PhD scholarship in “Modeling Economic Agents as Deep Reinforcement Learners”, University of Copenhagen (UCPH)
Applications are invited for PhD scholarship at the Department of Economics. Enrolment will be at the Faculty of Social Sciences under Copenhagen Graduate School of Social Sciences.
The position starting date is 1 September 2023 or 1 February 2024.
The standard approach in economics is to assume economic agents behave as if they perfectly solve a mathematical optimization problem derived directly from the environment the agents are assumed to live in and the objectives they are assumed to aim for. Consumption-saving behavior in a simple life-cycle model, for example, follows from an environment in terms of the income and asset return risks households face and objectives in terms of their intertemporal preferences for consumption.
Even for pure technical reasons the assumption of perfect problem solving is problematic because solving the full model then requires solving the optimization problems each agent face. This becomes a central computational bottleneck for model builders, and implies that only rather simple environments are considered. In a consumption-saving model, this implies a danger of over-simplifying the income and return risks households face, such that we get a distorted understanding of consumption-saving behavior in general and the drivers of precautionary saving in particular.
The project’s hypothesis is that modelling economic agents as imperfect problem solvers is the way forward to break the bottleneck. The specific approach in this project will be to endow economic agents with artificial intelligence by assuming they behave as if they solve their mathematical optimization problems imperfectly with deep reinforcement learning. The first part of the project is therefore theoretical and computational, and develops this in detail.
Deep reinforcement algorithms were developed with the prescriptive goal to solve problems »good enough«, but when assuming economic agents behave as if using such algorithms, their descriptive content for observed behavior must also be investigated. The second part of the project is therefore empirical, and will run behavioral experiments to test this.
The project will result in a new framework for »microfounded« macroeconomic models with bounded rational behavior. The abandonment of the strict requirement of perfect problem solving makes it computationally feasible to consider more complex environments with more pervasive heterogeneity than in today’s general equilibrium models. Ultimately, this improves our ability to make counter-factual policy analysis, especially regarding questions where inequality is important. The use of deep reinforcement learning makes it easier to ensure agents are intentional and forward-looking enough than in e.g. agent-based models, where the behavior of agents for a large part is described in terms of exogenous algorithmic rules. This is central for analyzing any economic policy where behavioral patterns might respond endogenously.
You will work together with primary investigator Jeppe Druedahl and post doctoral researcher to be hired. To begin with you will work on a specific sub-project headed by Jeppe Druedahl, but later you will develop your own independent sub-projects.
You will be connected to the Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality, the Center for Computational and the Macroeconomics group. This will provide you with many junior and senior colleagues to discuss both theoretical, empirical and computational aspects of you work. As part of you studies you will also travel internationally to visit other research environments.
You should have some prior experience with computational economics and a strong background in economic theory.
The PhD programme
The PhD programme provides PhD students with strong research training which opens up a window of opportunity to a variety of careers within the private and public sectors. The programme includes the drafting of a PhD thesis, active participation in research networks, PhD courses, teaching, and other forms of knowledge dissemination. The PhD programme will be undertaken as a three year full-time study within the framework of the 5+3 study programme, or a four year full-time study within the framework of the 4+4 study programme.
Duties and Responsibilities
Further information about the PhD study programme is available on the website of Copenhagen Graduate School of Social Sciences:
Under "Legal basis" on the website you will find information about the rules and guidelines for the PhD programme and the Danish Ministerial Order on the PhD programme at the Universities.
Information about the PhD study programme is also available on the PhD website of the Department of Economics:
Applicants should familiarise themselves with the research strategy and the ongoing research at the Department before submitting their application. Further information can be found:
- The University of Copenhagen wishes to reflect the surrounding society, and invites all qualified applicants, regardless of personal background, to apply for the positions.
- In order to be awarded a PhD scholarship the applicant has to enroll as a PhD student at the Faculty of Social Sciences, cf. the rules of the Danish Ministerial order No 1039 of 27 August 2013.
- Please note that normally there is strong competition for these scholarships, and only a few can be awarded each term.
Scholarship in the 5+3 PhD study programme
To enroll in the 5+3 PhD study programme the applicant must have completed a two year MSc degree programme in Economics, or have earned 120 ECTS credits at an equivalent academic level. Applicants can apply before they fulfill this, but the employment cannot start beforehand. Applicants should check the study programmes for more detailed descriptions of the entry requirements. PhD students are paid a salary in accordance with the agreement between the Ministry of Finance and the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (AC). The PhD student has a work obligation of up to 840 hours over the three year period without additional pay. The work obligation can include for instance teaching.
Scholarship in the 4+4 PhD study programme
To enroll in the 4+4 PhD programme the applicant must have 60 ECTS of an MSc degree programme in Economics. Applicants can apply before they fulfill this, but the employment cannot start beforehand. Students who have completed a BSc plus 60 ECTS of an MSc degree programme enrol as PhD students simultaneously with their enrolment in the MSc degree programme. Applicants should check the PhD curriculum for more detailed descriptions of the entry requirements. Until an MSc degree is obtained, the grant is paid partly in the form of up to 48 state education grant portions (in Danish: SU-klip). More specifically the PhD student will be paid two grant portions per month plus salary for work (teaching, presentations etc.) which totals a workload of at least 280 hours. Payment and conditions of employment are carried out in accordance with the agreement between the Ministry of Finance and the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (AC). Upon completion of the MSc degree the student is transferred to the salary-earning part of the PhD studies.
How to apply
Submit a complete application at our online portal. Click on the “Apply now” icon at the bottom of the page to apply. The documents must be in Adobe PDF or Word.
- Project abstract: Please fill in the project abstract in the application form. Must not exceed 1.200 characters.
- Cover Letter: Detailing your motivation and background for applying for the specific PhD project.
- Project description: Describe a research project you would like to work in with-in the broader project. No more than 12.000 keystrokes (not including bibliography).
- Diploma and transcripts of records (BSc and MSc)
- Time schedule
- Budget (if relevant)
- Other information for consideration: E.g. list of publications, documentation of English language qualifications (if any).
Please note that it is only possible to upload one document per attachment category. If more than one document has to be uploaded in the same category, please make sure that they are scanned and collected into one file.
On the website of Copenhagen Graduate School of Social Sciences you will find information about the application process, and enclosures to include with your electronic application:
The recruitment process
Further information on the recruitment process at University of Copenhagen can be found here: https://employment.ku.dk/faculty/recruitment-process/
The following criteria are used when shortlisting candidates for assessment:
1. Research qualifications as reflected in the project proposal.
2. Quality and feasibility of the project.
3. Qualifications and knowledge in relevant Anthropology disciplines.
4. Performance (grades obtained) in graduate and post-graduate studies.
5. Department of Economics can offer adequate supervision for the research topic in question.
Selected applicants are notified of the composition of the assessment committee, and each applicant has the opportunity to comment on the part of the assessment that relates to the applicant him/herself. You can read about the recruitment process here.
An Equal Opportunity Workplace
The University of Copenhagen is committed in its pursuit of academic excellence to equality of opportunity and to creating an inclusive working environment and therefore encourages all qualified candidates to apply, regardless of personal background, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, ethnicity etc. For more on the diverse working place environment at the University and the University’s participation in the HRS4R HR Excellence in Researrch, see https://employment.ku.dk/working-at-ucph/eu-charter-for-researchers/
The University of Copenhagen offers a broad variety of services for international researchers and accompanying families, including support before and during your relocation and career counselling to expat partners. Please find more information about these services as well as information on entering and working in Denmark here: https://ism.ku.dk/
Information about the recruitment process is available from Dorthea Andersen, HR, e-mail: email@example.com, please refer to ID number 211-1335/23-2H #1.
Additional information about the position can be obtained from Associate Professor Jeppe Druedahl, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The closing date for applications is 1 March 2023 at 23:59 (CET).
Applications received after the deadline will not be taken into account.
Part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), and among Europe’s top-ranking universities, the University of Copenhagen promotes research and teaching of the highest international standard. Rich in tradition and modern in outlook, the University gives students and staff the opportunity to cultivate their talent in an ambitious and informal environment. An effective organisation – with good working conditions and a collaborative work culture – creates the ideal framework for a successful academic career.