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I have finally found my true calling. I want to work on autonomous underwater vehicles trying to solve different problems from research to oil and gas industry.

The problem is that I am having issues finding the PhD positions for this:

  • If I search for marine sciences, I usually end up reading a PhD position about oceanography related to biology and physics.
  • If I search for computer science PhD, it is usually very broad as it includes creating algorithms for autonomous robots.
  • "PhD in Marine Robotics" does not bring many results.

I specifically want to work on making underwater robots as autonomous as possible.

The only PhD program that I found is in MIT, but the chance of getting in there is quite low. Can anyone hint me on how to search for this specific PhD position? Thank you!

  • Try Universities close to oilfields... – Solar Mike Feb 13 '19 at 11:34
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    Why are you looking to do a PhD? The main development of such robots happens in the industry. – Roland Feb 13 '19 at 12:22
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    You may find a better fit with Ocean or Marine Engineering. E.g. at URI: web.uri.edu/oce – Van Feb 13 '19 at 12:29
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    We mostly give advice on underwater basket weaving. (SCNR) – henning -- reinstate Monica Feb 13 '19 at 15:13
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    I did my PhD in this area with the Dynamical Systems and Ocean Robotics Lab at Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal. They recently started a new joint PhD program with Carnegie Mellon. Also, Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, and the Universitat de Girona, Spain, are great for this, as is NTNU in Trondheim, Norway. They also do it in Edinburgh, Scotland. Make sure to check what your interest is, e.g., mission planning, trajectory optimization, SLAM, communications, etc. – Andreas Häusler Feb 14 '19 at 14:38
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This is a very applied field, I don't think there are PhD programs related to directly to underwater robots. I did my PhD in this exact field :) so most of this is my experience and knowledge of the field.

Generally you shouldn't worry much about what the PhD program says exactly, as this field is very application driven, so Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are usually designed and built in places where they are needed, close to shore or to oil and gas industries. This usually relates to PhD programs in marine or oceanographic sciences, but the most important thing is the advisor, who can guide and support you in your research.

In a University with "application" departments (like marine science) and "basic science" departments (like CS and Engineering), you can do a PhD in Science or Engineering of AUVs while working to solve some problem related to the application side.

A quick way is to go to Universities and Research Centers in Robotics, for which there are many and they usually cover application fields like underwater, space, rescue, etc. For example, Carnegie Mellon Uni has a Robotics PhD program, for which there should be Professors interested in Underwater Robotics. As you mentioned MIT also has a partnership with WHOI and they do a lot of Underwater Robotics.

But as you mentioned, not many Universities touch this subject. In general Research centers (not always affiliated to a University) usually have the lead in this topic.

In Europe, the leader is definitely the University of Girona with its CIRS research center. They design/build AUVs, and develop algorithms for autonomy. The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Bremen branch (where I work) also builds AUVs and algorithms for autonomy.

In the UK there is also the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton which does a lot of Marine Science supported by AUVs, so they also design/build AUVs and related algorithms. In Norway's NTNU there is AMOS.

I know that there are AUV many researchers in Asia, like at the University of Tokyo and the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.

This list is not exhaustive, AUVs are developed all around the world. About PhD positions, that is something that depends on funding, time and topics, so its up to you to search these. Hope this information helps.

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"Autonomous underwater robots" is an application, not a field of study, so you're unlikely to find the specific department you're looking for (and it's a bit of a naive attempt). You will find a variety of (cross-disciplinary) paths to degrees associated with robotics: computer science, electrical engineering; control engineering, mechanical engineers, ....

You haven't provided us with enough information to help us help you figure out where you fit in to this.

You should consider finding a school that has a group working with underwater robots, and a department within the above list (that you are qualified to study in) that has, or is willing to establish, a collaboration with that group.

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Spanish university named Universitat de Girona (UdG) has got a team working on underwater autonomous robots. Not sure if they are currently offering places for Phd students.

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A friend of mine got his PhD in basically "Underwater Autonomous Robots" at Johns Hopkins in this department: https://dscl.lcsr.jhu.edu/ - Dynamical Systems and Control Laboratory, part of a Robotics Lab in the Mechanical Engineering department.

I recommend looking at universities with good Engineering departments and see what research they have done. Often the department's page lists "People", "Faculty", or "Research," -- chase all of those to see what people are working on.

You may also want to track down a single researcher/research-team, and apply for the school where they work. Find some scholarly articles that interest you, and then google the authors, if the blurb doesn't indicate their current affiliation.

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  • Not really -- your friend did his PhD work in Underwater Autonomous Robots, with a mentor in the Dynamical Systems and Control Lab. Presumably, he "got his PhD" in some field that a department that his mentor had an appointment in -- in this case, likely mechanical engineering or computer science. Guaranteed, unless he met all the requirements for that degree, he wouldn't have gotten it. This isn't a small point. Universities can only grant PhD Degrees in the fields that the State approves them for. – Scott Seidman Feb 13 '19 at 15:17
  • Thanks -- I topped out at the Master's level myself (one completed, 2 incomplete), which is much more like a consumer good. From my understanding, however, a lot of PhD choices are driven by mentors and projects, and less by title of degree. – April Salutes Monica C. Feb 13 '19 at 15:49
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    I would say that PhD in X (what the degree might say) is much less relevant than the research you actually did. Your expertise might be slightly different from what your degree says. Also many universities in Europe and the UK produce PhD degrees that have no specialization written in the diploma. – Dr. Snoopy Feb 13 '19 at 17:14
  • @MatiasValdenegro At least some (but probably many) US universities do that too. – Anyon Feb 13 '19 at 18:13

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