Interested in doing a PhD?


Right now I don't have a scholarship to give out, but there is always the option to apply for a scholarship from the college, so please feel free to approach me anyway.

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.

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! :)

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!)

Further information?

There's a bunch of useful webpage/online material:

PhD in planning with another supervisor? (Or maybe just not in Australia?)

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:

  • Here at the ANU I have many colleagues in planning, and many of them might even have scholarships (or positions for post-docs). They might have positions just "for them", others might even have PhD projects where I could join in as a co-supervisor. Either way, here are our Planning Position Announcements!
  • If you want to do a PhD in a related (or even completely different!) area at the ANU, you might want to check out my page on Research Projects. At the end of the page, I list ANU webpages by which you can easily find other ANU researcher working in specific fields. Hope that's helpful!
  • PhD positions in planning from everywhere around the world are regularly posted over the following two mailing lists, so you might consider subscribing them.
    • -- This is a general mailing list for planning.
    • -- This belongs to the ICAPS conference series, the premier conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling.