How to Apply

Studentships for September 2021

Our initial closing date for applications for September 2021 is Friday 29th January 2021. All complete applications received up until this closing date will be considered by the academic panel during February 2021. We will therefore not be in a position to advise applicants of the outcome of their application until then.

Please read the guidance on this page before making your application. Incomplete applications may cause a delay in your application being reviewed.

Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh are jointly offering an innovative 4 year PhD training programme, drawing on our extensive experience with postgraduate teaching and research supervision in the area of Robotics and Autonomous systems. Each year between 10-20 high calibre PhD candidates are selected to join the programme.

We require all students to be based in Edinburgh to optimise the cohort benefits.

Studentships, although limited, are available for all nationalities. All, with the exception of one, cover maintenance at the research council rate (stipend for 2020/21 is £15,285) and home tuition fees.  The exception is the one studentship offered by the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences at Heriot-Watt University which covers stipend and international tuition fees.  

We have indicated the funding available against each project on the project topics page.  There is only one studentship available for stipend and international fees but a number of projects that are eligible for this funding. In the event that this studentship is allocated to a project, funding for stipend and home fees only will be available for the remaining projects.

Entry Requirements

We welcome applications from all suitably qualified persons and actively encourage applications from groups that are underrepresented in our CDT. All appointments will be made on merit.

Applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a 2.1 or higher degree in Engineering, Computer Science or related subjects such as Maths, Physics, Computational Linguistics. Applicants from a Psychology background with a strong technical background and/or experience in statistical research methods are also welcome.

Non-native English speakers need to provide evidence of a SELT (Secure English Language Test) at CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) Level B2 taken within 2 years of the programme start date. There are several types of SELT but IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the most common. The minimum requirement is IELTS 6.5 or equivalent, no individual component can be less than 6.0 in a single sitting.  A degree from an English speaking university may also be accepted in some circumstances.


Making your application and details of supporting documents required

Applicants may apply for one of the projects listed here.

Please check here for details of any industry funded studentships.

Applications are submitted via the Heriot-Watt website at 

You should choose "Robotics and Autonomous Systems, PhD" as your programme selection. Please note programme code is F229-RAS.

Once you have completed the application form, the option to upload supporting documents will be made available.  Although the application portal might confirm that your application is complete, please ensure that you upload ALL of the following supporting documents to meet CDT requirements.  Delays in submitting all the documentation will lead to a delay in your application being reviewed.

  • An up-to-date CV
  • Previous degree certificates and transcripts.  If submitting certificates and transcripts which are not in English, please submit a certified English translation for all documents
  • Two references. One reference to be uploaded on the application portal.  Please ask second referee to send their reference to with the name of the applicant clearly marked
  • Passport - front cover and page with your details
  • Personal statement of no more than 250 words stating reasons for applying to the programme
  • Project proposal relating to the project for which you are applying.  In this document please also confirm the reference number of the project to which you are applying plus the reference details of a further three advertised projects in which you might be interested. If you are proposing your own topic, please use reference number 500000.

Your Project proposal should outline a clear scientific idea and should include the following:

  • Title and topic number from relevant above list
  • Title and project number 500000 if proposing your own topic
  • Describe why your idea is worth pursuing
  • Outline how it has been approached previously
  • Describe what worked in that approach
  • Detail how you would approach your research topic
  • Demonstrate how this is different/better than any previous approach

You may also find the following link useful when writing your proposal. 


NOTE that applications submitted without the required supporting documents may not be considered. We would also ask that you only submit the documents listed above as any additional documents will not be considered when your application is reviewed.

Contacting us

For general enquiries please contact

For institution specific queries, please contact: (Centre Director at Heriot-Watt University or (Centre Director at University of Edinburgh).


About the programme

What programmes will the Centre provide?

The Centre will provide individually tailored course and project portfolios taken during the first year of the programme that ensures all students gain a strong general grounding in current theory, methods and applications, with flexibility for strategic individualised study, and strong support leading to a specialised PhD project.

When can students start?

There is an intake each September, to ensure that students complete the requisite taught courses.

What taught courses are studied?

Taught courses are studied during the first year of the programme. Courses are offered by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University (School of Engineering & Physical Sciences and School of Mathematical and Computer Science).

Will there be placements?

Some students will be linked to a company sponsor for the whole programme and so have the opportunity for industrial placements. There will be an opportunity for an exchange with an international lab in Year 3.

How are the students supervised?

Each student will have two Academic Supervisors - typically but not always, one from Heriot-Watt University and one from the University of Edinburgh. Your supervisor, on acceptance, will be the one associated with your chosen PhD topic. If you are picking your own topic, then a match will be found. 

Which University will award the final degree?

The final degree award will be a dual award from both universities. However, you will graduate (only once) from the institution of your primary supervisor.

What does the first year of the PhD involve?

The first year is approximately 50% taught and 50% independent research towards your PhD.

Would students be mainly based within the Heriot-Watt campus or Edinburgh University campus?

Students will receive instruction on both campuses during Year 1 but once they start their independent research, they would be expected to spend most (but not all) of their time at their first supervisor’s campus. Students will be allocated a desk at the University of their first supervisor.  Hot desks will be available at the other university.