with the supervisor and relevant to the goals of your project.

Does the MSc(Res) programme contain courses or taught components?

No. There is no requirement to follow taught components during the MSc(Res). However, it is possible to audit specific subjects (modules) or even register in subjects and modules if in agreement with the supervisor and relevant to the goals of your project.

Does being self-funded guarantee acceptance?

No. Self-funded students undergo the same process until they are offered a place as any other applicants.

Do I have to teach as part of the programme?

No. There is no formal requirement to teach, demonstrate or otherwise work for the School, even if you have been funded by the School. However, you are expected to contribute to occasional collective tasks in the School as any other academic (e.g., answer surveys, participate in social events, advice colleagues in your area of expertise).

Can I teach as part of the programme?

Yes. Teaching jobs are available to postgraduate students in the School. These jobs are remunerated at a competitive rate, but do not count as part of your academic progress (i.e., you should do them in your free time and it should not affect your academic performance).

Can I have multiple supervisors?

Yes. Many students have multiple supervisor arrangements, generally for academic reasons (e.g., if your project is at the intersection of two areas of expertise).

Does my application proposal bind me to a project?

No. The postgraduate research that is carried out is normally strongly based on the application proposal, but it is possible to change the proposal, in agreement with the supervisor, if it is agreed that a different direction shows more promise or is more likely to lead to student success.

Can I fund my PhD or MSc(Res) by working in my free time?

Yes, but you probably should not. We believe that postgraduate research requires full-time focus, and you are unlikely to earn enough or devote sufficient energy to your studies if you have to earn for accommodation, sustenance and fees.

Can I work while I am in the PhD program?

Yes. You are allowed to work while you are completing your postgraduate research study, but the number of hours that you can work might be limited by your visa (if you are an overseas student). You should also take into account that postgraduate study is a full-time occupation and that devoting insufficient time to your studies might result in discontinuation.

Does the University/School offer paid work (e.g., as research assistant, marker)?

Yes. Teaching, tutoring and marking part-time jobs are available to postgraduate students in the School. These jobs are remunerated at a competitive rate, but do not count as part of your academic progress (i.e., you should do them in your free time and it should not affect your academic performance).

Can I apply for a School of Computer Science scholarship if I intend to do an MSc(Res)?

No. At the moment, School of Computer Science scholarships are limited to PhD applicants. However, tell us about your specific situation and we might be able to help.

How long does it take from application time to the decission of acceptance (or rejection)?

Typically two to three weeks. However, this will be delayed if your application is not complete (e.g., reference letters or proposal missing).

Is part-time postgraduate research possible?

Yes. However, the conditions and access to scholarships might vary depending on your circumstances. Please let us know by e-mail before applying if this is your intention (pg-admin-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk).

7. Other Resources

For general information about postgraduate research programmes (at the university level) you can check the Postgraduate Prospectus - Research, and the general information of the University of St Andrews about research degrees.