Prospective collaborators

I was trained as a computer scientist, but my research group has diverse interests in natural language processing, and we work on many problems in this area, from theoretical to empirical. We tend to focus on basic curiosity-driven research in areas that aren’t yet well understood, in order to improve the foundations of the field. We view NLP as an interdisciplinary field, and to do interdisciplinary research, you need a discipline. So I look for collaborators from mathematics, machine learning, computer science, and linguistics. I don’t expect you to be an expert in all of these fields—few people are—but I do expect you to learn something about all of them from a diverse of group of collaborators.

Prospective PhD students

I take one or two new PhD students each year. To apply, you must write a research statement. I am happy to discuss this with keen students, but I expect you to have done some reading and thinking first in an area of mutual interest, and I expect you to start the discussion with some specific questions and ideas. If you have no questions or only a vague idea about what you want to do, then I will simply refer you back to this page. I don’t do this to discourage you and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply! But it does mean that I can’t help you at this stage and you’ll need to do some more thinking about your own interests first. Here is what I’m currently interested in:

Natural language understanding systems confront a menagerie of complex and subtle phenomena. Deep learning is a useful tool in building these systems, but it’s only one tool among many, and we don’t fully understand its power or its flaws. Projects in this area aim to improve our understanding; here are some examples:

  • Deep learning researchers claim that their models learn to represent linguistic properties of language without any explicit guidance. But recent results hint that they are simply very good at memorizing local correlations. What do deep models really learn about language?

  • For a system to understand a text and answer questions about it, the system must distill the meaning of the text into a set of facts (semantic parsing). We can represent these facts as a graph: entities and events become nodes, and relationships between them become edges. We now have datasets that pair text with such graphs, and we’d like to learn a semantic parser from this data, so we need to model graphs.How do we design and use deep probabilistic models of graphs?

I’m also interested in many other things involving language, structure, and learning. To get a sense of what some of those things are, you can read some of my recent papers. I am happy to discuss specific questions or ideas related to my published work.

If you’re excited about natural language, but not these topics, you may want to contact other members of EdinburghNLP or browse PhD topics they have proposed. If you aren’t genuinely interested in language, then my research group is not a good fit for you, and you should contact a different supervisor in the School of Informatics.

If you’re excited about all of this, I encourage you to apply for a PhD. I advise students in two different programs:

You cannot apply by emailing your documents to me. You must use the university’s common application system, which you can find in the application guidance links above.

If you already have an MSc in a relevant area, you can apply for the ILCC PhD. If you do not have an MSc, or if you’d like a longer programme with some formal taught work, apply for one of the CDT programmes. You can apply to multiple programmes concurrently. (But please only apply to programmes that you are genuinely interested in. Applicants who submit to many unrelated programmes across schools and colleges are usually rejected because their interests are unclear.) Read more about the application process here

I only review applications in winter admissions cycle. For a September start, apply by the second week of December in the preceding year. That is not a hard deadline, but applying by then ensures that the school will consider you for funding, which is crucial since we only make funded offers (unless you have a full outside scholarship). I cannot advise you on your chances of admission, which depend on factors outside my control.

Prospective MSc, MScR, or MPhil students

In brief: do not contact me if you are applying for one of these degrees, because I have no influence over who is admitted or whether they will work with me.

Longer explanation: Taught MSc programmes in Edinburgh are very intensive and you will not have time on the side to join a research project. A third of the overall credits for the MSc come from an individual project, supervised by a member of staff, and you will need to devote all of your effort to your project. Projects are assigned early in semester 2, and though the assignment considers your preferences, there is no guarantee that you will get your preferred project due to the very large numbers of students. Because of all the uncertainties around this process, I can make no guarantee that you will be able to work with me if you join our taught MSc programme. As a practical matter, MSc admissions are handled centrally and I have no influence over them.

Our department rarely admit students directly to an MPhil or MScR degree, except as part of a 1+3 CDT programme.

Self-funded students

If you have full funding from a fellowship that will pay for your tuition and a living stipend, that’s great! The purpose of your fellowship is to enable you to pursue your intellectual interests, and if we have interests in common, I’m happy to discuss them with you. Having a fellowship makes admissions easier because it isn’t contingent on funding, but it is still crucial that we have mutual research interests.

I do not take self-funded PhD students who pay out of their own pockets. This would be unethical on at least two counts: (1) it gives unequal access; and (2) the university benefits from the labor of PhD students through their research and publications, and PhD students should be paid for this.

Practically, this means that we only offer admission to students we can fund, or who are able to obtain a fellowship. I am acutely aware that this means that I can’t work with many good applicants, but I will not make exceptions.

Current students in Edinburgh

If you’re interested in working with me and you are a current student in one of the CDTs; an MSc, MInf, or undergraduate honours student; or a currently enrolled visiting student, then please get in touch!

Prospective interns and visitors

I do not currently have any openings for internships. When I do, I will list them here. Please do not send me an unsolicited application.

I will not host visiting scholars who I do not know personally.

If you are already visiting the university I am happy to talk about research.

Prospective Postdocs

I do not currently have any openings for postdocs.