Outline PhD Project Proposal: Guidelines & Deadlines

Information about preparing and submitting an outline PhD project proposal for the CDT in Data Science.


Progression to the PhD in Data Science is contingent both on successful completion of the MSc by Research in Data Science and formal approval of the outline PhD project proposal.

The PhD project selection procedure is designed to be student-driven and ensure that students make a firm commitment to a PhD supervisor and research direction. The research direction must be within the remit of data science and the student and supervisor should have a shared understanding of the project direction. The goal is for the procedure to be light-weight, to make sure that everyone is getting off to a quick start.

Some students will want to work with the same supervisor and in a similar area to their MSc(R) project. Other students may wish to make a change in direction. Either way is fine, but be aware that your funding clock (i.e. three years of PhD funding) starts as soon as the MSc(R) ends, and this time will not be extended by the CDT. It's vital that you get started on your PhD research quickly, because the more time spent choosing a topic, the less time there is to conduct your research and write your thesis.

Please note that the CDT’s outline PhD project proposal procedure is in addition to the guidelines and requirements for ALL PhD students in the School of Informatics (including CDT students).

Guidelines and requirements for PhD students in the School of Informatics


A brief overview of each step is outlined below. Further guidance about each step is after "Key Dates".

  1. Students meet with potential PhD supervisors to discuss potential project areas.
  2. On the basis of these discussions, students will prepare a short proposal that describes their research area and lists their first and second supervisors.
  3. A review meeting is held with the student, the first supervisor, the second supervisor(s), and one other member of staff. The onus is on the student to arrange this meeting.
  4. All proposals and reports will be reviewed by the CDT Executive Committee, who will provide formal approval and follow-up on any projects where more support is needed.

CDT Executive Committee

Key Dates

The deadlines for each step are outlined below. However, where possible, students are strongly encouraged to complete these steps as soon as possible, in order to maximize the amount of time for research.

  • Mid-September at PhD start: Students should arrange special CDT Tea meeting where students will discuss their current plans for PhD project proposals.
  • End of Semester 1 Week 3: PhD project proposals due by email to the lead supervisor and datascience[a]inf.ed.ac.uk Project proposals can be submitted earlier. The earlier you submit, the more time you have to work on your project.

Send your PhD project proposal

  • End of Week 6: All review meetings by the first supervisor, second supervisor(s), and one other member of staff must have taken place.
  • End of Week 9: By this date, the CDT Executive Committee will have reviewed all reports from the review panel and taken any appropriate actions.

 Your PhD stipend funding is contingent on meeting these milestones.

It's best if you submit the outline project proposal as soon as you can --- you do not need to wait for the deadline. Once you've submitted the proposal, you should get started right away meeting with your supervisor and doing initial exploration of your proposed topic. Of course, the review meeting might suggest or require revisions to your topic, but getting a head start is the best way to prepare for the meeting.

Further guidance about each step in the process for preparing and submitting an outline PhD project proposal.

1. Meeting with Potential Supervisors

In the beginning of their second year, students should arrange meetings with potential supervisors to discuss project ideas. For some students, this may simply be a meeting with their current MSc supervisor to discuss research directions that follow on from the current project. Other students may wish to meet with a wider range of different potential supervisors.

Students need to identify a first supervisor and a second supervisor(s) for their projects, as well as a third member of staff for the review panel. The first supervisor will likely be able to provide advice on the most appropriate choices for second supervisors.

2. Preparing a Proposal

The proposal should be two or three pages long and briefly describe:

  1. the area to be explored,
  2. enough of the background and related work to put the topic in context,
  3. the methods that the student expects to use,
  4. and any resources required (e.g. data, computing, financial, etc.).

The outline proposal should also clearly indicate the first supervisor, the second supervisor(s), and the third review panel member for the project.

This outline proposal is not the same as thefirst year review document of the PhD programme; CDT students will also be required to submit a first-year review document, towards the end of the first year of their PhD. 

First-year review of the PhD programme

Budgeting & Resources

Your PhD project proposal should list any specific resources that are required for the project, including: data sets, computing resources, other research costs, and travel costs (if applicable).

  • Datasets: If your project requires access to an external set of data, is this data already in hand? If not, how would the project change if the expected data does not become available?
  • Computing resources: All CDT students will be provided access to a standard workstation, CDT-wide computing resources (the clusters known as James and Charles), and University-wide resources (ECDF). You do not need to list these explicitly in your proposal. If you have any additional computing resources (i.e. ones that would need to be purchased for your project) you should list these explicitly and justify why you need them.
  • Research costs: The CDT can provide small amounts of funding for project-specific research costs, such as costs required to collect data sets and pay annotators. If you expect to need funding for this, please describe this in your PhD project proposal.
  • Travel costs: You do not need to provide specific justification of conference travel costs in your PhD project proposal unless you expect to spend significantly more or less than the standard allocation (please see below for more information). For example, additional travel costs should be included in project proposals if you plan to travel for specific extended visits to external research labs.

Travel Costs

If you received a studentship to the CDT, the CDT will provide support for conference travel. In general, we expect to send students to good research conferences where they are presenting a paper. We also expect to be able to send students to at least one “freebie” conference trip early in the PhD to help students become oriented in the research community before they are ready to publish. Where possible, we will consider funding for other trips that are particularly relevant to a student’s research (e.g. a small workshop that is directly related to the student’s research).

Our budget is sufficient to support the equivalent of one international conference visit and one EU conference visit per year. Typically, students travel when they have a paper accepted to a selective conference or workshop, or when there is a workshop, conference or other meeting that their first supervisor feels it is particularly important that they attend. Some students - e.g., students who work in interdisciplinary areas or those who have many conference publications – may need more than this. We will endeavour to support students in these situations, but we caution that travel has a cost in time as well as money: Too much time spent travelling can disrupt your research project. 

The CDT will also fund trips to appropriate summer schools, such as the Machine Learning Summer School series.

3. Supervisor Review Meeting

The student’s PhD project proposal will be reviewed by the first supervisor, second supervisor(s), and one other member of staff (the choice of the third member is up to the lead supervisor and the student). These three members of staff will meet with the student to discuss the proposal. The onus is on the student to arrange this meeting as soon as possible; no later than the end of Week 6. Once the meeting is scheduled, please email datascience[a]inf.ed.ac.uk with the date and time for our records.

Send PhD meeting information 

The goals of this meeting are to ensure that a feasible project direction has been agreed, to ensure that the direction fits within data science, and to provide the student with any relevant advice when starting his/her project. If the proposal is not suitable, the review panel may require the student to revise the topic.

Within one week of the meeting, the first supervisor should send feedback to the student via email. The supervisor should copy these comments to datascience[a]inf.ed.ac.uk along with (if necessary) any confidential comments for the CDT's Executive Committee. 

4. Review by the CDT's Executive Committee

A formal review of PhD proposals is conducted by the CDT's Executive Committee. In this decision, the Executive Committee will give heavy weight to the report from the review panel, although it reserves the right to raise additional queries about the proposal (e.g. to ensure that the project is within the scope of the CDT). If the review panel indicates that there are concerns about the project proposal, the Executive Committee will follow-up with the student and the supervisor and provide additional support, where possible.

CDT Executive Committee

Students will be notified about the outcome of the Executive Committee’s review as soon as possible after receiving the review report from the first supervisor.

Once your outline PhD project proposal is approved, please see read these guidelines: 

Approved outline PhD projects proposals.

Please be aware that the three years of funding for your PhD starts immediately after you complete the MSc by Research, regardless of when your PhD project proposal is approved. The University will require you to pay additional fees, which the CDT cannot reimburse if you submit your thesis after the third year of the PhD phase of the programme (excluding official interruptions for activities like internships).