UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence


Foundational Artificial Intelligence MPhil/PhD

The UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence is host to the UKRI funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Foundational Artificial Intelligence. The CDT provides training and is supported by a large body of industry partners to help the UCL team create an exciting platform to launch the students’ careers as scientists or AI entrepreneurs.

Our Foundational AI CDT addresses the national need for AI workers by training researchers capable of advancing core AI algorithms. These graduates will help shape the social, scientific and economic landscape through scientific breakthroughs and the creation of companies on the basis of novel AI technology.

Current AI machines are largely "dumb" — they don't understand their physical environment, nor have enough understanding of human culture to communicate in natural ways. Our vision is that AI is in its infancy and that AI breakthroughs are key to controlling and shaping the future technological landscape. However, creating effective AI is challenging given our limited understanding of how intelligence works.

In forging AI creators, we will therefore encourage students to look beyond Computer Science and be open to interaction with other scientists researching intelligence.

The most successful existing AI technology (Deep Learning) is based on the way brains process information. Future developments may be inspired by neuroscience and we need to be alert to the insights offered by this and other fields.

A key research objective of CDT students is to make new algorithms for next-generation AI technologies by incorporating more knowledge about the real-world and human culture into the AI agents themselves. Such machines will be able to offer unparalleled insights into our data-rich world and provide us with transparent and interpretable explanations.

A unique aspect of the CDT is to give students the deep technical skills they require to be leading researchers in AI and also the skills to be a deep tech entrepreneur.

The CDT includes a programme of cohort-based training activities designed to encourage interaction with other students on the CDT, through shared research, training and social experiences, including in AI and entrepreneurship. These training elements are additional to a standard PhD programme and students need in their personal statements to recognise the alignment of this CDT approach with their interests and aspirations. Applicants that do not explain why the CDT mechanism is particularly appropriate for them will be at a significant disadvantage.

How To Apply

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I expect the next four years to look like if I get onto the course?

Please visit our webpage https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ai-centre/study/cdt-foundational-ai/programme-structure-timeframes where we've put together some information about the programme structure and a timeline for you.

When does the programme start?

In the beginning of October each year. Only in exceptional circumstances would students be allowed to begin at any other time.

How long is the programme?

Four years.

What is the difference between a CDT PhD and a standard PhD?

The CDT PhD programme is specially designed to train students as part of a cohort with the aim to deliver world-leading AI researchers and AI entrepreneurs. In addition to standard PhD research, the CDT has additional training elements in neuroscience, entrepreneurship, high performance computing, AI ethics and science communication. Specialised workshops at the Alan Turing Institute, annual CDT retreats and internships with our partner organisations are also only available to CDT students.

What can I do to make my application stand out?

We are interested in applicants who show an understanding of what it means to be part of a cohort of students, learning together and contributing to the collective experience. Hence, we are particularly interested in applicants that can help enhance the learning experience for themselves and others.  For example, applicants may have interests that they feel they could share with others, or be willing to organise activities to support both their specific academic interests and broader societal interests. For example, community engagement or helping others to benefit from AI.

A key facet of the FAI CDT is to support students to become AI entrepreneurs and make a positive societal impact. Applicants that express and can demonstrate an interest AI entrepreneurship and the societal impact of their studies are therefore particularly welcome.

Can I contact and/or name more than one supervisor?

Yes, this is fine. However, it’s important that at least one supervisor strongly supports your application and research proposal.

How detailed should the research proposal be?

The research proposal is an exercise that we ask applicants to carry out in order to ascertain their level of knowledge and readiness for PhD level research. We expect a detailed research statement that explains the state-of-the-art and why the proposed research is timely, interesting and well motivated. References to existing works must be given. There is no minimal length, but to explain any idea in sufficient detail with references would typically require at least 3 pages.

Am I eligible?

The rules are set by the UK government:

  • UK Students : If you have been ordinarily resident in the UK for three years you will normally be entitled to apply for a full studentship. This will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance stipend.

  • EU (non UK) Students : If you have been ordinarily resident in another EU country (outside the UK) for three years immediately prior to the studentship you will normally be able to apply for a fees-only award (without a maintenance stipend). If you have lived in the UK for three years you may be eligible for a full studentship. The UK Government has guaranteed EU eligibility for Research Council funding for PhDs beginning before the end of the 2019-20 academic year. We will update as more information becomes available from the government. The AI Centre has some addititional stipend-only scholarships available which we may award in addition to the UKRI fees-only awards, meaning that we will be able to provide a number of fully funded scholarships for EU candidates.

  • International (non EU, non UK) Students: International students (from countries outside the EU) are normally ineligible for UK Research Council funding. However, the department and industry has kindly donated some studentships which we can use to support international students, though the number of these is limited.

Is there a part-time option?

We do not encourage the programme to be taken part-time. This is because we believe that only by spending significant time embedded within the UCL research and training environment will the student be able to fully benefit from the cohort experience. However, in exceptional circumstances (for example due to caring responsibilities), we are happy to consider applications for part-time study (maximum of 7 years).

How much will the stipend be?

This is to be confirmed, but it will be approximately GBP 19,109. Note that the CDT will pay tuition fees.

Where will I live?

Students need to organise their own accommodation. See also accommodation at UCL itself.

What kind of reference is required for PhD application?

Since the PhD is an academic endeavour, ideally your referee should be able to attest to your suitability to carry out academic research. A character reference from an employer is not relevant.

Is there a list of supervisors anywhere?

Yes, please find it here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ai-centre/study/cdt-foundational-ai/how-apply/list-potential-supervisors

I want to speak to a real human about this, who do I speak to and how?

The CDT Manager is Sharon Betts, you can email her on sharon.betts.12@ucl.ac.uk