Part of the world-renowned network of Max Planck research institutes (MPIs), the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems offers doctoral programs in collaboration with top national and international universities and provides a unique research environment encompassing core computer science and interdisciplinary aspects. Admitted students engage in world-class research, benefit from full financial support, and join a vibrant international scientific community.
The Max Planck Institute for Software Systems (MPI-SWS) is part of a network of over 80 institutes run by the Max Planck Society, Germany's premier basic research organization. MPIs have an established record of world-class, foundational research in the sciences, technology, and the humanities.
MPI-SWS offers an internationally renowned research community, providing a broad presence and depth in many different areas of computer science, with a focus on software systems. Specifically, MPI-SWS studies the principles of efficient, dependable, secure, and usable computing systems, as well as their interaction with the physical and social context in which they operate.
MPI-SWS provides outstanding candidates doctoral research opportunities through a graduate program in cooperation with local universities and participation in a joint graduate program with the University of Maryland. Graduate students work as members of one or more of the institute’s research groups, performing internationally leading, highly visible research in their respective specialization fields. Graduate students receive individual training and mentorship from MPI-SWS faculty, preparing them for leadership positions in academic or industrial research.
The MPI-SWS graduate program allows students to experience and discover a variety of topics in computer science before settling on their focused area of dissertation. MPI-SWS encourages collaborative and interdisciplinary research with groups from within and from outside of the institute, and provides students the opportunity to regularly interact with many short- and long-term visiting researchers from around the world.
All admitted students are offered full financial support. The institute language is English.
Based in Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken, in the tri-border area of Germany, France, and Luxembourg at the heart of Europe, the institute is located in a stimulating environment with several strong research organizations providing the full breadth of computer science: Saarland University; the Technical University of Kaiserslautern; the Max Planck Institute for Informatics (MPI-INF); the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability (CISPA); and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), among others.
The Max Planck Institute for Software Systems (MPI-SWS) studies the principles of efficient, dependable, secure, and usable computing systems, as well as their interaction with the physical and social context in which they operate. The institute’s research spans the following five broad themes.
Algorithms, Theory & Logic
Algorithms, theory, and logic research at MPI explores the mathematical underpinnings of computer science and the application of foundational ideas to concrete applications in many different areas of computer science. Our research spans algorithms, decidability, and complexity, as well as logic, semantics, and proof theory.
Programming Languages & Verification
Programming languages and verification research at MPI focuses on the principles, design and implementation of programming languages and on foundational techniques and practical tools for analyzing, testing, and verifying programs against their correctness specifications. Recent research has developed techniques for verifying compilers and other critical software, and tools for testing and/or verifying concurrent systems.
Cyber-physical systems research at MPI-SWS explores the design, implementation and analysis of computing systems that interact with the physical world. Such systems are subject to stringent timing and resource constraints as well as uncertainties in the operating environment. Nevertheless, they must operate safely and reliably. Recent projects include model-based synthesis of control systems, testing and verification of timed and hybrid systems, formal verification of real-time locking protocols, and implementation and evaluation of multicore real-time schedulers.
Distributed, Networked & Mobile Systems
Distributed, networked, and mobile systems research at MPI-SWS focuses on the design, implementation, and evaluation of distributed and mobile software systems that are dependable and highly available. Recent research has focused on building systems resistant to arbitrary faults, scalable eventuality-consistent services, and systems with strong data confidentiality and integrity guarantees, as well as privacy-preserving and secure platforms for mobile social applications.
Security & Privacy
Security and privacy research at MPI-SWS focuses on foundational and practical aspects of security, trust, privacy and accountability in computer systems. Recent research has focused on Web browser security, privacy-preserving Web analytics and advertising systems, trustworthy storage, anonymity networks, formal analysis of security properties, privacy-preserving mobile applications, privacy and trust in online social networks, and accountability in distributed systems.
Social & Information Systems
Social computing research at MPI-SWS focuses on developing computational methods to process and analyze large-scale social data, aiming to uncover complex social behaviors and to inform the design of human-centered and socially-aware systems. Recent research has focused on understanding the structure of social networks, learning how information, ideas, and influence are disseminated over social links, providing methods for finding relevant and trustworthy sources of information in crowds, and developing frameworks for tracking the relation between a user and its community.
MPI-SWS offers a graduate program in cooperation with local universities and participates in a joint graduate program with the University of Maryland.
The Max Planck Doctoral Program in Software Systems, in collaboration with Saarland University and the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, allows students to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science. Admitted students have the opportunity to explore different areas of research before settling on their dissertation project. Admitted students can work on projects in any area covered by MPI-SWS faculty.
The Maryland Max Planck Joint Program offers students a unique opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. degree under the supervision of faculty from the University of Maryland in the U.S. and a Max Planck Institute in Germany. Students are co-advised by one faculty member at each institution, spend time in both countries, and perform collaborative research that takes advantage of the expertise, resources, and culture at both institutions. Students can work in any area covered by the Maryland faculty and any Max Planck Institute.
Both programs are divided into a preparatory and a dissertation phase.
The preparatory phase generally lasts 6 to 18 months and involves taking a broad range of graduate coursework as well as engaging in research projects in preparation for your doctoral thesis. It gives you the chance to get acquainted with the research groups at MPI-SWS and both deepen and broaden your computer science background.
Course requirements: Students take courses to complement their existing knowledge of core computer science areas. Depending on a student's prior academic background, course requirements may be partially or completely waived at the time of admission. Students also have the opportunity to take specialized courses focusing on the development of scientific writing and presentation skills.
Research from day one: In addition to taking courses, students conduct research from day one. Each incoming student is assigned an initial faculty research adviser, but also has the opportunity to explore additional research areas through projects with other faculty before deciding on their doctoral advisor.
Qualifying Exam: Based on their initial research, students are required to pass a research qualifying exam, which evaluates the student's ability to successfully obtain a doctoral degree.
The dissertation phase normally lasts about 3 years. During this time, students work on their doctoral research project and prepare their PhD thesis.
Area Exam: The area exam is an oral exam that assesses a student's understanding of his/her broad area of research. It tests the student's knowledge of the area's fundamental problems, techniques and methods, and the student's ability to apply this knowledge to new problems. The exam is taken after the research qualifying exam and before the thesis proposal.
Teaching Requirements: Teaching is both an important part of the academic training of a doctoral student and a uniquely effective learning experience. Students are expected to serve as teaching assistants for two courses at any point in the program, but before the thesis proposal.
Thesis Proposal: Within three years of the qualifying exam, students are expected to form a doctoral thesis committee, prepare a thesis proposal and have it approved by the committee. The student lays out a path to the completion of his/her thesis, which is subject to the approval of the thesis committee.
Thesis and Thesis Defense: Student end their doctoral research by submitting a thesis and taking a public oral thesis defense exam consisting of a talk by the student followed by questioning by the thesis committee.
There are several ways to start your graduate studies at MPI-SWS. If you are interested in applying for the Maryland Max Planck Joint Program, which has a different admission process, please visit the program's homepage. The primary MPI-SWS admissions process is through the MPI-SWS application portal.
Requirements of the Max Planck Doctoral Program in Software Systems
Admission to our graduate program is highly competitive. A Bachelor's degree or a Master's degree from a top-tier institution of higher education is required. Applicants should have an outstanding academic record (at or near the top of their class), proficiency in spoken and written English, and strong letters of recommendation from their past academic advisers or work supervisors.
Applications are accepted only through the MPI-SWS online application system. You will need to upload PDF versions of the following documents:
statement of purpose
contact information of two references providing recommendations
English test scores (TOEFL, IELTS or Cambridge Test) are strongly encouraged unless you are a native speaker
GRE score (optional)
If you have a specific research interest, you may optionally indicate faculty members you would like to work with in your application.
You need to mark you application as complete before MPI-SWS can process it. Note that once it is marked complete, you will not be able to change it further.
Applications are accepted throughout the year. MPI-SWS makes decisions four times a year, based on applications received until:
Once your application is submitted, it will stay live for approximately four months. Note that we do not request references automatically on application submission. Rather, we review all applications and request references for those applicants that pass a first round of review. The last stage of our admission process typically involves a phone interview.
Excellence in computer science does not know distinctions: MPI-SWS welcomes and encourages applications by minorities, women, and candidates with physical disabilities.
Max Planck Institute for Software Systems (MPI-SWS)
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