PhD studentship in "Program Synthesis"

Deadline: 5 January 2024 (or until the position is filled)

One fully funded PhD position to work with Dr Elizabeth Polgreen in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, on program synthesis for automatic code modernization.

Program synthesis is the task of automatically generating code that satisfies some specification. Machine learning techniques such as large language models have the ability to generate huge amounts of code, but they cannot offer any guarantees that the code is correct. On the other hand, formal synthesis techniques like CounterExample Guided Inductive Synthesis (CEGIS) produce code that is guaranteed correct, but simply do not scale well.

The aim of this project is to develop novel program synthesis algorithms that integrate highly scalable machine learning methods with classic formal synthesis methods. The project will apply these algorithms to automatically lifting legacy code to modern programming paradigms.

Candidate’s profile


  • A good Bachelor’s Hons degree (2.1 or above or international equivalent) and/or Master’s degree in a relevant subject (physics, mathematics, engineering, computer science, or related subject)
  • Strong programming skills, preferably in C++ and Python
  • Proficiency in English (both oral and written)
  • Good communication and technical writing skills


  • Comfortable with first-order logic
  • Familiarity with automated verification techniques such as SAT/SMT solvers
  • Understanding of basic principles of machine learning (e.g., those covered by an introductory machine learning course)

Studentship and eligibility

The studentship covers:

  • Full time PhD tuition fees for a student with a Home fee status (£4,712 per annum) or overseas fee status (£29,700 per annum)
  • A tax free stipend of £18,622 per year for 3.5 years
  • Additional programme costs of £1000 per year

Application information

Applicants should apply via the University’s admissions portal (EUCLID) and apply for the following programme Informatics LFCS: Theory and Foundations of Computer Science, Databases, Software and Systems Modelling PhD with a start date of 1st May 2024 or 1st September 2024.

Applicants should state “Program Synthesis” and the research supervisor (Elizabeth Polgreen) in their application and Research Proposal document.

Complete applications submitted by 5th January will receive full consideration; after that date applications will be considered until the position is filled. The anticipated start date is 1st May or 1st September 2024 but later start dates can be considered.

Applicants must submit:

  • All degree transcripts and certificates (and certified translations if applicable)
  • Evidence of English Language capability (where applicable)
  • A short research proposal (max 2 pages)
  • A full CV and cover letter describing your background, suitability for the PhD, and research interests (max 2 pages)
  • Two references (note that it the applicant’s responsibility to ensure reference letters are received before the deadline)

Only complete applications (i.e. those that are not missing the above documentation) will progress forward to Academic Selectors for further consideration.


The School of Informatics is one of the largest in Europe and currently the top Informatics institute in the UK for research power, with 40% of its research outputs considered world-leading (top grade), and almost 50% considered top grade for societal impact. The University of Edinburgh is constantly ranked among the world’s top universities and is a highly international environment with several centres of excellence.



Elizabeth Polgreen