Studentship opportunity

Natural Language Interfaces to Support Career Decision-Making of Young People

This studentship is funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Science

Edinburgh Napier University
Science, Technology and Innovation Studies and Information and Communication Studies
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
28 February 2020, midday

Project details

This doctoral study will be highly innovative, extending the scope of current uses of digital technology for career development.  The practical work centres on development of a dialogue system utilising existing data held by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), for use by young people to engage ‘in conversation’ about their career interests, aspirations, and strengths. It will take the form of an interactive avatar with identifiable human characteristics.

In the initial stages of the research, potential applications of Machine Learning for career decision support will be explored. Thereafter innovative approaches to dialogue management will be investigated, drawing upon existing SDS data. The development of novel natural language generation approaches to career decision support will represent a move away from current static template-based interfaces to one that is more dynamic and suited to meet client needs.

Completion of the study will contribute to the careers domain through the provision of state-of-art models in dialogue management, natural language generation and information representation.

About the institution

The School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, located at the University’s Merchiston campus near the city centre of Edinburgh, is one of the UK’s largest university computing departments. The successful applicant for this studentship will join a thriving and lively research student community of over 50 students. Like the successful applicant, many of these students are conducting doctoral studies related to the University’s ‘Information Society’ research theme. The student recruited will supervised by staff from two research groups with the School of Computing: (1) the Centre for Social Informatics (Professor Hazel Hall), and (2) the Nature-inspired Intelligent Systems (Dr Dimtra Gkatzia). A third supervisor from the Social Sciences Research Group in the School of Applied Sciences completes the team (Dr Pete Robertson). We have a strong track record of supervising SDS collaborative studentships. We have two completions to date (2018 and 2019), and three on-going studentships. Those who have already completed secured employment by the end of their funding period: one in the NHS, and the other with the Scottish Government.


We are interested in receiving applications for the studentship on a full-time or a part-time basis. Your eligibility to apply will depend on your current level of degree qualification, prior training in advanced research methods, and your ability to meet the criteria specified below for the studentship award. If you hold, or are nearing successful completion of, a Masters degree in a social science subject which includes 60 credits of research training, you may be eligible to apply for the fully-funded PhD programme: 3 year full-time; 5 year part-time. If you do not hold a Masters qualification and are not currently working towards one (or the Masters degree that you hold/are working towards does not include 60 credits of research methods training), you will be required to undertake an approved Masters-level research training programme for one year before transferring to this PhD programme. This route is also fully funded, i.e. you will be funded for the approved Masters-level research training programme and for the PhD. (Note that this 1+3 arrangement is the usual route for our SDS-sponsored PhD students.) In addition to the above, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:
  • Hold good first degree (at least 2.1) in Computer Science, Software Engineering, or other relevant subject.
  • Offer experience of Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, or Machine Learning at undergraduate level or above (e.g. you studied the topic(s) as part of a module, or in work for a final year project)
  • Be interested in developing your expertise in social research methods.
  • Demonstrate an interest in the application of computing in the social sciences in general (e.g. in Education, Information Science, Psychology), and to the themes of this studentship in particular.
  • Have excellent communication skills (both oral and written), and be able to communicate with stakeholders from various backgrounds.
A further desirable criterion is a good understanding of maths (algebra, statistics, probabilities, discrete maths).

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme, depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process.  The programme will commence in October 2020.  It includes:
  • An annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2019/20 rate £15,009 full-time)
  • Fees at the standard home rate
Students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Other information

For further information about this studentship, please contact Professor Hazel Hall at  or Dr Dimtra Gkatzia at

How to apply

  1. Please register on GradHub at and complete the equal opportunities data (as a requirement of the application process).
  2. Please complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Your completed application form
  • Your academic transcripts
  • References
  • Your CV
  1. Please submit your application through GradHub via the button below.

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by Monday 1st March. Interviews will take place on Friday 6th March. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within Edinburgh Napier University. Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Prof Hazel Hall