PhD Program at INSAIT
For Doctoral Candidates
INSAIT provides talented individuals the unique opportunity to engage in world-class research with the goal of becoming independent scientists and technology leaders.
Students receive full 5-year PhD fellowships at 36,000 € per year and are mentored by world-class professors.
Watch a presentation of the INSAIT PhD program by Prof. Martin Vechev here.
Who can apply?
INSAIT will consider students who have obtained a B.Sc. or an M.Sc. degree by the time they start in INSAIT’s doctoral program. Thus, students who are currently completing or have completed these degrees (e.g., last year B.Sc. or M.Sc. graduates) are eligible to be considered for the INSAIT doctoral program. INSAIT is generally interested in students who are enrolled or have completed B.Sc./M.Sc. degrees in the areas of computer science, data science, mathematics, physics, statistics, or electrical engineering.
How to apply?
Please submit your application at the recruitee link. You will need to prepare the following documents (please note all documents must be either issued or translated in English):
- Curriculum Vitae (CV) – you must present a CV with the universities you attended, acquired professional experience and achievements.
- Degree certificates – official copies of your diplomas (Bachelors, Masters), if you have graduated.
- University transcripts – official copies of your university transcripts (Bachelors, Masters), listing all course work, academic hours and grades.
- Recommendation letters (optional) – submit two letters of recommendation attesting to your academic and scientific achievements relevant to your doctorate application. Your letters should contain the full contact details of the recommender.
- Passport or ID – copies of your passport or ID with your personal details should be attached.
- Motivation Letter – the candidate should clearly articulate why they would like to pursue a PhD at INSAIT.
- English Language Proficiency – the applicant is expected to have a strong command of the English language. If available, a copy of the formal certificate (TOEFL, Cambridge, IELTS, etc.) should be provided.
How will my application be assessed?
The main criteria in evaluating incoming applicants are the relevant qualifications as presented in the application process – quality of the course work and respective grades, extra-curricular achievements, motivation, recommendations, etc.
Successful candidates will be invited for a technical interview conducted by the particular faculty (or several faculty) interested in the candidate. Once admitted, candidates can expect to start in the doctoral program as soon as possible. Please note that possible visa applications and issuing of work permits may cause delays in certain cases.
When will I be notified on the application result?
Every applicant will be notified within two months of applying. If there is interest in the candidate by a particular adviser (or several) at INSAIT after applying, then this candidate will be contacted by the prospective adviser(s) for next steps, such as appropriate technical interviews and assessments, which if positive, will result in a working PhD contract for the candidate.
Will my studies be financially covered?
Yes. All admitted candidates will receive a full doctoral fellowship. The fellowship amounts to 36,000 EUR / year gross. The goal of this competitive fellowship is to empower a doctoral student to fully engage in world-class research. Doctoral fellowships are also available from big-tech companies such as DeepMind and Amazon Web Services.
How long is the doctoral program at INSAIT and how is it structured?
The duration of the program is up to 5 years, split into two parts: in the first part (up to 2 years), the candidate works on a research topic with the goal of defining a PhD thesis topic with their adviser to be defended in front of an INSAIT graduate committee. If successful, in the second part (up to 3 years), the candidate works on that topic with the goal of producing strong research results, significantly deepening the research conducted during the first part.
As a rule of thumb, a Ph.D. thesis should be based on at least three publications in top academic venues (for an example selection of such conferences, please see those used to produce CSRankings). However, the thesis itself is not merely a compilation of previous publications, but rather a single coherent body of text. Ph.D. students are further expected to supervise and work with potential M.Sc. students and encouraged to collaborate with other doctoral students.
Who will issue the degree?
Legally, INSAIT is part of Sofia University, thus, the official degree will be issued by INSAIT at Sofia University.
What if the selected student only has a B.Sc. degree but not M.Sc.?
In these cases, the student is expected to complete their M.Sc. degree during the first two years (part I) of the INSAIT doctoral program. Note that during this period, the student is fully supported financially (32,000 EUR / year) by INSAIT as the student has been accepted in the INSAIT doctoral program, with the intent to continue to part II.
How does the advising process with an external (remote) adviser work?
If the PhD student is primarily supervised by an external adviser (e.g., a professor at ETH Zurich), then that student is expected to closely collaborate with the group of that adviser, and to also regularly visit the adviser’s place of work for a total of roughly 3 months a year (e.g., about a week a month, or split according to how the adviser and student deem appropriate), where all visits will be fully covered by INSAIT. This would allow the PhD candidate to work closely with the particular group and to benefit from on-site presence at top institutions. Additionally, external mentors will visit INSAIT several times a year in order to further engage with their INSAIT students. Finally, external advisers are required to spend no less than several hours a week only with their INSAIT students on technical advising. Combined, these ensure that an INSAIT graduate student receives an outstanding mentorship, both from the particular adviser but also in terms of working with PhD students of established world-class research groups.
Are international applicants welcome?
Absolutely. INSAIT’s goal is to become an international world-class research and education institution, and thus we embrace diversity. Further, the working language is English and all communication takes place in English.
What are the job prospects for INSAIT PhD graduates?
We expect INSAIT PhD graduates to benefit from a multitude of opportunities, such as those enjoyed by graduates from places such as ETH Zurich, MIT, Stanford and similar. These opportunities include careers in academia (e.g., professors), start-up founders, or joining big-tech research labs (e.g., DeepMind, Google Brain, Microsoft Research, Amazon, etc.) or R&D departments of engineering firms, both local and international.
What if I am unsure whether I want to pursue a PhD at INSAIT?
We suggest that students apply to our internship programs where they engage in the research process with existing INSAIT faculty, and make a decision whether they would like to pursue this path in greater depth. We will soon be announcing an internship program as well.
Is it required that candidates choose one of the research areas listed here (https://insait.ai/research-areas/) for their PhD before they apply (e.g., in their motivation letter)?
Candidates can select a number of areas of interest and this is common. It is generally advisable that a candidate roughly knows the general set of areas they are interested in, but it is also possible that this set changes during the doctoral program as their interests shift. Further, INSAIT strongly encourages interdisciplinary collaboration so often it is the case that their PhD topic will contain a multitude of areas.
Is it possible that the first part of 2 years includes not just a choice of the given PhD topic but also a broader exploration?
Yes, at the end of the 2 years a student should have formulated the theme of their PhD. However, during these 2 years, active exposure to multiple areas is encouraged. Even during the 3 years that follow, a student is encouraged to collaborate and work with others in order to broaden their horizons, in addition to of course working on their thesis topic.
If a candidate fails the doctoral program, do they need to return the salary they were paid up to that point or to make any other payments?
No, there are no such requirements on the candidate.
Is it required that PhD students are full-time engaged and do not work other jobs?
Yes, upon the start of their doctoral program at INSAIT, students should be 100% focused on their research at INSAIT.
Do admission documents have to be legalised?
For the initial acceptance, we accept official documents, however, to issue the contract, we need documentation to be legalised.
Is there a recommended format in the way the motivation letter should be done?
We generally recommend that the candidate clearly states why they are pursuing INSAIT, what their general interests are, what their goals in the program are, as well as any other information they deem important. The motivation statement should generally be up to 2 pages long, A4 style.