PhD student in Computing Science with focus on Formal Languages in Artificial Intelligence

Updated: 3 months ago

Umeå University is one of Sweden’s largest higher education institutions with over 37,000 students and about 4,700 employees. The University offers a diversity of high-quality education and world-leading research in several fields. Notably, the groundbreaking discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool, which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was made here. At Umeå University, everything is close. Our cohesive campuses make it easy to meet, work together and exchange knowledge, which promotes a dynamic and open culture.

The ongoing societal transformation and large green investments in northern Sweden create enormous opportunities and complex challenges. For Umeå University, conducting research about – and in the middle of – a society in transition is key. We also take pride in delivering education to enable regions to expand quickly and sustainably. In fact, the future is made here.

To our department, characterized by world-leading research in several scientific fields and a multitude of educations ranked highly in international comparison, we now look for a Doctoral student in formal language theory, focusing on applying theoretical computer science to the analysis of the transformer neural network architecture.

The Department of Computing science has been growing rapidly in recent years where focus on an inclusive and bottom-up driven environment are key elements in our sustainable growth. The 50 Doctoral students within the department consists of a diverse group from different nationalities, background and fields. If you work as a Doctoral student with us you receive the benefits of support in career development, networking, administrative and technical support functions along with good employment conditions. See more information at:

Is this interesting for you? Welcome with your application before 2023-06-26.

Project description

We are seeking one PhD student to work in formal language theory, focusing on applying theoretical computer science to the analysis of the transformer neural network architecture.

This project analyses the limits of representability and learnability in transformers, the popular neural network architecture used by many state-of-the-art systems, for example, large language models like ChatGPT and the AI Sweden/RISE/WARA M&L GTP-SW3 model. Transformers are known to be limited, allowing them to be formally analyzed in a principled way. This project leverages recent results, which characterize transformers in terms of Boolean circuits and/or logical descriptions, and aims to apply algebraic decompositions to understand and modify transformer models.

This project is fully funded by WASP, find a short introduction below. The project will be led by Dr. Martin Berglund ( as part of the Foundations of Language Processing Group ( As a PhD student you would work as part of this group, which has a broad cross-disciplinary focus including formal and natural language processing, related machine learning techniques, and a broad mix of theoretical computer science.

Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP) is Sweden’s largest individual research program ever, a major national initiative for strategically motivated basic research, education and faculty recruitment. The program addresses research on artificial intelligence and autonomous systems acting in collaboration with humans, adapting to their environment through sensors, information and knowledge, and forming intelligent systems-of-systems. The vision of WASP is excellent research and competence in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and software for the benefit of Swedish industry. Read more:

The graduate school within WASP is dedicated to provide the skills needed to analyze, develop, and contribute to the interdisciplinary area of artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and software. Through an ambitious program with research visits, partner universities, and visiting lecturers, the graduate school actively supports forming a strong multi-disciplinary and international professional network between PhD-students, researchers and industry. Read more:

Admission requirements

The general admission requirements for doctoral studies are a second- cycle level degree, or completed course requirements of at least 240 ECTS credits, of which at least 60 ECTS credits are at second-cycle level, or have an equivalent education from abroad, or equivalent qualifications. To fulfil the specific entry requirements for doctoral studies in computing science, the applicant is required to have completed at least 90 ECTS credits in computing science. Applicants who otherwise have acquired skills that are deemed equivalent are also eligible.

Candidates are required to have a strong background in formal languages theory and mathematics, and must have a broad computer science skillset, including programming (e.g., in Python, C and/or Java). Experience or knowledge in theoretically characterizing the capabilities of the transformer architecture (e.g., by logic or circuits) and other neural network architectures, in circuit complexity theory, and in finite group theory are each strongly meriting.

Clearly communicating and contextualizing complex ideas and results will be key to this project. As such a very good command of the English language is a requirement, and pedagogical experience is a merit.

Important personal qualities are a philosophical, inquisitive mindset, an ability to work on your own as well as together with others, to be creative, and to have a will to actively develop yourself to become a competent researcher.

About the position

The position provides you with the opportunity to pursue PhD studies in Computing Science for four years, with the goal of achieving the degree of Doctor in Computing Science. While the position is mainly devoted to PhD studies (at least 80% of the time), it may include up to 20% department service (usually teaching). If so, the total time for the position is extended accordingly, resulting in a maximum of five years.

The procedure for recruitment for the position is in accordance with the Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 12, 2§) and the decision regarding the position cannot be appealed.

The expected starting date is 2024-01-01 or as otherwise agreed.


Applications must be submitted electronically using the e-recruitment system of Umeå University.

A complete application should contain the following documents:

  • A cover letter including a description of your research interests, your reasons to apply for the position, and your contact information
  • A curriculum vitae
  • Reprints / copies of completed BSc and/or MSc theses and other relevant publications, if any
  • Copies of degree certificates, including documentation of completed academic courses and obtained grades
  • Documentation and description of other relevant experiences or competences.

The application must be written in English or Swedish. Attached documents must be in pdf format. Applications must be submitted electronically using the e-recruitment system of Umeå University, and be received no later than 2023-06-26.

The Department of Computing Science values gender diversity, and therefore particularly encourages women and those outside the gender binary to apply for the position.

For additional information, please contact Dr. Martin Berglund (

We look forward to receiving your application!

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