Fully-funded PhD scholarship in complex systems and simulation

The School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews has a fully-funded scholarship available working within the Complex and Adaptive Systems Research Group with Prof Simon Dobson and Dr Peter Mann. Applications must be received by 1 March 2023.


A “complex” system is one in which cause and effect can be hard to determine. In an epidemic, for example, it is easy to determine how someone was infected (by one of their social contacts), and we can also predict the overall size of an outbreak from the properties of the contact network — but we may not be able to predict in detail how the epidemic proceeds through the network, or what could be done to counter or steer it. Other examples include studying how rumours grow (and can be countered) on social networks, or to understand the effects of placement and error in sensor-driven systems such as those in climate science and ecology.

We understand relatively little about how things at “in-between” scales affect processes. These “meso-structures” include things like dense clusters of individuals, sparse chains of contacts, networks with core and periphery structures with different properties, and so on.

We are conducting a research programme investigating network meso-structures, with several goals. We want to understand these structures’ effects both analytically and numerically, meaning that we want to develop new frameworks for network process simulation and modelling based on our locally-developed simulation framework, epydemic, and to develop new analytic approaches to the study of these topics based on ideas from simplicial topology and sheaf theory.

Topics of interest

We are interested in a lot of different approaches, including but not limited to:

  • Applications of generating functions to the study of network processes
  • New applications of discrete combinatorial mathematics to complex systems
  • Understanding the effects of fine structure on processes
  • New simulation and numerical analysis techniques for complex systems
  • Epidemic spreading, especially the ways in which disease variants interact and develop through co-infection
  • Complex contagions such as rumour-spreading
  • Generating random networks with specific statistical properties

The scholarship

We have one fully-funded scholarship available, which will be awarded competitively to the best applicant. This scholarship covers all tuition fees and comes with a stipend (currently £17,668 full-time equivalent). Additional scholarships may be available from other sources.

The School welcomes applications from under-represented groups, and is willing to consider part-time and flexible registrations. The successful applicant will however be expected to conduct their research in St Andrews and not fully remotely.

To apply

Informal inquiries can be directed to Simon or Peter. Formal applications can be made through the School’s postgraduate research portal.

The deadline for applications is 1 March 2023.

PhD success for a former graduate

Last month Professor Simon Dobson was invited to be on the PhD examining committee for Indushree Banerjee at TU Delft.

PhD examining committee, paranymphs, and family

She passed with flying colours, for her thesis on ad hoc network protocols for use in disaster recovery situations. The protocol is designed around a very strong model of social justice and equality, working on low-power mobile devices and operating so as to conserve power reserves and device lifetime over the important 48-hour initial period of disaster relief.

Indushree did her MSc in St Andrews ten years ago, which gives us the opportunity for a couple of before-and-after photographs.

Simon and Indushree, MSc graduation 2012 Simon and Indushree, PhD graduation 2022

Neither of them seem to have changed all that much, apart from Simon having gone “Full Gandalf” during lockdown.

Indushree is now doing a postdoc in Delft, focusing on technology applied to  wildlife conservation and ecology. We’re hoping to get her over for a seminar in the new year.

Back to normal

The School will be fully open as normal from around 0800 tomorrow, Thursday 14 February.  We’re running on generator power as a result of the weekend’s fire in Chemistry, but this will be sufficient to run all our lights, alarms, systems, and other equipment. There may need to be some restrictions in 24-hour lab access, but we’re hopeful that this won’t be necessary.

Thank you everyone for your patience and understanding, as well as to all the staff in the School and the wider University who’ve both minimised the disruption and got us back into operation so quickly.


Prof Simon Dobson
Head of School for Computer Science

Reduced service because of fire

As you may be aware, there was a fire over the weekend in the School of Chemistry. While this has not led to any physical damage in Computer Science, it has meant we’ve lost all power and access to our main Jack Cole building.

The School is still open and functioning as normally as possible. Classes are being relocated to other rooms in the University whenever possible. However, staff have no access to their offices (or phones), and we will be cancelling all non-essential meetings or events.

We’re sorry for any inconvenience. We expect to be back running again as normal by the end of the week. I’m happy to (try to) answer any questions you may have.


Prof Simon Dobson
Head of School for Computer Science


A new vision

In an unexpected addition to his skill set the School’s resident gadget expert, Marwan Fayed, has started a sideline in cleaning glasses with his new ultrasonic cleaning-thingy, as found in quality opticians everywhere.

After a successful demonstration on the Head of School’s eyewear a long queue of glasses-wearing computer scientists formed around the School’s coffee area. Who knows how much this will improve our creativity?

Computational Models of Tuberculosis

On 10th February, Michael Pitcher gave a talk on his upcoming work for his PhD.

Michael is a first-year PhD student based in the School of Computer Science, whose research also involves close collaboration with the School of Medicine. Michael’s work involves investigation of the use of computational models to simulate the progression and treatment of tuberculosis within individuals.
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Automated Remote Pulse Oximetry Talk

At the group meeting on 13th January Dr David Harris-Birtill gave a talk about ongoing work creating an automated remote pulse oximeter.

Here’s an abstract about this work which was presented at a recent conference in India:

“A patient’s blood oxygen saturation and heart rate are crucial indicators for monitoring their wellbeing; standard practice is to use a finger clip pulse oximeter, creating practical constraints on when and how these measurements are taken. Using multispectral imaging cameras, oxygen saturation and heart rate can be measured remotely, and without contact sensors. However, these devices are both expensive and lack the ability to accurately locate the body within the image. This project addresses these problems, creating and testing a prototype for a reliable, low cost system using a widely available camera normally used to control a gaming device, providing both colour and co-registered infrared images. The camera images are then used for remote sensing of oxygen saturation and heart rate for up to six people simultaneously.
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Infection Group Journal Club

Michael Pitcher will be presenting to the School of Medicine’s Infection Group next Thursday. The talk will be a Journal Club meeting, where he will be discussing the following article from the Lancet Infectious Diseases:

P. T. Elkington and J. S. Friedland, “Permutations of time and place in tuberculosis,” Lancet Infect. Dis., vol. 15, no. 11, pp. 1357–1360, 2015..

The Personal View piece discusses the need for a new interpretation of the life cycle of Tuberculosis with reference to both the timescales of infection and the localisation within the lung of varying stages of the infection.

The meeting is at 10:00am Thursday 26th January in Seminar Room 1, School of Medicine.

China Scholarship Council and University of St Andrews Scholarships

The School has a number of scholarships available for Chinese students to study for a PhD with us.

Scholarships are available for individuals normally resident in mainland China, intending to return to China at the end of their studies. Scholarships will be awarded on the basis of academic merit, potential to become a leader in your field and potential to become a decision-maker and opinion former within China.

More details can be found here. Please note that the closing data for applications is 30 November 2015.