Tell us a bit about yourself - what stage of your PhD are you in and what's your project about?
I am a third year PhD student at the (really cool) Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Games Intelligence (IGGI). Apart from the fancy title, IGGI is quite an unique PhD programme focused on games research between several UK universities. My work makes the most out of it with a very strong collaboration between the University of York and Goldsmiths University of London, researching in the intersection between machine learning (ML), virtual reality (VR) and human-computer interaction (HCI). I developed a machine learning framework for the Unity 3D game engine (thanks to a generous grant from Google) and I am exploring how these algorithms can be used to teach computers to quickly understand more expressive movement interactions from players. You can be surprised how well these algorithms work, and I believe that their potential is tremendous to make players feel more immersed. In addition, IGGI allows me take modules in any of the universities involved, therefore I am attending lectures in Computer Vision and Deep Learning at Queen Mary University of London. I also helped organised academic game conferences both in Spain and in the UK and lectured a little bit during the PhD. There is no room to get bored!
What does a typical day or week look like for you?
Probably not very different to the life of a freelancer. I wake at the time I set myself, workout a bit, have a good breakfast and then head to the office. I love getting to the office everyday because of the very intellectually stimulating environment. Whenever we have a lunch/coffee break the conversations can get fascinating. They also can get quite silly as we get to know each other quite well and love making each other smile whenever we can. As for the work I typically do, I tend to check my emails first thing to get it out of the way (generally with the mail tab open to have an eye on new emails) and then head to complete the daily tasks I set myself in my to do list. They mostly involve reading about study designs, research methods, papers that can inspire my work and programming.
What's one thing that you've enjoyed the most during your PhD?
Definitely, travelling between the different universities involved in the PhD and getting to work with the Computer Science departments of both the University of York and Goldsmiths University of London. The amount of people I met and the very different attitudes towards research life have been quite eye-opening in my opinion. I certainty have a much heavier brain because of all this knowledge exchange!
What's been the most challenging part of it?
Writing! Although I love writing fiction in my spare time, academic writing can be very different to anything else. There are several scientific principles that you need to get used to and reviewers can get very picky with your work. Nevertheless, it is a very valuable skill as it helps you to write in a very unbiased fashion, as opposed to how you would generally do in journalism or storytelling.
Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
My next goal in my career is to enter the R&D department of a games company and bring as much of the intellectual atmosphere and culture from academia as I can. I believe industry can greatly benefit from academic findings and long-term goals. I would love to take part in making the next generation of games technology more immersive and enjoyable.
What's one piece of advice that you'd offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Even though a programme like IGGI can be a lot of fun, filled with social events and people, a PhD is a *one-man army* project. You will need to carry out independent research and motivate your first steps mostly by yourself, your supervisors are only there to advise you, but not to do your work for you. Be aware of this when thinking of pursuing a PhD. And make sure that you are personally interested in the topic you are researching!
What makes your university a good place to study?
The University of York and Goldsmiths University of London complement each other very well. York has extensive expertise in human computer interaction, and the research they do in games is super interesting. Goldsmiths has a really good virtual reality group, and they work on fascinating research. I don’t think I could successfully complete my PhD if not for the joint expertise of both research groups. That is what I believe is the future of research: the joint collaboration of interdisciplinary experts. The atmosphere in York is very different to the atmosphere in London, but each of them have their own charming. Yorkshire is full of nature, history and very exciting opportunities as the North grows. And London, well, is London. You can get lost in the city if you are not careful!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy dancing, learning new languages, reading books or scientific papers (from any discipline) and programming. Whenever I have a bit of free time, I usually challenge myself with a new technology or small project that I would like to engineer. And of course, I love playing VR games! If you haven’t played Robo Recall and you have an Oculus Rift, I don’t know what you are waiting for 😉