The Dalhousie Software Engineering Lab (DalSEL) is currently accepting applications for post-docs, PhD students, MSc students and undergraduate student research assistants (USRA). Read on to discover available projects and how to apply. 

Do NOT email me before thoroughly reading this document. I get multiple inquiries from prospective graduate students per day and do not have time to respond to them all.

Table of Contents

Important Deadlines
Current Projects
Why Dalhousie’s Software Engineering Lab?
Apply for a post-doc
Should I do an MSc or PhD?
Apply for a PhD
Apply for Masters
Become an undergraduate research assistant

Important Deadlines

  • Jan 15: MSc and PhD scholarships application deadline
  • Feb 2: Last day to apply for Undergraduate Student Research Award
  • Mar 8: Application deadline for ELAP and Study in Canada exchange programs
  • Apr 1: Application deadline for self-funded MSc (Intl. applicants)
  • Jun 1: Application deadline for self-funded MSc (Domestic applicants)
  • July 1: Deadline for expression of interest in Banting Postdoc Fellowship (Intl. or Domestic)
  • Sept 15: Deadline for expression of interest in NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship: and Marie Curie Global Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Oct 17: Application deadline for NSERC CGS-D (Domestic)
  • Oct 17: Application deadline for NSERC Postdoc Fellowship (Domestic)
  • Nov 15: Deadline for expression of interest in Killam Postdoc Fellowship
  • Dec 1: Application deadline for NSERC CGS-M (Domestic)
  • Dec 15: Application deadline for Killam Postdoc Fellowship (Intl. or Domestic)

Current Projects

Sustainable Software Engineering (Available for Postdoc, PhD, MSc, USRA). The role of software development in sustainability is vastly understudied. Software profoundly affects all three pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Social and Economic. Inversely, the three sustainability pillars apply to every software project. The successful applicants will not only investigate the relationship between software engineering and sustainability but also develop and empirically evaluate tools or practices for improving software project sustainability.

Hybrid Teams and the Future of Work (Available for Postdoc, PhD). Most software companies are either considering a hybrid workforce strategy (employees work partly remotely, partly on-site) or have already adopted one. Refusing to accommodate remote work is crushing retention across the tech sector – the so-called “Great Resignation.” Indeed, hybrid work has many advantages for companies (e.g. lower overhead costs), employees (e.g. improved flexibility for parents and other caregivers) and society (e.g. improving workplace accessibility for people with disabilities). However, remote work undermines teams’ resilience, cohesion, and performance, and causes online-fatigue, poorly regulated workdays, loneliness, and coordination problems. The successful applicants will investigate how organizations can embrace a remote or hybrid workforce while overcoming challenges surrounding team cohesion, resilience, performance, and retention.

Evidence Standards for Software Engineering and Computer Science (Available for Postdoc, PhD, MSc, USRA). Peer review—the foundation of science—is ineffective, unreliable, prejudiced, and opaque. It can only be fixed by transitioning to more structured review processes in which reviewers evaluate papers against specific acceptance criteria tailored to a paper’s individual research methodology (e.g. case study, controlled experiment). The successful applicants will create and evaluate tools to facilitate more structured review. The ideal candidate has good knowledge of web programming (e.g. HTML, CSS, Javascript) and an interest in research methods.

Software Quality Measurement (Available for MSc, USRA) Software engineering professionals and researchers need better measures of code quality. Professionals need better indicators of the effects of their changes on overall system quality. Researchers need to measure code quality as a dependent variable in their studies to assess the effectiveness of their interventions. Current research on code smells is easy for professionals to use but lacks scientific rigour. Code smells are merely patterns that someone thinks may cause problems eventually. Demonstrating that code smells actually cause code quality problems presupposes that we can accurately measure code quality. However, lack of good code quality measures is why we have code smells in the first place. Successful applicants for this project will join a comprehensive effort to improve code quality measurement.

Students in my lab generally do not use machine learning or do software repository mining (try Drs. Tushar Sharma or Masud Rahman), study big data, data science, artificial intelligence (try our AI cluster), or investigate internet of things (try Israat Haque). We do not research scams including cryptocurrency, blockchain, NFTs or web3.0. We also do not use opinion-based pseudoscience like SWEBOK, PMBOK, the SDLC, or the Waterfall model.

DalSEL students use qualitative and quantitate research methods to study the fundamental sociotechnical challenges of our time: How should software professionals figure out what to build? How should they build it? What does success mean? How can we bend software engineering toward the betterment of humanity?

Why Dalhousie’s Software Engineering Lab?

Dalhousie is one of Canada’s 15 research-intensive universities. Here, you will find a supportive, inclusive, multicultural environment for realizing your full potential. Our programs will provide you with a world-class education.

At DalSEL, Postdocs, PhD students, MSc students and undergraduate research assistants benefit from extensive mentoring, a collaborative lab culture, strong industry links and competitive stipends. Those intent on an academic career will receive coaching and help with professional networking. Those intent on an industry career path may have opportunities for internships or close collaboration with industry partners.

Prof. Ralph is among the foremost experts in software engineering research methods and philosophy of science. He is the is editor-in-chief of The Software Engineering Empirical Standards, the comprehensive evidence standards available for any area of computing or engineering research. As such, members of DalSEL enjoy unparalleled coaching in research methodology.

Funding is available to both domestic and international students. Applicants from underrepresented groups will be prioritized.

Halifax, meanwhile, is a picturesque port city with high quality of life. We enjoy a wide variety of restaurants, parks, water sports in summer and snow sports in winter. Halifax is very family-friendly with a great library system, lots of children’s programs, and a plethora of playgrounds and parks. Nova Scotia is home to many beautiful communities, campgrounds, trails, lakes, rivers, lighthouses and opportunities for running, hiking, cycling, ATVing, boating and generally exploring the great outdoors.

Apply for a Post-Doc

You do not get a postdoc position by emailing Prof. Ralph your CV. To get a postdoc position, you have to apply for and receive one of the following:

  • Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship: best salary; extremely competitive; open to Canadian and International Applicants. Contact Prof. Ralph by July 1.
  • NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship: good salary; moderately competitive; Canadian citizens and permanent residents only. Contact Prof. Ralph by September 15.
  • Marie Curie Global Postdoctoral Fellowship: open to nationals or long-term residents of the EU Member States or Horizon Europe Associated Countries. Contact Prof. Ralph by September 15.
  • Mitacs Industrial Postdoc: better salary; easy to get if you have support from an industrial partner. Partners must have offices in Canada, but not necessarily Nova Scotia. Contact Prof. Ralph by October 25.
  • Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship: better salary; very competitive; open to Canadian and International Applicants. Contact Prof. Ralph by November 15.

Joining us as a postdoc has many benefits. Postdocs will receive extensive mentoring and support towards securing a tenure-track position. Postdocs typically have opportunities to mentor graduate students, teach courses (for additional pay), and network with local, national and international businesses. A postdoc position at DalSel will help you solidify your reputation as an outstanding emerging scholar. You’ll have opportunities to improve your research, teaching and grant-writing skills. If you secure a tenure-track position, you can finish your postdoc early. Getting you to a permanent position is the whole point!

To be eligible for a postdoc, you must EITHER have received your PhD within the past 5 years OR be a PhD candidate who is close to defending. Domestic and International applicants are eligible. Applicants must have a strong research record with at least one publication in a top journal or conference such as ICSE, FSE, ASE, ESEM, TSE, TOSEM or EMSE.

If you want to apply for one of the above awards, submit an expression of interest by email to Prof. Ralph. Include your CV, a brief description of the research program you’d like to pursue, and indicate which fellowship you wish to apply for. Applicants whose research program intersects with the opportunities listed above will be preferred.

If you apply for one or more of these awards but are not successful, there may be other opportunities, but you must apply for one of these awards first.

Masters or PhD?

You do NOT need a Master’s degree to begin a PhD at Dalhousie. Rather, you should apply for a PhD if:

  • you love learning
  • you are interested in a career in research or academia
  • professors who know you well think you’re ready for a PhD
  • you want to add to humanity’s cumulative body of knowledge
  • you enjoy writing (there’s a lot of writing in grad school)
  • you have a high level of perseverance and self-efficacy
  • you want to coach others and help them succeed

Bad reasons to enter a PhD program include:

  • you’re about to graduate and don’t know what else to do
  • a PhD sounds easier than getting a job (it’s not)
  • you want to move to another country and think a PhD will facillitate
  • you feel entitled to a PhD
  • someone (e.g. a parent) is pressuring you to earn a PhD

To join my lab as a PhD student, you need:

  • A first class degree (Master’s or bachelor’s)—whatever “first class” means at your university—in computer science, software engineering, computer systems engineering, information systems or a similar discipline.
  • A cumulative GPA equivalent of at least 3.7 out of 4.3 (about 3.4/4, 8.5/10 or 17/20) in your most recent degree.
  • Evidence of research aptitude, such as one or more peer-reviewed publications (or posters or presentations) in good conferences, journals or workshops.
  • One or more indicators of English proficiency:*
    • a degree taught completely in English,
    • IELTS all categories 7 or higher,
    • TOEFL 95 or higher,
    • a similar score in MELAB, CanTest, CAEL, or PTE academic
    • evidence that English is your first language

*If you scored lower than 7 on the IELTS test or equivalent, you may be admitted to the PhD program contingent on passing an EAP Placement Course. The course(s) you will have to complete depend on your English test scores.

Apply for a PhD

I only accept PhD students who receive an external scholarship such as the Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship or Canadian Graduate Scholarship. You have to apply for admission and apply for scholarships separately. Dalhousie does not accept self-funded PhD students unless you are independently wealthy and decline funding on moral grounds.

If you already have funding and are just looking for a supervisor, email me. Otherwise do not email me yet. Keep reading.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents should apply for the Canadian Graduate Scholarship (typically due at the beginning of October). All applicants should apply for a Nova Scotia Graduate scholarship, through the harmonized scholarship process (typically due mid-January). Our guide for PhD applicants explains how to apply for these awards.

Once you have applied through the harmonized scholarship process, go ahead and apply for the program. Remember to select me as your preferred supervisor and explain which project(s) you’re interested in. If you need help with the application, email graduate@cs.dal.ca. Once your complete application has been received, I will be in touch.

Apply for Masters

Self-funded Masters. Most MSc students are self-funded. If you plan to self-fund, apply here as soon as possible. The official deadlines are June 1 for Canadians or April 1 for international students. You don’t have to contact prospective supervisors first. Your application should speak for itself. There is always space in my lab for enthusiastic and diligent self-funded MSc students. You will receive the same mentoring and opportunities as scholarship-funded students. I will try to help you find RA and TA work, but it’s not guaranteed.

Scholarship-funded Masters. Do not email me to ask for a scholarship. That’s not how it works. You apply for scholarships through the harmonized scholarship process (typically due mid-January). Canadian citizens and permanent residents should also apply for the Canadian Graduate Scholarship (typically due at the beginning of December). Most successful applicants have a GPA of at least 3.7/4.3. You can email me your proposal for feedback. Don’t leave it to the last minute.

Becoming an undergrad research assistant

Exceptional undergrads who are currently at Dalhousie and interested in research should apply for an Undergraduate Student Research Award. The deadline is usually around the end of January. Keep an eye out for announcements in December and information sessions in December or January. Both domestic and international students are eligible (domestic USRAs are funded by NSERC; undergraduate USRAs are funded by the Faculty of Computer Science).

The USRA includes a 12-week full-time paid internship in the supervisor’s lab. Preference is given to second- and third-year students. A USRA is a great lead-in to an honours project. There is always room in my lab for USRA recipients. If you are thinking of applying for a USRA, let me know by mid-January and we’ll discuss topics.

Contact Professor Ralph

I receive several queries from perspective graduate students per day and cannot respond to them all.

If you want to apply to the Master’s program and work in my lab, simply apply to the program and list me as a prospective supervisor. We will schedule an interview once I’ve reviewed your complete application.

If you want to apply to the PhD program, write a research proposal, as explained in our guide for PhD applicants. I can’t comment on your application without seeing a specific proposal.

You should email me if:

  • You want to apply for a postdoc position.
  • You already have funding for your program or postdoc and are just looking for a supervisor
  • You are applying for a PhD and want feedback on your two-page proposal
  • You want to apply for the USRA program (current undergraduate students at Dalhousie only)
  • It’s been at least three weeks since you submitted your application and you haven’t heard anything.