The doctoral programme RBCog – Robotics, Brain and Cognition – was selected for funding by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), which will support ten (10) doctoral grants per annual edition.

The RBCog programme is developed by Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) in cooperation with École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Universidade de Coimbra (UC), Fundação Champalimaud (FC), Instituto de Sistemas e Robótica (ISR) and INESC-ID. Three tracks have been established between the partner institutions as follows (see also the program structure section):

Track Degree Granted
IST – EPFL Joint degree
IST – UC IST, UC (dual degree)

The RBCog-PhD Programme is designed for students who have completed the Master degrees in broad domains of science, engineering and neuroscience, and with a strong motivation to engage in a multidisciplinary, international, Doctoral Programme. The Selection Committee nominated by the Scientific Board will be responsible for pre-selecting the students proposed to the degree granting institutions as PhD students. Selected students accepted by the doctoral schools will be the recipients of the grants funded by FCT. In the sequence of the selection process, the respective grant contracts will be directly signed with FCT.

Concerning the prospective students’ background, three main profiles will be defined:

  • Robotics and Imaging, for students with background in engineering and or sciences.
  • Neuroscience, for students with background in science, engineering or psychology
  • Math or Physics, for students interested in theoretical and computational modelling

In addition to the required background, RBCog is particularly targeted at highly talented students willing to engage in a research-intensive programme and contribute to address some of the most challenging scientific problems of the modern age. Both the dissemination and the selection process will thus value quite highly the research potential of each student, in addition to outstanding previous academic achievements.


The selection of PhD candidates has to comply with the doctorate regulations of the individual partner institutions, particularly those concerning pre-required skills and competences. A requirement will be that the degree of the candidate allows him/her to follow a doctoral degree in the country where he/she got that degree. The type of degree required will depend on the topic. The on-line application will be handled through a web-based platform, developed by IST specifically for International Doctoral Programmes . Candidates will submit a complete file, including diplomas, transcripts of records, letters of motivation/statement of purpose and indicate a minimum of three references who will be contacted independently.

Evidence of proficiency of the English language usage will also be required.

Proposed Themes

The list of themes for the 2015 edition are:

IST Supervisor Partner Supervisor Title
José Santos Victor (IST) Aude Billard (EPFL) Visually guided grasping for humanoid robots
Alexandre Bernardino (IST) Auke Ijspeert (EPFL) Biomimetic models for locomotion
Patricia Figueiredo (IST) Michael Herzog (EPFL) Visual function and neuroimaging biomarkers of aging
Ana Paiva (IST) Pierre Dillenbourg (EPFL) Long-term interaction with a social robot: teaching a robot how to write
Francisco Melo (IST) Aude Billard (EPFL) Learning robot motion strategies for collaborative manipulation with multiple human users
Rodrigo Ventura (IST) Alcherio Martinoli (EPFL) A model predictive approach for robust quadrotor formation control
José Santos-Victor (IST) Rui Costa (CF) Mechanisms for motor learning and action selection in animals and robots
Patrícia Figueiredo (IST) Noam Shemesh (CF) Biophysical modeling of fMRI signals vis-a-vis population-specific neural activity
Pedro Lima (IST) Eric deWit (CF) Large State Space Generalisation Based on Deep Learning Methods for Decision-Making Under Uncertainty in Animals and Robots
Alexandre Bernardino (IST) Jorge Lobo (UC) Models and Applications of Tactile Perception for Robots
Lorenzo Jamone (IST) Francisco Melo (IST) Robot assistants for human experts: learning how to teach

Students may contact the respective supervisors of each theme to request additional information.

Application Process

The application must include a complete file, including the following components:

  • Online application form available online (here)
  • Copy of identification document
  • Dissertation themes, ranked by order of preference
  • CV
  • Diplomas
  • Letters of motivation and statement of purpose
  • Indication of a minimum of three references who will be contacted independently
  • Reference Letters
  • Research plan (optional)
  • Supervisors’ acceptance letter (if applicable)

Applications are submitted through the IST doctoral programs online platform here. Students first provide an email address and follow the online instructions to submit the required documents. For applications to this specific doctoral program, students must choose:

Area: Robotics, Brain and Cognition
Phd Program: Electrical and Computer Engineering
EPFL Phd Programme: Not Applicable or chosen by thesis subject

Students will then be able to sort the available themes according to preference and submit the required documents.

Selection and ranking criteria

A Joint Selection Committee will assess all the applications, based on an evaluation of the candidate’s CV and background, the quality of the institution where the candidate obtained his/her MSc, the motivation letter, the scientific and personal quality of the candidate and his/her research plan, if any. The process involves two main steps:

  • Administrative validation of the application: the mandatory documents, including the signatures required are uploaded in the candidate application.
  • Academic validation: the scientific and academic quality of the candidate is assessed as well as the motivation

The final ranking will be established by a joint selection-committee. The selection criteria are based on the excellence of his/her academic record, motivation and potential to excel in research: the applicant’s academic and scientific curriculum, statement of purpose and letters of reference, quality of previous university/school. Whenever justified, candidates may be invited for an interview, some in person and others by telephone/skype. The selection committee will analyze and evaluate the applications, awarding an overall rating calculated using a weighted average of the partial ratings, using a scale from 1 (minimum) to 5 (maximum), of the following criteria (weighting factors shown in brackets):

  • Academic curriculum vitae (0.4)
  • General curriculum vitae (0.2)
  • Motivation letter (0.2)
  • References (0.2)

Previous work/research experience can also be evaluated. Since most students will be enrolled in co-supervision from more than one institution the selection committee will look for a consensus decision on the selection and ranking of the students. Only highly talented students with a high motivation and research potential will be awarded scholarships.

Notification of candidates

The results of the selection process will be communicated via email to all candidates, and the list of approved applicants will be available in this webpage. In the case of an unfavorable award decision (i.e. for applicants not selected to receive grants), the applicant has a period of 10 days after disclosure, to be heard by the Selection Committee, by request of a preliminary hearing, pursuant to the Portuguese Código do Procedimento Administrativo. The final decision may be appealed to the Board of Directors of the doctoral program, within 15 days after the respective notification.


The grants awarded under this contract will be financed by funds from the State Budget of the Ministry of Education and Science and, when eligible, by funds from the European Social Fund through the Human Potential Operating Program of the Portuguese NSRF 2007-2013, in accordance with the provisions of the Specific Regulation of Intervention Typology 4.1.

Any cases not addressed in the present call are covered by the Regulations for Research Grants of the Foundation for Science and Technology, available here.


The teaching language of the programme will be English since RBCog is designed with a clear international focus and with the objective of contributing to several large international endeavours in this area.

Also, one important component of the programme is the RBCog Colab which will allow students to perform research internships in several key research institutions worldwide and attend lectures given by top specialists in the area.

Courses are taught in English if there are international students in the class. All members of the consortium are highly internationalized and use English as the working language. To foster multiculturalism and global vision, international students will be encouraged to learn the local languages, through Language and Culture courses for international students.