Guide for prospective applicants

We welcome PhD students, visiting scholars, and researchers. Here are more info & some tips.

Thank you for your interest in joining our research group at the National University of Singapore, and contribute to our research agenda focused on the nexus of novel urban data streams, urban analytics, and geospatial data science, a holistic and unique research agenda in Singapore and Southeast Asia and beyond. We continuously welcome motivated and talented prospective researchers from diverse disciplines and countries, who share our research goal of making cities smarter and more (geo)data-driven.

Interested in joining us? This website contains more information and some tips, including answers to frequently asked questions.

Table of Contents

What are the general requirements and what makes an application excel

This pretty much depends on the nature of the position and career stage, but in general, here are some of the criteria that enter into consideration when assessing applicants, especially those with academic experience, and may help your application stand out:

  • Perceived commitment and fit in our group (e.g. evident from a tailored cover letter with an elaborated narrative that is compatible with our current research agenda and builds upon our recent publications).
  • Compatibility/match of the expertise of the candidate with the research developed in our group and complementarity.
  • The candidate’s ownership in a line of research and evident momentum in output and novelty in research activities so far and their impact (e.g. publications in leading international journals in the last few years, their citations, and impact/relevance in the broad scientific community). The publication record should be commensurate with years of experience (for entry-level researchers such as prospective PhD students, there is no such expectation but having a paper is a plus).
  • Visibility and proactivity in scholarly communication (e.g. having a personal website with up to date information about one’s work and research agenda, as we expect our scientists to be visible, promote the work internationally, and take ownership of their work).
  • Evidence of coding/computational level to support the research and an indication of open science practices (e.g. visible from a developed GitHub repository or open-source package, and availability of reproducible workflows and having released open datasets).
  • Quality of the written English and materials provided, and communication skills.
  • Community engagement and participation in local or international initiatives (e.g. workshops, talks, membership in working groups/societies).
  • Evidence of independence, self-motivation, and proactivity.

Why us

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is ranked consistently as one of the world’s top universities. It aspires to be a vital community of academics, researchers, staff, students and alumni working together in a spirit of innovation and enterprise for a better world.

Singapore is a cosmopolitan English-speaking city-state bridging the East and the West. It is considered as the #1 most competitive country and the safest country in the world, successfully attracting talents from all parts of the globe by offering first-class living and working experience in the heart of Southeast Asia, and a very clean and efficient environment and unparalleled infrastructure. Residents enjoy also great food and weather. Overall, Singapore provides a fulfilling professional and personal experience in a liveable garden city.

New researchers joining our group have an opportunity to work on research initiatives in the domains of the Lab (e.g. urban informatics, digital twins, 3D GIS, street view imagery, crowdsourced data, GeoAI, data quality and harmonisation, and GIScience) as part of existing or upcoming projects, and will have a chance to produce high-impact research. At the same time, researchers have flexibility to explore their interests and establish their agenda. Overall, being part of our Lab presents a rare opportunity in Singapore and this part of Asia to be involved in the entire geospatial ecosystem under the same roof: from standardisation and generation of geoinformation all the way to their utilisation and visualisation, while continuously exploring new frontiers in the field such as interface with AI and domains such as urban planning, mobility, energy, and climate.

We believe that our university, college, and research group provide a motivating, conducive, and flexible environment to explore the candidate’s interests, build relevant skills, and develop world-class research required to attain a PhD degree or further qualifications at a research-intensive university such as NUS. Our productive and collaborative setting enables you to integrate your project with existing ones and leverage on our network and other activities to turbocharge your research.

Our small and friendly Lab is located at SDE4, the first newly-built net-zero energy building in Singapore, and the first university building in the world to be WELL Certified Gold.

Our papers are continuously published in top journals and are impactful across academia, government, and industry.

Our department is consistently ranked among the best in the world. Our university is the first and only one in Asia to be ranked within top 10 universities globally (QS).

On a broader scale, Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing regions in the world, and it offers excellent travel opportunities to have a nice break from research.

But above all, we are a friendly and supportive team of researchers that works on cool stuff together. 😊

Contacting us

You are welcome to contact us. For PhD applications, you can simply apply directly to the school for a PhD with us without getting in touch with us first, but if you wish to do so – you are welcome.

However, before you drop us an email, please familiarise yourself with our work. We make an effort to maintain a comprehensive website with a variety of information (e.g. we have a blog and all our publications are available open access, together with a lot of open data and open-source code) to become acquainted with our work and research agenda, and decide whether it is aligned with your interests and aspirations. If you do so, we will be happy to answer your questions that are not covered by this guide. Please note that while we are grateful for interest, we do not respond to generic applications. At minimum, we expect prospective students to understand what we do and how we do it, e.g. read this page and more about us on our website (here and here) and check some of our papers.

PhD

What is a PhD and what are the expectations

A PhD is a great way to create a new scholar, an exceptional chance for self-development, and an opportunity to contribute to science. It is one of the rare chances nowadays to produce focused, integrated, comprehensive, and cohesive research and conceive a long-term research agenda and set of interests. Above all, it is your journey.

In our group, PhD students have a considerable degree of autonomy, freedom, and collaborative opportunities. Thanks to the PhD programme and collaboration with multiple seasoned researchers in our group and beyond, they also get support in various scientific tasks such as writing, scientific communication, and latest methods. Some of the expectations from PhD researchers during and at the end of their studies are to:

  • Achieve independence and excellence in research.
  • Become an expert in a specialised domain and attain a unique expertise not many others have.
  • Be able to conduct independent research from start to end (from identifying gaps, conceptualisation and planning to execution and communication). In short, become a great scholar.
  • Create new knowledge and introduce a significant scientific novelty accepted by the community and be known for it (primarily through impactful publications in leading outlets).
  • Collaborate and contribute to the scientific community in various ways (i.e. other forms of output such as open data, open-source software, community engagements…).
  • Attain a valuable set of skills, largely domain-agnostic, both hard (e.g. coding, statistics) and soft (e.g. written communication, presenting, project management) that can be applied to a variety of scientific challenges and in various environments.

To succeed, a PhD student ideally should:

  • have ownership of his/her work, have intellectual and scientific curiosity, and be excited and passionate about the topic and field;
  • have initiative and be proactive about a variety of aspects related to the research (e.g. take the lead in identifying gaps, think of new ideas, and follow relevant conferences and journals);
  • continuously develop transferrable skills, be on top of the developments in the field and broader domains, and seek means to contribute and advance knowledge;
  • regularly seek opportunities to promote and apply their research;
  • revisit and adjust plans, and be open to feedback; and
  • be collaborative and establish collaborations, including those beyond disciplinary lines.

How to apply for a PhD

If the above sounds interesting to you, note that we accept new PhD students every academic year. However, research groups at NUS usually do not admit them directly and do not provide stipends on their own. Applications to the PhD programme should be done directly to our College of Design and Engineering, as they are managing the process, and candidates are expected to devise their funding plan (e.g. applying for a scholarship). However, we are happy to provide some help to applicants if requested.

You will find all requirements on the website of the graduate school, such as GRE and English language test requirement, together with the application process and deadlines (there are two intakes each year). Also, the NUS website on graduate admissions is a good starting point to get more information about doing a PhD at our university. Further, you will also find myriads of websites that give a plenty of tips how to polish your materials. But here are some further tips and requirements on our end.

The most important tip is to tailor your application and make it specific to our environment. PhD applications are examined carefully by the department and college. Your application will be given adequate attention, however, generic applications and those without a clear motivation and understanding of the scope of our work, and those that do not demonstrate research affinity, are typically rejected.

Therefore, in your application, you need to be clear with your motivation to spend several years in a PhD programme: why do you want to do a PhD, why are you interested in research and in an academic environment, what makes you a strong candidate, what are your career goals, what are your research interests, what are your relevant skills and accomplishments so far, and why do you want to come specifically to NUS and our department and group. Each of these points should be accompanied with some evidence or motivation.

Prospective candidates who did a bit of research on what we do and those that are able to demonstrate their aptitude for research and motivate their wish to join us in particular have a much better chance getting admitted into the doctoral programme. This is most evident from a tailored and research-focused application pertaining to our Lab, university and Singapore.

When applying for a PhD, you need to prepare your CV. In particular, do highlight your computational and research skills in it, and any publications you may have. PhD applicants are not expected to have a rich publication record and scientific output, but a record of any prior research outputs and activities (code, papers, data, internships, thesis, etc. preferably with evidence such as developed GitHub repositories and materials on a personal website) will be valuable. Some of these are instrumental in proving your technical skills, which are essential in our Lab and the College of Design and Engineering.

The CV needs to be accompanied by:

  • a brief research proposal (2-4 pp.) containing a summary of the topics that you find interesting and a short literature review that covers recent developments in your area of interest, and an idea and plan for your PhD research. You should be able to briefly formulate existing gaps and think about how do you plan to fill them in the next few years. This does not have to be comprehensive and advanced, as during the first months of your PhD you’ll have time to work on all that and sharpen your plans, but you should this document as an opportunity to demonstrate your motivation and research skills. Do remember to include other key components in your statement (a common mistake is to overlook including a literature review, contributions, output plan, and schedule) and avoid making your proposal generic (e.g. forgetting to mention the fit for our group, university, and Singapore, as admission/scholarship committees usually turn down such applications). For example, mention why you want to do a PhD particularly here, how does your expertise match our group, what research (i.e. papers) did attract your interest the most and how would you take it forward, etc. If your proposal gives an impression that it can be submitted also to several other universities, your application will not stand out;
  • examples of writing samples (if you have not written a paper yet, you might want to submit a thesis or individual assignment; avoid group assignments as it is not easy to isolate and ascertain your contribution to it);
  • a few words about one of our publications with brief ideas how would you take these results further and/or how would you use them for your research; and
  • a brief statement how do you envision contributing to our research agenda and group. A PhD is a substantial commitment from both sides for a few years, thus, your fit is no less important than your research finesse.

All the points above should be concise, e.g. a few paragraphs for each aforementioned aspect, so it shouldn’t take much time and effort to stand out. You will find that preparing such documentation is quite beneficial as it will also help you to explore and refine your thoughts and interests.

Finally, we advise to make sure that you write your application in clear and concise English, and that you send your materials in PDF. English is the lingua franca of Singapore, NUS, and academia worldwide, thus, fluency is a must.

We thank you for your interest and time.

Deadlines, supervision, and more information

The application deadlines are usually at the end of the year for the intake in August next year, and in July for the start in January next year. Please start preparing early, and indicate in your application that you would like to be supervised by Dr Filip Biljecki, the PI and PhD supervisor of the group. The supervisor is assigned to the candidate after the successful admission to the PhD programme.

You may also want to read the graduate studies website of either the Department of Architecture (and its FAQ), or the Department of Real Estate (the PI of the Lab is part of both).

After applying

Applications are handed by the administration and graduate admission committee. Do note that we are often not involved in this process nor in admission decisions. Therefore, we are afraid that we do not have an insight in your application status and are not able to keep you updated. However, please rest assured that your application is carefully evaluated and that you will hear back from the university in time.

In the meantime, you are welcome to get in touch with us about other matters.

Funding and scholarships

Funding is a very important aspect of doing a PhD and a common obstacle, and it should be considered as early as possible. While the current reality of academia is that obtaining longterm and full scholarships for a PhD is unfortunately often difficult and highly competitive, securing funding is not impossible. Many of our graduate students and others at our departments have been successful in obtaining it.

An admission to the PhD programme does not imply a scholarship. Most admissions are on a self-funded basis. Some scholarships are awarded at the admission stage, while others may be applied to after the admission.

There are scholarship opportunities to partially or fully fund your PhD journey, and there are external funding options as well. For example, you may want to check the Singapore International Graduate Award – SINGA. Do also check the comprehensive list that we prepared for candidates seeking external funding. For example, if applicable to you, check out the The Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future for a potential scholarship opportunity. There are further opportunities that are not listed on the links above and may be available depending on your particulars such as nationality and residence.

There are also financial aid schemes.

Please note that most external scholarships require a candidate to be admitted to a PhD programme before applying for funding (e.g. providing the letter of acceptance from the university). Thus, we recommend starting as soon as possible. On the other hand, some programmes do not require an admission, rather a letter of interest from a PI or a research group. If there is a match, we’ll be happy to endorse your application.

Good luck!

Visiting scholars

We have hosted many visiting scholars in the past few years, including visiting PhD students and senior researchers (e.g. awardees of postdoc fellowships), from a period anywhere from a few months to one year.

Please prepare a short proposal of the research you plan to conduct in our Lab together with a timeline and other specifics. Feel free to have a look at our website and recent papers, and think of a common overlap or complementary research direction, which will ensure a mutually beneficial research visit. Potential contributions to our research group are also relevant, as visiting fellowships should be a two-way relationship. Every year, we have bandwidth and space to accept only a few visiting researchers. Thus, we prefer to prioritise those who work on research that is closely aligned with our activities, and ensure a complementary fit and contribution to our projects and team (and vice-versa), and at the same time making sure that you get the most of such a visit for your academic trajectory.

The academic expectations are more or less listed above, but most importantly, we expect a committed and full integration in our group and an idea of a project that matches our agenda.

If you are interested in spending some time with us, contact us with the following information and materials: brief proposal (1-2 pages) aligned with our group, CV, desired time period of the stay, and funding scheme.

Unfortunately, NUS does not have funding schemes to support incoming visiting scholars, and most of our visitors have been supported by their home universities, foreign government schemes, or other funding programmes.

Visiting scholars who are students need to be enrolled at NUS as non-graduating students, which will organise their residence permit in Singapore for longer stays.

Research assistants and research fellows (postdocs)

Much of the information on this website may be found of interest as well to those seeking a full-time job (RA, postdocs), but these depend on funded projects. When we have openings, we post them on our website with vacancies, thus, you may want to keep an eye on the website occasionally or follow our social media accounts where we advertise them when they happen. For job opportunities at our university, at other research groups, you may want to check the NUS Careers website.

Postdoctoral research fellows are expected to be moderately independent, and have a demonstrated record of research excellence and a momentum in publishing (i.e. first-author papers in leading venues). In a postdoc job with us, they will spearhead new research initiatives, manage and/or contribute to funding applications, and provide guidance to junior members. Our Lab cultivates an environment that accords a degree of freedom in exploring own research ideas, and fosters careers of postdocs in several ways such as involvements in multiple projects and taking part in strategy development, paving the way for a potential faculty position.

FAQ

Do you accept PhD students?

Yes, we do. For more information, please read the content above.

I see from the website that your department offers only a PhD in Architecture, but I am interested in what you folks do. Is there some other PhD degree you offer?

PhD degrees at NUS are not awarded by research groups, they are managed by upper levels such as the department and graduate school. PhD programmes at NUS follow the nomenclature of the hosting departments, thus, if you pursue a PhD on a topic in this domain (i.e. urban analytics, etc.) and under the supervision of the PI of the group, it will be nominally part of the PhD in Architecture programme, since we are part of the Department of Architecture. The department and its PhD cohort work on a wide array of topics, and the PhD per se is not necessarily squarely related to architecture. In practice, as far as we know, this will not make or break your chances later in your career. Your work, publications, and attained skills matter the most.

Can I do a part-time PhD?

You can (NUS allows it), but we think you shouldn’t. A PhD is a significant undertaking that is time and energy consuming, and it is quite difficult to combine it with a full-time job. In fact, it is challenging even when it is full-time. Thus, we do not accept part-time PhD students. If you want to do a great job, take the full-time route.

How long does it take to finish a PhD?

It takes about four years. The maximum period of candidature is five years. In practice, four years is the minimum time required, and doing a PhD in less than that is possible only in exceptional circumstances.

After I finish a PhD or postdoc at NUS, what are my career opportunities?

That much depends on your profile and experience, but we don’t see these positions constrained to an academic future. Developing expertise in a particular niche and transferrable skills makes you attractive also to government agencies, national institutes, and industry. You could also think about starting a company, NUS offers some support for startups. Our alumni have ended up in decent places after working with us. Further, consulting is also another viable path.

Why should I choose your research group and NUS? Why should I do a PhD or postdoc in Asia?

The section above provides numerous reasons. Singapore and NUS are an excellent place to do a PhD and do research (and in terms of living as well), and are very well recognised around the world. Further, both NUS and Singapore are quite well connected with the rest of Asia and the world. For example, we regularly host people from Europe, USA, China, ASEAN, and other places, allowing our members to develop extensive and diverse connections and get exposed to a variety of latest developments, and our scholars have opportunities to do international visits too. Finally, our group has a global footprint, evidenced by the impact of our publications and invited lectures in several countries worldwide.

I got an offer from NUS but also from another university. What should I do?

Choose what works best for you! However, please note that if you have an offer from a highly ranked university, which is peer or aspirant to ours, you can update your application and increase your chances for a scholarship.

Do I need to have a paper published for a PhD application?

No. A publication record is not a requirement for a PhD. That said, of course, it will be a plus if you have one, as it demonstrates research skills and aptitude, and will make it easier to get into the PhD mode.

Do you care about my GPA?

Unlike many other places, no. We recognise that coursework (bachelor, master) is very different from research (PhD/Postdoc). One can excel in the former without shining in the latter, and vice-versa. A high GPA may help a bit in the application, but it is by no means the main criteria.

How is the working atmosphere in your group and department?

In brief, you work with a supervisor, not under a supervisor. We have a flexible environment with not much hierarchy and formalities. We are a small and friendly group. There is no micromanaging and meetings are conducted depending on the need. There are also lots of collaborative opportunities, many of our publications involve multiple people within the group and the department.

I do not think I am ready yet for a PhD / I plan to apply but have some time and would like to prepare for the PhD – What should I do?

That much depends on your current skillset and what you will be working on during your PhD. One thing you usually cannot go wrong with is enhance your technical skills (e.g. programming in Python, machine learning packages, data visualisation, get acquainted with the most recent developments in AI…), communication (e.g. English oral and writing skills), and start casually following journals in the field and have a cursory look at recent papers. You might also want to consider having a break and enjoying a longer holiday before starting your doctoral programme.

I am not technical and I don’t know how to code. Can I still apply?

We are not computer scientists and we don’t pretend to be. However, our research is technical and many of us are engineers. If you are at the beginner level with technical skills such as programming, doing research here is a great opportunity to advance these skills after some time and patience. However, if you have zero technical experience and affinity, and no computational skills, we do not recommend applying for a PhD in our domain. Please consider other research groups at NUS and our department that may match your profile and aspirations better.

I want to do a PhD, but how can I choose a topic and am I free to do that on my own?

One of the best parts of doing a PhD is to learn how to identify gaps and set a research direction. Barring some circumstances such as funding/sponsoring project constraints, a PhD researcher will determine the topic in collaboration with the supervisor, after several iterations and with a high degree of freedom. We are open to a variety of topics and PhD projects, as long as they make sense, bridge a clear gap in the field, and fit within our group, and as long as they match your profile, strengths, skills, and interests. For visiting scholars, e.g. if they are doing a PhD, we need to make sure what they do here will be compatible with their PhD at their home university, and not deviate too much, so what they do here can directly contribute towards their PhD at their home university.

I was not able to get a scholarship to support my PhD. Can I get an RA job?

When we have RA openings, we post them on our website with vacancies. However, note that doing a PhD without a scholarship can be difficult and stressful because an RA job rarely covers the entire duration of the programme and it is not always perfectly aligned with a PhD project.

Can the university waive the PhD tuition fee if my scholarship funds only a stipend for living and research expenses, and the funding agency is not willing to cover also the tuition fee?

No, NUS does not provide waivers, sorry, we can’t do much about it.

Do I need a master degree to apply for a PhD?

Yes, a masters degree is pretty much a hard requirement. If you have a bachelor degree, and you are interested in a PhD with us, we recommend you getting a masters degree first and build your research skills and experience, and then apply for a PhD. Our two departments (NUS Architecture and NUS Real Estate) offer nice master programmes that you might want to consider in furthering your studies. PhD admission with only a bachelor degree is possible, but only under exceptional circumstances and we don’t see such cases often.

Do I have to take courses during the PhD?

Yes, but the coursework requirement is not as heavy as in some other places such as the USA. You can also request to waive certain courses if you have taken relevant ones at the graduate school level.

I am looking for a postdoc position, but you have no openings at the moment. Can I apply for some fellowship that would fund my postdoc in your group?

Yes. We are happy to endorse candidates who are seeking external funding as long as they are a match (e.g. read the information above to get a better idea about it). Check the comprehensive list that we prepared for candidates seeking external funding.

I got admitted to the PhD programme, but I want to start later. Is it possible to defer the admission?

Usually yes. There are lots of valid reasons for that, e.g. waiting for an external scholarship outcome. Please contact the graduate school if you got admitted but would like to start at the next intake instead.