Program Structure

The program is offered in 3 tracks, with Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) playing a pivoting role. Each student will split the PhD period between IST and, depending on the track, one of the partner institutions: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), University of Coimbra (UC) and Champalimaud Foundation (CF). This information is summarized in the following table, where the degree awarded in each case is made explicit:

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

The RBCog’s curricular structure will be organized also in three research lines (Neuroimaging, Cognitive robotic systems, Distributed and socially aware robots), and will be composed of a selection of courses offered at each of the participating institutions (IST, EPFL, UC and CF). Each student will be enrolled in existing doctoral programs at IST, EPFL and UC according to the following table:

IST Biomedical Engineering,
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Computational Engineering
UC Electrical and Computer Engineering
EPFL Robotics, Neuroscience, Maths and Physics Schools

The Portuguese degrees have all been accredited by A3ES.

Based on existing agreements and programs , a Joint Doctoral Diploma will be awarded in the IST-EPFL track. Students enrolled in the IST - UC Track will be awarded a dual degree (co-tutelle).

Individual study plans will be designed for each student according to background and research track, in order to provide the required flexibility while complying with the requirements of the three degree granting institutions (IST, EPFL and UC).

The following guidelines will be adopted for the definition of study plans across 4 years:

  • During the application period, each student will identify the supervisors/thesis topics from a list made available in the application portal.
  • A limited number of core courses providing transverse competences will be mandatory and a larger number of optional courses will be selected according to the chosen track and student background, from the existing offer at the participating institutions, including:
    • IST: Computer Vision; Estimation and classification; Statistical learning; Socially Intelligent Agents; Advanced Robotics; Medical imaging; Neuroimaging.
    • UC: Haptic control project; Medical robotics; Systems of cognitive vision.
    • EPFL: Robotics seminars; Autonomous Robots; Machine learning; Fundamentals of bioimaging.
    • CF: Fundamentals of Neuroscience; Computational Neuroscience; Movement in Action; Cognition.
  • Students will also have the opportunity to attend lecture by the Distinguished RBCog Lecturers (see associated partners in the Institutions section).
  • The remaining period of the PhD programme will be dedicated to research and eventually to the preparation of the thesis.

Students will participate in RBCog events, in particular a yearly workshop/retreat to stimulate the exchange of ideas and community building.


Mobility is a mandatory component of RBCog, enabling the students to acquire a global, multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary perspective of research in the RBCog areas as well as to have access to rich and diverse experimental facilities.

To promote the circulation of ideas and tighten the collaboration between the involved research teams, all students will have supervisors from at least two of the participating institutions. Accordingly, a mobility period of at least 6-months and up to 2 years will be part of the student’s doctoral plan.

Enrolled students will spend 50% of their study period at IST and 50% at the partner institution (EPFL, UC or CF). There will be supervisors from both institutions and the viva voce examination will typically be done at the institution where the student performs the most significant part of the experimental work.

Research internship (typically 3-months) will be possible with the associated institutions and should lead to the preparation of a project report. It is worth stressing the role of the RBCog Colab, with the leading academic and industrial associate partners, to extend the international networking, experience and research impact of the students, faculty and the program as a whole (see associated partners in the Institutions section).

To secure the sense of pertaining to the larger RBCog community there will be events such as winter/summer courses and the aforementioned innovation bootcamps and research days, with the involvement of all students enrolled in the different institutions.

Events organized at IST

RBCog students may also participate in two organizations at IST:

Innovation Bootcamp

A 2/3 days intensive training program in entrepreneurship, innovation and communication targeted at PhD students with the goal of promoting the deployment of ideas, concepts and products to the market. It covers the fundamental questions associated with communication outside the academic setting, IPR, and development of spin-offs, including the exchange of experiences with IST alumni, the IST Spin-off community and other entrepreneurs.

PhD Students Research Day

A one day conference-style meeting where all the IST PhD students present and share their latest research results. The goal of this event is to bring this community together, promoting the exchange of ideas between the PhD students and exposing them to opportunities outside their research focus. This day includes poster sessions, oral presentations by the PhD students, a job fair, and two keynote speakers from outside IST that share their personal views on the role and the impact of PhDs in society.