Interested in doing a PhD?

Availability of Scholarships/Funding

I have two fully funded PhD positions, to start in 2024 (at least 3 years + 1/2 year of extension if eligible; potentially 3.5 + 0.5 years, to be clarified). These positions are within the DECRA project Automated Modelling Assistance for the Creation of Complex Planning Models, so their topic is already set.

In a nutshell, it will be concerned with:

  • theoretical investigations (e.g., complexity theory) and
  • the design, implementation, and evaluation of techniques that help to provide automated support to human users for the process of creating or updating planning models (most likely via SAT solving, Integer Linear Programming (ILP), or via heuristic search).

Modeling support is to be provided for classical non-hierarchical models expressed in PDDL as well as for hierarchical models expressed in HDDL. In case you are interested, please read this entire webpage carefully and then drop me an email.

I expect qualified applicants to have some basic background in planning, but even in case you are not familiar with this discipline yet, you might still get in touch and see whether your expertise fits. For those unfamiliar with planning, I've provided advice on how to get started in the field.

Who can apply?

Pretty much everyone who is excited about learning something new and doing so in a team of other passionate and helpful people. You will however have to convince me that you have a reason to apply with me in particular. If you just mentioned how much you like Machine Learning (ML), your application is likely to be ignored as I don't do research in this field (AI is more than ML), and I'd hope that any applicant at least checks out this page.

If you believe that you might not have what it takes to apply, then maybe that's why you should! :) As long as you are willing to learn and convince me that you are hard-working and devoted enough.

Please note however that this is assuming that you are eligible to apply! You will require the respective degree and need to be sufficiently strong (GPA-wise), as this is a requirement by the ANU and independent of my individual preferences. In a nutshell, any degree equivalent to a first-class Honours with a significant research component is required. But please read the official requirements, which you find online; links are provided below.me, but if in doubt, please reach out.

Why to apply?

Where to start? :)

There are many "soft reasons", like learning how to become a strong independent scientist or just having fun doing cool stuff for a few years :) with me, colleagues from the ANU, my collaborators from various parts of the world, and of course the super-friendly ICAPS community. (ICAPS is the premier conference on planning, the International Conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling, ranked A* by CORE.) ICAPS folk sometimes call themselves ICAPS family, and not without a reason! :)

Note that being a PhD student in Australia also means that you will not have any responsibilities other than working on your PhD. In particular this means that you have no teaching duties unless you voluntarily decide to do so (and also get paid for this on top of the PhD scholarship).

But you'd probably also like to know what you could do research-wise. I assume that you are already familiar with the most basic concepts of AI Planning. Based on this, on the most abstract level, I'm primarily doing research in Hierarchical Task Network (HTN) planning, a planning approach based on problem decomposition (quite similar to how formal grammars work). In case you are more interested, you may take a look at this website on hierarchical planning, or check out the webpage on resources for students, which gives some pointers on how to get started with the scientific literature in planning. If you are entirely new to planning you could start by watching my linked YouTube video, but that's of course not required.

More specifically, I am interested in:

  • Computational Complexity Investigations
  • Expressivity Investigations and Problem Compilations
  • Design of Novel Algorithms and Heuristics
  • Verification of Plans and Models
  • Modeling Assistance (creating tools so that "beginners" get guided through the process of creating new models)
  • Planning under Uncertainty
  • Planning with time
  • Lifted planning, i.e., planning without prior instantiation of all variables to available constants

You don't have to have a specific dissertation topic in mind. I have plenty to offer and would select in a discussion so we find something you are passionate about.

How to apply?

I'd highly appreciate if you could provide the following information:

  • a transcript (i.e., mark per course)
  • a statement about which knowledge you have about AI planning and complexity theory. (Don't worry if you don't have that yet! I just want to know, you can of course drop an email anyway.)

That's basically all! We can go from there and have a meeting to discuss further steps. However, note that I will delete your email without response with a probability of exactly 100% if I am not perfectly convinced that you read this webpage. Don't write an essay about it^^, but I need to know that you were professional enough to actually know whom you are writing, why, and what to expect. Applicants who do not even inform themselves very clearly do not even remotely have what it takes to get a PhD -- so they are ignored. (Hint: I am an AI planning expert, so emails that don't even mention that term also have a 100 minus Epsilon percent of getting deleted instantaneously without any reply.) Also, please don't try to flatter me or anything. Be honest and come to the point and I'm more than happy to see what I can do. :)

I receive applications from all over the world thus with all different kinds of traditions regarding the usage of titles. To create a common ground, let me explain a few rules regarding naming conventions:

  • If you wish to use a title (such as "Dr." or "Prof. Dr.") then do this in combination with the family name. In my case that would be "Dear Dr. Bercher". In Australia one uses the title "Prof." only after somebody literally acquired it, i.e., once he or she has the rank "Associate Professor" or "Professor". My rank is currently Senior Lecturer, so using this title would be wrong.
  • If you wish to skip the title(s) but still like to remain formal, then use the last name. In my case "Dear Mr. Bercher".
  • If you wish to communicate in an informal first-name basis, then only use the first name while skipping all titles. In my case "Dear Pascal". Feel free approaching me on a first-name basis only, I am totally fine with that. Otherwise we can switch to a first name basis after we exchanged a few emails. (Note that scientists are all on a first-name basis among each other. Only with students it's sometimes different because of the age gap. I am however still very happy with a first-name basis; it's all about content, not rank!)

Scholarship Amount and Duration

A PhD at the ANU has to be finished after at most 4 years. The scholarship that the ANU offers is usually 3.5 years with the option to extend by 1/2 year depending on circumstances. At the moment, the annual funding amounts to 34.000 AUD (tax-free, since it's a scholarship). On top of this, the ANU pays for business trips (e.g., for conference visits) until some additional funding lasts. Note that in case of project-funded scholarships (not ANU-funded) the PhD duration might be 3 years + 1/2 year extension (so half a year shorter).

Additional information and details are available here:

PhD in AI with another supervisor? (Maybe even Overseas?)

If you are a motivated and knowledgeable student, then of course I would love to supervise you! Sadly, there is always limited funding (and time), so I cannot accept everybody. So I list a few options how you could find other positions or supervisors:

  • If you want to do your PhD at the ANU I can recommend several resources:
    • Planning Position Announcements by our planning researchers. Note that it might be out of date, so you should definitely consider the next link below as well. Also note that not everybody seeking a PhD has an announcement online. So you could consider to reach out pro-actively. But there's nothing more annoying than a shallow non-individualized application, so take care.
    • My page on Research Projects provides several links to ANU webpages that you can use to find other researchers who might have research projects or PhDs to offer.
  • If you are open to make a PhD in AI Planning anywhere in the world, consider subscribing to the mailing lists planning-list~AT~googlegroups.com and icaps-conference~AT~googlegroups.com. Just search for them on google groups to subscribe. Every two(ish) weeks there's announcement for PhD (and post-doc) positions.
  • PhD announcements by friends and colleagues:
    • Want to be more involved in researching on how to apply fundamentals of AI-planning in real-world applications? Check out the PhD and post-doc announcements by my colleague Jun.-Prof. Dr. Jean Jane Kiam from the Bundeswehr University Munich, Germany, and/or drop her an email (jane.kiam@unibw.de) for questions or applications.
    • Interested in the intersection of planning and ontologies? Check out the PhD and post-doc announcements by my colleague Prof. Dr. Birte Glimm from Ulm University, Germany, and/or drop her an email (birte dot glimm at uni-ulm.de) for questions or applications.
    • Interested in Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT or to learn planning models for Cybersecurity? Then check out the PhD announcements by Associate Prof. Jendrik Seipp from Link√∂ping University, Sweden.