Doing a PhD in Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence and intelligent systems are thought to be the key to the next ‘industrial revolution’. In a data-rich world, developing an artificial intelligence which can learn from its experience and call on human behaviour to make decisions could change the way we live and offer endless economic, social and scientific applications. Nationwide, there is an increasing demand for AI workers, as the world is becoming more reliant on developing technology and automated systems. Consequently, more and more people are pursuing postgraduate research in AI.

What Does a PhD in Artificial Intelligence Focus On?

A PhD in artificial intelligence will give you a deep understanding of AI, allow you to contribute to the development of emerging technology, and equip you with highly applicable technical skills.
For example, engineering applications of artificial intelligence include automation of tasks and parametric modelling. Medical applications include using data-science approaches to identify patterns of illness in clinical data. Financial applications include using machine learning platforms to crunch huge amounts of data and help credit lenders in analysing risk and assess potential borrowers.

Artificial Intelligence PhD programme can focus on:

  • Machine learning
  • Deep learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Deep neural network architecture
  • Human-machine interaction
  • Augmented reality
  • Robotics
  • And countless other areas

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Entry Requirements for A PhD in Artificial Intelligence

The entry requirements for a PhD in AI are typically an upper second-class honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject from an accredited university. Subjects considered relevant to artificial intelligence include computer science, engineering, mathematics, statistics, electronics/electrical engineering or science.

Some research courses also require applicants to possess experience in programming, the desired programming language will be specific to the research project. Academic or work experience in machine learning or data science are typically favourable for applications.

International students will also need to meet several minimum English language requirements set by the university, usually as part of a TOEFL or IELTS exam.

Duration and Programme Types

Like most PhDs, a doctoral programme in Artificial Intelligence typically takes 3-4 years full-time, or 6 years part-time.

Aside from the traditional PhD, there is also the CDT PhD. Many Universities have Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) which are often funded by the UKRI centre. These CDTs can offer the CDT PhD which is a specialised PhD programme in artificial intelligence. The main difference between a standard PhD in artificial intelligence and a CDT PhD in artificial intelligence is that the latter includes additional modules which give candidates training in neuroscience, entrepreneurship, high performance computing, AI ethics and science communication.

Due to the different research areas you can pursue within the artificial intelligence field, the nature of programmes can vary. Some PhD research programmes are computational based and heavily reliant on coding, mathematics and lab work. Other research programmes can be people facing, involving questionnaires, for example to determine public perception on proposed legislation.

Costs and Funding

Annual tuition fees for PhDs in Artificial Intelligence are typically around £4,000 to £5,000 for UK/EU students. Tuition fees for international students are usually much higher, typically around £25,000 per academic year.

A variety of scholarships and funding support options are available for postgraduate study. For Artificial Intelligence in particular, the UKRI and ESPRC offer a number of studentships and CDT opportunities across varies universities. Many universities have research centres which are partnered with UK research councils and offer fully funded programmes. Funding is generally available for UK/EU students. International students are also eligible for some funding opportunities, but these tend to be less widely available.

Available Career Paths in AI

One of the key advantages of Artificial Intelligence is that it has a wide range of applications, and hence there are many career paths available. As computer systems and data have become more integrated in everyday life, the demand for experts in AI has grown rapidly. This high demand has resulted in many high job security and lucrative salaries.

Examples destinations for an AI PhD student include:

Data Analyst – If you are very analytical research student, you may use your artificial intelligence PhD to pursue a career in data science or analysis. Data analysts can be found in engineering, finance, healthcare, and everywhere in between. They are responsible for data crunching and using their skills to present complex information in a clear manner – visually and orally. Typical duties include record management, maintaining automated processes, monitoring analytics and KPIs, improving algorithms, and creating dashboards for clients. The average salary for data analysts in the UK is around £30,000 – £45,000, though this number can increase drastically depending on the sector.


Cyber Security – As cyber-attacks are becoming more commonplace, industries are looking to develop their cyber security, and salaries are seeing a sharp increase accordingly. AI doctorates are well placed for a career in cyber security, and typical career destinations include security analysts, penetration testers, systems engineers, web developers and cybersecurity consultants. In these roles, you will be responsible for protecting IT infrastructure and help develop security systems.

Machine learning – Often those with a PhD in AI become machine learning engineers, responsible for the development of intelligent systems. Machine learning is a subset of AI which focuses on the idea that machines can be programmed to learn from data and experience to improve decision making without human input. Machine learning is perhaps at the forefront of AI research, and there are numerous programmes look to improve its capabilities. This is well suited for those who enjoy the mathematical and programming side of computer science. Typical duties include managing data pipelines, developing algorithms, liaising with stakeholders, analysing datasets, and leading software design. Entry level salaries are around £35,000 and can exceed £150,000 with experience. Deep learning is similar to machine learning, the main difference is that deep learning aims to create artificial ‘neural networks’.

Postgraduate research often leads to an academic career. As an academic you can propose your own research projects based on your interest and supervise students. As a professor you can shape the next generation of AI experts and as a researcher you can make use of a university’s department resources, facilities and industrial ties to work with cutting edge technology and push the boundaries of our knowledge.

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