Postgraduate Research Opportunity

Artificial intelligence for causality with applications in the social and economic sciences

Studentship opportunity


Title: Artificial intelligence for causality with applications in the social and economic sciences

Funding: Home/EU/International fees and a stipend of £14,777 per year (including an AQM enhancement of £3,250 for each PhD year)

Application deadline: 17 February 2020

Start date: 1 October 2020

Based in: Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)


We seek a talented student with a background in computer science, econometrics or statistics. This studentship will be jointly supervised by Professor Clarke and Dr Spyros Samothrakis, and will address the following research areas: 

(i) Causal discovery for high-dimensional feature spaces: Most classic causal discovery methods take the covariate/treatment to be a high-level feature that can be manipulated by direct intervention or policy change. But some data sets only contain information on such low-level features - forming high-dimensional feature spaces - that the idea of manipulating these features is meaningless (e.g. a pixel in a video stream). The aim of this project is to use the latest techniques to identify manipulable high-level features from rich data on low-level features in order to carry out causal analysis using Artificial Intelligence techniques (e.g. reinforcement learning, causal inference) (Bengio et al. 2019).

(ii) Embedding common knowledge in causal effect identification: To understand the effect of a treatment without resorting to direct experiments requires us to incorporate knowledge about the social process; this should in turn allow us to learn a model for the interventional distribution from observational data. In this project, a body of common knowledge related to a topic from, e.g., sociology or economics, will be used to guide the creation of an interventional model using a variety of approaches, e.g. simulating scenarios to integrate with observed data or Bayesian methods.

(iii) Speeding up experimental designs by incorporating observational data: If available, abundant observational data can be used to help speed up the experimental process (e.g.  Zhang 2017, Dudik 2014).  The purpose of this project is to use advances in machine learning, causal inference and logic to identify from observational the further experimental interventions or data collection we need to carry out in order to make inferences about the causal effects of treatments.


  • This studentship is offered as either a 1+3 (masters plus 3 year PhD) or a +3 award (PhD only), based either in ISER or the Institute for Analytics and Data Science, for both International and Home/EU students
  • It may be taken full-time or part-time


  • The studentship award covers your university fees, and provides you with a stipend of £14,777 per year (including an AQM enhancement of £3,250 for each PhD year)
  • You will also be able to apply for small amounts of additional funding via the Research Training Support Grant

How to apply

You will need to apply for a place on the ISER Applied Social and Economic Research by 20 January 2020 and will need to apply for this studentship by submitting directly to Spyros Samothrokis or Paul Clarke by 17 February 2020.

You will be expected to start on or about 1 October 2020.