I get a lot of emails from potential students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the Digital Technology group at Cambridge.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to reply to them all, so if you really do want to get my attention, here’s how.

Start by reading the guidelines for prospective Ph.D. students on the CL siteAll applications must follow these guidelines so it’s important you understand the process.  If you just submit an application with my name on it under a list of potential supervisors, it will land on my desk sooner or later.  However, it would be better to contact me first to discuss your interests and help shape your proposal. In the first instance, email should work but please follow these guidelines:

  1. Please don’t send a copy of your CV in the first instance.  Lots of people send me big attachments in the first instance, and this just clogs up my inbox.  I’ll ask if I want this sort of thing.
  2. Title your email “POTENTIAL PhD: XXX”, where XXX is your name. This means my email client will highlight your email to me!
  3. You don’t need to write much – just tell me why you think a Ph.D. might suit you and my research interest you.

Also consider the new MPhil. in Advanced Computer Science. This is a one year course inteded as a breeding ground for Ph.D. students.  Those who get on this course can choose the research-oriented route and do a one-year project with me as their supervisor.  You’re certain to get my attention then!

Preparing a Proposal

Sooner or later you’ll need to prepare a proposal for your application.  This is certainly tricky, and the advice on the admissions site is pretty good.  The most common error is to write a lot about what others have done in the field and leave it at that.  When I read these proposals, I need to see that you have a basic knowledge of the area (just so you have an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for) and that you can propose something sensible to actually do!

Now, there’s a bit of chicken-and-egg here: how can you propose something novel to do without doing the background reading that you do in the first year of a Ph.D.?  Of course, you can’t, so I’m not looking for something that is necessarily novel, but something that is tractable.  My own Ph.D. proposal turned out to be complete garbage but I didn’t realise this until I’d read a lot more widely!  The key was it was a sensible idea given the knowledge I had at the time and my supervisor gave me a chance.

My advice is to think up a project that you think you can do in three years, then contact me to discuss it.

Note: you won’t be held to the proposal contents.  Most students adapt their ideas significantly in the first year and this is fine.  The proposal is used primarily for the admissions process so we can see i) you have knowledge of the area, ii) you can write coherently and iii) you have some sensible ideas.