If you are here you are probably considering getting a PhD in Theoretical Computer Science. While a think this is a great idea(!) I would like you to take some time reading this page to make sure you understand the advantages as well as the risks involved in getting into a PhD program.
Getting a doctorate could be one of your biggest life achievements and the most rewarding time of your life. But this is provided you can actually make constant progress throughout and make it to the end of the line. Otherwise, it can turn into one of your worst nightmares, a long-winded tunnel in which you cannot see the light at the end of it.
A PhD is, in my opinion, a 2-players game and the success of the game is essentially based on the relationship between the two players, the student and the supervisor. This relations is more likely to work out when student’s and supervisor’s interests are tightly aligned. Similarly, it can deteriorate very quickly if there is no common interest. Though, identifying common areas of research can be quite tricky even for senior academics given the highly specialized and vertical nature of research work.
The failure rate for PhD students is typically very high (not everyone gets to the end of the line successfully) thus it is crucial to find an advisor whose interests match yours and a person who you feel comfortable working with.
My style of supervision
If you want to work with me you need to have a theoretically-inclined mindset. I like the following citation:
Computer Science Is No More About Computers Than Astronomy Is About Telescopes (cit. Edsger W. Dijkstra)
Computer Science is in fact a branch of mathematics that studies the foundations of computability. It has little to do with computers. The fact that it is has the word “Computer” attached to it is an unfortunate coincidence (or a cunning marketing device).
Ideally, in order to do a PhD with me you have to be interested in (or be willing to learn) Category Theory, Functional Programming and/or Type Theory. Here you can find more information about my research.
Below you can find the list of topics I propose ordered from the most theoretical ones down to the more practical. Mind you, they all involve category theory, but category theory can be useful for doing foundational work (e.g. type theory and topos theory) as well as structuring functional programs (e.g. optimisation of Haskell programs).
- Guarded Recursion.
- Lars Birkedal, Rasmus Ejlers Møgelberg, Jan Schwinghammer, Kristian Støvring. First steps in synthetic guarded domain theory: step-indexing in the topos of trees. Log. Methods Comput. Sci. 8(4) (2012)
- Marco Paviotti, Rasmus Ejlers Møgelberg, Lars Birkedal. A Model of PCF in Guarded Type Theory. MFPS 2015.
- Bartek Klin. Bialgebras for structural operational semantics: An introduction. Theor. Comput. Sci. 412(38): 5043-5069 (2011)
- Daniele Turi, Gordon D. Plotkin. Towards a Mathematical Operational Semantics. LICS 1997: 280-291
- Recursion Schemes
- Ralf Hinze, Nicolas Wu, Jeremy Gibbons. Unifying structured recursion schemes. ICFP 2013: 209-220
- Ralf Hinze, Nicolas Wu, Jeremy Gibbons. Conjugate Hylomorphisms - Or: The Mother of All Structured Recursion Schemes. POPL 2015: 527-538
If you like any of these topics or you would like to learn more about this you are very welcome to get in touch.
If you do not like any of these topics you are also welcome to propose your own and I will judge whether these are of interest to me and if I am willing to work with you.
Beware, at the end of the day it is crucial that you find a topic that you are comfortable with and that makes you tick.
The process of writing a good research proposal (see below) is a good way to minimise the risk that there is a mistmatch between your interests and the ones of your supervisor.
What I am looking for is not someone who knows everything from the ground up, but someone who possesses the ability and willingness to learn new bits of mathematics and the emotional intelligence, awareness and social capacity to work with other people as well as being willing follow the lead of the supervisor.
Independence is also a valuable skill and if you are willing to pursue your own ideas within these topics you are welcome to do so. I will guide you in any way I can, but beware that the more you stray away from your supervisor’s research topics the less they can be useful for the attainment of your degree.
As a last remark, over the the past few years, we’ve discovered that remote work brings valuable flexibility and supports a more sustainable lifestyle by avoiding unnecessary travel. Nevertheless, as we strive to maintain flexibility and adopt online meetings when suitable, I’d like to emphasize the significance of being physically present at the office during working hours. This is because active engagement in the daily research environment not only nurtures creativity and sparks new ideas, but also plays a significant and fulfilling role in the pursuit of a PhD.
The application process
The application process goes via the School of Computing where you are required to write a mini essay (Research Proposal, 5/6 pages at least) about the research you wish to conduct under my supervision. One of the purposes of this essay is to understand what your interests are and if I can be a good supervisor to you.
If you do not know how to write a Research Proposal check this Youtube Video out first, then send me the first draft via email. Even if it is not perfect. If I think your topics are aligned to mine I will help you finalizing it before it gets submitted. Mind you, “I will help you finalizing it” means I will help you by guiding you through it, but I cannot write it for you.
Applications usually open around January and close at the beginning of March, so keep an eye out. It will take time to write a good proposal so do not be late and reach out to me earlier rather than later.
Here’s the advert for 2023 scholarships.
In particular, check out this page for info about what is needed to be eligible (VISAs, English certificate, etc.). Do not underestimate the need of having this documents ready since universities in the U.K. tend to be rather strict about requirements even though sometimes they ought to be flexible.
Studying in Canterbury
In the latest QS World University Rankings for 2024, the University of Kent has been ranked in the top 25% of Higher Education Institutions worldwide.
Nestled atop a picturesque hill, the Kent campus offers breathtaking view of the enchanting historic city of Canterbury and the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury which forms part of a World Heritage Site.
The campus provides an extensive range of housing options within its colleges, while still maintaining a convenient 30-minute walking distance from the city. Additionally, should you opt for city living, you have the flexibility to travel by bike or bus. With a high-speed connection to London, the City is just a 55m ride away by train, and European travel is conveniently within reach via the Eurostar train or by car.
All the best and good luck with your application! Marco