Postgraduate Research Course

PhD Computer Science

PhD Computer Science

Overview

The details
Computer Science
October 2021
Full-time
5 years
Colchester Campus

An Integrated PhD provides a route into research study if you do not have a Masters degree, or have very little research training. It enables you to spend your first year completing a Masters-level qualification, followed by a full-time PhD studied over 3-4 years. We also offer a ‘standard’ PhD in this subject which can be studied either full-time (3-4 years) or part-time (6-7 years).

In your first year, this course provides you with the flexibility to master the areas of computing that interest and excite you most. You choose from a range of topics including:

  • Intelligent systems and robotics
  • Machine learning and data mining
  • Human language understanding and text processing
  • Computer game development
  • Cloud and web technologies
  • Computer security
  • Evolutionary computation

In your second year you move into the PhD element of the course. Our research activity and supervision for the research part of this degree is concentrated in the following principal research areas: artificial intelligence, biologically inspired architectures, educational technology, e-learning, natural and evolutionary computation, natural language engineering, software agents and software engineering. Our cross-disciplinary projects draw on the expertise of our electronic engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists and psychologists.

Our work is supported by extensive networked computer facilities and software aids, together with a wide range of test and instrumentation equipment. Our research covers a range of topics, from the theory of computation and the philosophy of computer science, computational intelligence and computer games, to artificial intelligence and robotics, with most of our research groups based around laboratories offering world-class facilities. Our impressive external research funding stands at multi-million pounds per year and we participate in a number of EU initiatives and undertake projects under contract to many outside bodies, including government and industrial organisations.

Our School is a community of scholars leading the way in technological research and development. Today’s computer scientists are creative people who are focused and committed, yet restless and experimental. We are home to many of the world’s top scientists, and our work is driven by creativity and imagination as well as technical excellence. More than two-thirds of our research is rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent' (REF 2014).

Why we're great.
  • Tailor your degree and master the areas of computing that interest you the most
  • Develop expertise in contemporary design and practice, providing the skills to further explore how technology influences people’s lives
  • We provide an active and stimulating environment to carry out your research
THE Awards 2018 - Winner University of the Year

Our expert staff

Our research covers a range of topics, from brain-computer interfaces, human language understanding and technology, intelligent and adaptive systems, information and data analysis, robotics and embedded systems, to future networks, optoelectronics and radio frequency and signal processing foundations, with many of our research groups based around laboratories offering world-class facilities.

Our impressive external research funding stands at over £4 million and we participate in a number of EU initiatives and undertake projects under contract to many outside bodies, including government and industrial organisations.

In recent years we have attracted many highly active research staff and we are conducting world-leading research in areas such as evolutionary computation, brain-computer interfacing, intelligent inhabited environments and financial forecasting.

Studying for your PhD involves person-to-person interaction with your supervisor, who will guide you in developing your chosen research topic, refine your research skills, and advise you in capitalising on the technical knowledge you already have from your taught degree. Supervisors often keep in touch with their PhD graduates throughout their careers, and may work on scientific collaborations with them after they finish their doctorate.

Specialist facilities

We are one of the largest and best resourced computer science and electronic engineering schools in the UK. Our work is supported by extensive networked computer facilities and software aids, together with a wide range of test and instrumentation equipment.

  • We have six laboratories that are exclusively for computer science and electronic engineering students. Three are open 24/7, and you have free access to the labs except when there is a scheduled practical class in progress
  • All computers are dual boot Windows 10 and Linux. Apple Mac Computers are dual boot MacOS and Windows 10
  • Software includes Java, C++, Perl, MySQL, Matlab, Microsoft Office, Visual Studio, and Project
  • Students have access to CAD tools and simulators for chip design (Xilinx) and computer networks (OMNet++)
  • We also have specialist facilities for research into areas including non-invasive brain-computer interfaces, intelligent environments, robotics, optoelectronics, video, RF and MW, printed circuit milling, and semiconductors

Your future

Studying within our School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering provides both the recent graduate and the practising computer scientist with the opportunity to gain new skills or enhance existing ones.

Our graduates have achieved success in a variety of professions. Many have pursued careers in computing and information technology, while others have gone on to work in research organisations or become university academics.

Our recent graduates have progressed to a variety of senior positions in industry and academia. Some of the companies and organisations where our former graduates are now employed include:

  • Electronic Data Systems
  • Pfizer Pharmaceuticals
  • Bank of Mexico
  • Visa International
  • Hyperknowledge (Cambridge)
  • Hellenic Air Force
  • ICSS (Beijing)
  • United Microelectronic Corporation (Taiwan)

We also work with the university’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

Entry requirements

UK entry requirements

A good honours degree, or international equivalent, in: Computer Science; Computer Engineering; Computer Networks; Computer Games; Computing; Software Engineering, Electronic Engineering; Electrical Engineering; Telecommunication Engineering; Information Engineering; Automation; Mechatronic Engineering; Mathematics or Physics.

Our four year integrated PhD, allows you to spend your first year studying at Masters level in order to develop the necessary knowledge and skills and to start your independent research in year two.

Graduates of Computer Science; Computer Engineering; Computer Networks; Computer Games; Computing; Software Engineering must have studied :

  • ONE programming module (e.g. C, C#, C++, Java, Python, Object Oriented programming, Advanced Programming)
  • ONE maths module (e.g.Mathematics; Calculus; Algebra; Differential Equations).
  • and ONE other computing related module (e.g. Database, Web development, Software engineering, Operating system, Computer architecture; Computer systems etc.).

Graduates of Electronic Engineering; Electrical Engineering; Telecommunication Engineering; Automation; Mechatronic Engineering; Mathematics; Physics must have studied:

  • ONE programming module (e.g. C, C#, C++, Java, Python, Object Oriented programming, Advanced Programming).
  • ONE maths module (e.g.Mathematics; Calculus; Algebra; Differential Equations).
  • and ONE other math module (e.g. Mathematics, Calculus, Algebra, Differential Equations, Probability and statistics, Signals and systems, Control theory, Control systems, Computer systems, Embedded systems, Microprocessors).

International & EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Get in touch with any questions you may have about the qualifications we accept. Remember to tell us about the qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.

Sorry, the entry requirements for the country that you have selected are not available here. Please select your country page where you'll find this information.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, then we will require you to have IELTS 6.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component

Structure

Example structure

Most of our taught courses combine compulsory and optional modules, giving you freedom to pursue your own interests. All of the modules listed below provide an example of what is on offer from the current academic year. Our Programme Specification provides further details of the course structure for the current academic year.

Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

The research element of your degree doesn't have a taught structure, giving you the chance to investigate your chosen topic in real depth and reach a profound understanding. In communicating that understanding, through a thesis or other means, you have a rare opportunity to generate knowledge. A research degree allows you to develop new high-level skills, enhance your professional development and build new networks. It can open doors to many careers.

Teaching and learning disclaimer

Following the impact of the pandemic, we made changes to our teaching and assessment to ensure our current students could continue with their studies uninterrupted and safely. These changes included courses being taught through blended delivery, normally including some face-to-face teaching, online provision, or a combination of both across the year.

The teaching and assessment methods listed show what is currently planned for 2021 entry; changes may be necessary if, by the beginning of this course, we need to adapt the way we’re delivering them due to the external environment, and to allow you to continue to receive the best education possible safely and seamlessly.

MSc Project and Dissertation

What fascinates you? Apply your learning in computer science or engineering to solve a problem. Design, implement and evaluate a solution, producing a dissertation on your investigation and giving an oral presentation of your work. Test your knowledge, while gaining practical experience and building your project management skills.

View MSc Project and Dissertation on our Module Directory

Professional Practice and Research Methodology

This module aims to prepare students for conducting an independent research project leading to a dissertation and to provide them with an appreciation of research and business skills related to their professional career. As a precursor to their project students, individually select an area of Computer Science, or Electronic Engineering, or Computational Finance and perform the necessary background research to define a topic and prepare a project proposal under the guidance of a supervisor. The module guides them by a) introducing common research methods b) creating an understanding of basic statistics for describing and making conclusions from data c) helping to write a strong proposal including learning how to perform literature search and evaluation and d) giving an in-depth view into the business enterprise, financial and management accounting and investment appraisal.

View Professional Practice and Research Methodology on our Module Directory

Group Project

Teamwork skills are essential for employability. The aim of this module is to provide students with the opportunity to apply their specialised knowledge to a realistic problem and gain practical experience of the processes involved in the team-based production of software. Wherever possible, teams are organised on the basis of shared interest, and the problem is designed to exercise their understanding of their area of specialised study. Starting from an outline description of a realistic problem, each team is required to develop a fully implemented software solution using appropriate engineering and project management techniques.

View Group Project on our Module Directory

Computing and Electronic Systems - Research

This module is for PhD students who are completing the research portions of their theses.

View Computing and Electronic Systems - Research on our Module Directory

Computer Security (optional)

This course gives an introduction to computer security and cryptography, and then goes on to consider security as it relates to a single, network connected, computer. Introductory material is independent of any operating system but the consideration of tools will focus on those available for Linux, partly because its open-source nature facilitates this and partly because it is widely used on server systems. The introduction to cryptography will be used to consider its use in encryption and authentication.

View Computer Security (optional) on our Module Directory

Intelligent Systems and Robotics (optional)

This module gives an introduction to intelligent systems and robotics. It goes on to consider the essential hardware for sensing and manipulating the real world, and their properties and characteristics. The programming of intelligent systems and real-world robots are explored in the context of localisation, mapping, and fuzzy logic control.

View Intelligent Systems and Robotics (optional) on our Module Directory

Machine Learning (optional)

Humans can often perform a task extremely well (e.g., telling cats from dogs) but are unable to understand and describe the decision process followed. Without this explicit knowledge, we cannot write computer programs that can be used by machines to perform the same task. “Machine learning” is the study and application of methods to learn such algorithms automatically from sets of examples, just like babies can learn to tell cats from dogs simply by being shown examples of dogs and cats by their parents. Machine learning has proven particularly suited to cases such as optical character recognition, dictation software, language translators, fraud detection in financial transactions, and many others.

View Machine Learning (optional) on our Module Directory

Text Analytics (optional)

We live in an era in which the amount of information available in textual form - whether of scientific or commercial interest - greatly exceeds the capability of any man to read or even skim. Text analytics is the area of artificial intelligence concerned with making such vast amounts of textual information manageable - by classifying documents as relevant or not, by extracting relevant information from document collections, and/or by summarizing the content of multiple documents. In this module we cover all three types of techniques.

View Text Analytics (optional) on our Module Directory

Game Artificial Intelligence (optional)

This module covers a range of Artificial Intelligence techniques employed in games, and teaches how games are and can be used for research in Artificial Intelligence. The module explores algorithms for creating agents that play classical board games (such as chess or checkers) and real-time games (Mario or PacMan), including single agents able to play multiple games. The course also covers Procedural Content Generation, and explores the techniques used to simulate intelligence in the latest videogames.

View Game Artificial Intelligence (optional) on our Module Directory

Physics-Based Games (optional)

Many of today’s best computer games rely on realistic physics at the core of their gameplay. In this course, students are taught how these physics engines work, and how to create physics-based games of their own. Students create a physics engine from scratch, and also learn how to use existing industry-standard open-source 2-D and 3-D physics engines. The necessary principles of physics and mathematics are taught, assuming very little prior knowledge. Vectors, matrices, and numerical integration are taught on a need-to-know basis, with code examples to illustrate the methods. Each lecture is followed by a lab session, where the new techniques are programmed by each student. Almost immediately, students will create scenarios where objects are moving and bouncing around the screen realistically. Each lab session ends in creating a small physics-based game. The course is assessed through tests, and a larger game-programming assignment.

View Physics-Based Games (optional) on our Module Directory

Network Security (optional)

This module considers the application of security to networked computers and systems. It will cover how to secure a network by applying methods to detect, mitigate and/or stop attacks. Based on the assumption that public networks will always be open to compromise, this course introduces techniques to secure transmitted data, including the management of encryption systems and communication.

View Network Security (optional) on our Module Directory

Mobile and Social Application Programming (optional)

A huge industry has grown up in the last few years delivering a wide range of apps for mobile devices, including application areas such as games, social networking, information, and productivity. Given the power of modern mobile devices coupled with their range of inputs (audio, camera, GPS, motion sensor, touchscreen) this creates an exceptionally interesting platform to develop applications for. Furthermore, these platforms come complete with their own marketplaces meaning that successful applications can achieve a large market share based largely on their merit. The purpose of this module is to teach the main aspects of programming applications for such devices. Such a course could be taught at an abstract level, independent of the particular type of device in question, but the approach taken on this module is to explore one particular platform (Android), in a hands-on and in-depth manner. This is a popular platform with a range of excellent devices (including low cost ones) from a variety of manufacturers. The platform is well designed and well documented, and has the significant advantage of being Java based, meaning that students can get up to speed relatively quickly and concentrate on the interesting issues involved in developing a high quality app without having to learn a new language at the same time.

View Mobile and Social Application Programming (optional) on our Module Directory

Mathematical Research Techniques Using Matlab (optional)

Mathematics is a tool used in many fields of research, and this module introduces students to techniques and ways of thinking designed to enable them to carry out their own mathematical investigations, or to apply mathematical ideas to an investigation of their own (typically for most students on this module, this will be their Dissertation project). We use the industry standard mathematical software Matlab, although the techniques introduced can also be applied using other software, and we study a range of techniques for numerical computation and processing of data.

View Mathematical Research Techniques Using Matlab (optional) on our Module Directory

Natural Language Engineering (optional)

As humans we are adept in understanding the meaning of texts and conversations. We can also perform tasks such as summarize a set of documents to focus on key information, answer questions based on a text, and when bilingual, translate a text from one language into fluent text in another language. Natural Language Engineering (NLE) aims to create computer programs that perform language tasks with similar proficiency. This course provides a strong foundation to understand the fundamental problems in NLE and also equips students with the practical skills to build small-scale NLE systems. Students are introduced to three core ideas of NLE: a) gaining an understanding the core elements of language--- the structure and grammar of words, sentences and full documents, and how NLE problems are related to defining and learning such structures, b) identify the computational complexity that naturally exists in language tasks and the unique problems that humans easily solve but are incredibly hard for computers to do, and c) gain expertise in developing intelligent computing techniques which can overcome these challenges.

View Natural Language Engineering (optional) on our Module Directory

Data Science and Decision Making (optional)

The aim of this module is to familiarise students with the whole pipeline of processing, analysing, presenting and making decision using data. This module blends data analysis, decision making and visualisation with practical python programming. Students will need a reasonable programming background as they will be expected to develop a complete end-to-end data science application.

View Data Science and Decision Making (optional) on our Module Directory

Neural Networks and Deep Learning (optional)

The aim of this module is to provide students with an understanding of the role of artificial neural networks (ANNs) in computer science and artificial intelligence. This will allow the student to build computers and intelligent machines which are able to have an artificial brain which will allow them to learn and adapt in a human like fashion.

View Neural Networks and Deep Learning (optional) on our Module Directory

Creating and Growing a New Business Venture (optional)

Acquire critical and transferable skills associated with the creation and growth of new business ventures. You focus on the development process from start up to early stage growth of new ventures, new small businesses spin offs from large firms, and especially innovative, technology-based firms. You study opportunity identification, self-efficacy, ideas generation, bricolage and bootstrapping, developing business models, networking, marketing, and finance.

View Creating and Growing a New Business Venture (optional) on our Module Directory

Teaching

  • First-year modules provide a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of the theory, methods and applications of computer science
  • Both core and optional modules in your first year, to enable you to gain either in-depth specialisation or a breadth of understanding
  • Our postgraduates are encouraged to attend conferences and seminars, as well as engage with the wider research community

Assessment

  • First-year modules are assessed on the results of your written examinations, together with continual assessments of your practical work and coursework

Dissertation

Within our School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, your PhD thesis is generally completed within three to four years and has a length of around 80,000 words.

Your PhD is awarded after your successful defence of your thesis in an oral examination, in which you are interviewed about your research by two examiners, at least one of whom is from outside Essex.

Fees and funding

Home/UK fee

£5,360

International fee

£16,230

EU students commencing their course in the 2021-22 academic year will be liable for the International fee.

Fees will increase for each academic year of study.

What's next

Open Days

We hold open days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, graduate employability, student support and more
  • talk to our Fees and Funding team about scholarship opportunities
  • meet our students and staff

If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing tours@essex.ac.uk and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

Applying

You can apply for this postgraduate course online. Before you apply, please check our information about necessary documents that we’ll ask you to provide as part of your application.

We encourage you to make a preliminary enquiry directly to a potential supervisor or the Graduate Administrator within your chosen Department or School. We encourage the consideration of a brief research proposal prior to the submission of a full application.

We aim to respond to applications within four weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

For information on our deadline to apply for this course, please see our ‘how to apply’ information.

Colchester Campus

Visit Colchester Campus

Home to 15,000 students from more than 130 countries, our Colchester Campus is the largest of our three sites, making us one of the most internationally diverse campuses on the planet - we like to think of ourselves as the world in one place.

The Campus is set within 200 acres of beautiful parkland, located two miles from the historic town centre of Colchester – England's oldest recorded town. Our Colchester Campus is also easily reached from London and Stansted Airport in under one hour.

 

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If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.

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At Essex we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive student community. We offer a wide range of support to individuals and groups of student members who may have specific requirements, interests or responsibilities.


Find out more

The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its programme specification is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include, but are not limited to: strikes, other industrial action, staff illness, severe weather, fire, civil commotion, riot, invasion, terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack (whether declared or not), natural disaster, restrictions imposed by government or public authorities, epidemic or pandemic disease, failure of public utilities or transport systems or the withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications.

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