Postgraduate study

UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Natural Language Processing PhD with Integrated Study

Awards: PhD with Integrated Study

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Placements/internships

NLP is transforming the way humans communicate with each other and with machines.

We have witnessed the rapid evolution of a wide range of natural language processing (NLP) systems that translate text, recognise or produce speech, answer questions, retrieve documents or facts, respond to commands, summarise articles, and simplify texts for children or non-native speakers.

The rapid proliferation of online news, social media, and scientific articles has created an exploding demand for NLP systems that enable people to derive critical insights from massive streams of data in many languages.

About our programme

The Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Natural Language Processing is jointly run by the School of Informatics and the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.

Its aim is to equip you with the fundamental skills for advanced research in NLP and language science, giving you foundations in:

  • linguistics
  • machine learning, statistics, algorithms
  • programming
  • working with other modalities such as vision and design, ethics and responsible innovation as they apply to NLP systems

The four-year training programme will give you a solid foundation in the challenge of working with language in a computational setting and its relevance to critical engineering, scientific, and ethical problems in our modern world.

It also offers training in the key software engineering and machine learning skills necessary to solve these problems.

The programme aims to have a transformative effect as we train, and on the field as a whole, by developing future leaders and producing cutting-edge research in both methodology and applications.

Our researchers

The CDT brings together researchers in NLP, speech, linguistics, cognitive science and design informatics from across the University of Edinburgh.

You will be supervised by over 60 world-class faculty and will benefit from cutting edge computing and experimental facilities.

Our partners

The CDT involves over 20 industrial partners, including:

  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Huawei
  • Microsoft
  • Naver
  • Toshiba
  • BBC

Close links also exist with the Alan Turing Institute and the Bayes Centre.

Find out more about compulsory and optional courses

We link to the latest information available. Please note that this may be for a previous academic year and should be considered indicative.

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhD with Integrated Study4 YearsFull-timeProgramme structure 2020/21

Most students will undertake at least one internship during their PhD, working with companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Microsoft, or with or non-profits such as the Allen Institute for AI.

This is an essential aspect of your training, providing team working, project management, and software engineering experience.

It also exposes students to a company-focused research culture, and provides them with valuable contacts for future job searches.

Many of the CDT's industrial partners will consider hosting students as interns.

The CDT aims to attract students from a diverse range of backgrounds, including computer science, AI, maths and statistics, engineering, linguistics, cognitive science and psychology.

This interdisciplinary cohort requires a training approach that is more flexible than the standard three-year PhD, which is why this programme takes the form of a four-year PhD with integrated training.

It interleaves training at the level of a master's degree (180 credits of courses and project work) with PhD research (480 credits). The advantages of this structure are:

  • By mixing courses and PhD work, you gradually progress from classroom teaching to independent research. At the same time, research will inform your learning experience from the first day, and you can immediately apply skills learned in the classroom to your PhD project.

  • You can take the courses that are relevant to your research when you need them, rather than having to anticipate all your training needs in advance and front-load all your courses in year 1.

  • The degree structure allows for maximum flexibility to accommodate a cohort of students with a wide range of backgrounds. Students who have a lot of prior NLP training, for example, would be expected to do a research-heavy first year (followed by advanced courses informed by their PhD project), while students with less relevant backgrounds can take a larger number of foundational courses upfront.

  • While all students select an individual set of courses, there are also shared components that everyone takes which, together with a programme of staff- and student-led events, will promote cohort formation (for example, the annual CDT Festival, the bi-monthly Language Lunch, the NLP Speaker Series, industry days).

Contemporary research in NLP uses complex machine learning models such as neural networks, and thus requires considerable computing resources.

CDT students will have access to a large GPU (graphics processing unit) cluster and to a terabyte storage array, both dedicated for NLP research.

Edinburgh Compute and Data Facility

Furthermore, you will have access to the Edinburgh Compute and Data Facility (ECDF), a central University resource that maintains a cluster of over 4,000 compute cores and a large high performance storage facility.

Industrial support

A number of our industrial partners provide in-kind support to the CDT in the form of:

  • compute credits
  • GPU hardware
  • access to proprietary datasets

Experimental facilities

Some of the PhD projects conducted under the auspices of the CDT will involve lab-based experiments that investigate human language and speech processing.

You will use our state-of-the-art experimental facility comprising:

  • sound studios
  • an anechoic chamber
  • an eye-tracking lab with three high resolution trackers
  • a suite of experimental booths for perception experiments

The Bayes Centre includes a dedicated virtual/augmented reality lab combined with motion capture and eye-tracking.

The demand for NLP practitioners in industry, science, commerce and the public sector outstrips supply.

A wide range of companies are aggressively recruiting well-trained NLP experts because there are relatively few available. The CDT is designed to meet this training need.

Graduates will be part of a new generation of researchers with the technical skills and interdisciplinary awareness to become leaders in NLP.

Our existing research groups have produced graduates who now:

  • occupy academic positions in some of the best universities in the world
  • work for global leaders in the IT industry
  • have jobs with a wide variety of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and start-ups, some of which they have founded

A minimum UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in computer science, linguistics, cognitive science, AI, or a related discipline.Most students accepted to the programme hold a first class degree.

Applicants coming directly from a bachelors or masters degree are welcome.

We particularly welcome applications from members of communities under-represented in computer science.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

For 2021 entry we will accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 6.0 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each section.We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • CAE and CPE: total 176 with at least 169 in each paper.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhD with Integrated Study4 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhD with Integrated Study8 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Approximately 12 studentships are available, covering both maintenance at the research council rate currently of £15,285 per year and tuition fees. Studentships are available for all nationalities.

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of Informatics
  • 10 Crichton Street
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9AB

Applications for September 2021 entry opened on 1 October 2020. Early applications are recommended.

Round Application deadline
1 27 November 2020 (UK, EU and International applicants)
2 29 January 2021 (UK applicants)

*(Revised 6 October 2020 with nationalities for application deadlines.)

You must submit two references with your application.

You will be asked to submit a research proposal and CV.

Find out more about the application process for this programme on the Centre for Doctoral Training in Natural Language Processing website:

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • School of Informatics
  • 10 Crichton Street
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9AB