Research opportunities at the School of Computing

Talented researchers are being urged to apply for PhD and research associate positions in the School of Computing at Kent.

The School is a welcoming and supportive environment that has been recognised with a Bronze Athena SWAN award. We are a well-balanced, inclusive and diverse community that aims to further enhance our achievements and reputation in teaching, research and innovation.

The School has internationally-recognised research in five broad research groups:

  • Programming Languages and Systems
  • Cyber Security
  • Computational Intelligence
  • Data Science
  • Computing Education

The REF 2014 ranked us in the top quartile of 89 UK Computing departments, coming 22ndfor Research Power and 12th for Research Intensity, and we anticipate improving on this in the next REF. Research income in the school tripled in the year 2015/16. The School currently has some 45 research students across all its research groups.

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Employee award for placement student

Jordan Norris, a Computer Science with a Year in Industry student, has won an employee award for exceptional contribution during his industrial placement.

Jordan is working at Zest The Agency as part of his degree and was given the quarterly “Besty Zesty” award, after being nominated by his colleagues.

Jordan explained; ‘I was presented with the Besty Zesty statue, engraved with “Award Winning Effort” and a cash bonus. When given the award, it was announced that the decision was unanimous and that I received the award for the exceptional effort and contribution I had made toward the recent projects: DS Virgin Racing’s Season 4 updates to their website and Zest The Agency’s own website rebuild – especially noting that the Zest site was coded single-handedly and largely out of office hours.

The Besty Zesty award

‘I had been putting in lots of late nights and long days in order to meet the strict deadlines of such a big client (DS Virgin Racing), so it was warming to be shown such appreciation, and I was proud to have made such a good impression as a relatively new member of the company.’

The School of Computing send over 100 students on placements every year. The School has strong links with industry in Kent, nationally and internationally and has two dedicated placement officers who help students secure roles. The Industrial placement programme is available to all undergraduates and taught Master’s students in the School.

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Research shows how ‘navigational hazards’ in metro maps confuse travellers

Some features in metro maps cause passengers to make substantial mistakes in journey planning, but it may be possible to detect and rectify these with automated software, research being conducted at the University has indicated.

Peter B. Lloyd, a PhD student in the School of Computing, working alongside Dr Peter Rodgers in the same department, and Dr Maxwell J. Roberts, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Essex, is carrying out a series of studies on the New York City subway map. This is sometimes ranked as the most complex metro map in the world, but the results are expected to be applicable to other cities.

The researchers recruited 300 participants online to use an on-screen map to plan a number of journeys between randomly selected pairs of stations. Each journey contained one or more ‘navigational hazard’ such as where one route switched places with another route, merged with another route or trunk, or passed under another trunk.

The initial aim of the study was to determine the effect of commonly used colour-coding schemes on the usability of the map as measured by accuracy and speed of navigation. The three colour-coding schemes studied were: ‘route colouring’ where each end-to-end route is coloured distinctly; ‘trunk colouring’ where routes arecoloured according to the trunks they run along; and the intermediate ‘shade colouring’ (shown below). Participants’ performance when navigating from one station to another was determined by recording how many mistakes they made and how long they took to complete each task.

Their results are consistent with what the researchers predicted: in planning simple journeys with at most one change, the route-coloured map scored the highestusability, while in planning complex journeys with multiple changes, the trunk-coloured map scored the highest usability.

A surprising outcome from the study, though, is the large effect on usability of navigational hazards – specific local features in the map that are frequently misread by passengers. The researchers found that some navigational hazards affect the usability score more than the choice of colour-coding scheme does and that a few specific navigational hazards reverse the general trend of the effect of colour coding.

For example, on routes with slip hazards – where two routes converge as one – route colouring remained the fastest and most accurate means of identifying the correct route. But on routes with jump hazards – where riders have to move from one branch line to another – it was the least effective and trunk colouring was more effective.

The researchers are now carrying out further analyses of the dataset to characterise navigational hazards with a view to developing software for automated detection and correction of those hazards.

The paper, Metro Map Colour-Coding: Effect on Usability in Route Tracing, is being presented at the conference Diagrams2018 in Edinburgh on June 18-22 and presented at the Transit Mapping Symposium, a meeting of academics and industry representatives, on 28-29 June in Montreal, Canada.

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Kent’s brain interface chosen to showcase UK research to China

Brain research within the School of Computing is being used to showcase UK research internationally. The University of Kent is one of six UK universities which will feature in a video and series of features which the British Council will share on Chinese social media channels in its ‘Study UK, Discover your Innovation’ campaign.

Lecturer Caroline Ling Li, PhD student Yuzhou Lin and alumnus and research collaborator Florian Guitton were all filmed in the KMTV studios on the Medway campus. They demonstrated research into the visualisation of brain patterns.

All three are working with an interface that shows changes in emotional states by colour and brightness. Florian said; ‘For example we can see whether people are meditating, agitated, calm or confused by the colours that appear on the screen, regardless of that person’s outward appearance. The application of this goes beyond emotional states and may have an impact on healthcare, for example we may be able to show motor control in the brain which can help with the rehabilitation of amputees.’

Caroline said; ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to show our research to a wider audience, alongside our colleagues from other prestigious UK institutions.’

Background 

The British Council’s 2018 Discover You: Discover Innovation digital campaign will showcase the strength and depth of innovation across UK education institutions. Ten UK institutions will be selected to feature in a short film and three in depth editorial pieces highlighting innovation in the UK. The aim of the campaign is to showcase the cutting edge technology, creativity and entrepreneurship available through a UK education. The film and editorial pieces will be shared across a number of digital and social media channels to a range of Chinese audiences with a total estimated reach of 700,000.

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Kent to lead on £1.4m Government research project on protecting leisure travellers’ data

The University of Kent will lead one of 11 new government research projects, addressing challenges about “Trust, Identity, Privacy and Security in the Digital Economy”.

PRIvacy-aware personal data management and Value Enhancement for Leisure Travellers (PriVELT)”, will be coordinated by the University of Kent as the lead institution.

The project’s overall aim is to develop a digital platform that will empower leisure travellers to better manage the sharing of their personal data. It also aims to  foster new business opportunities for the travel and tourism industry through encouraging better (more transparent and effective) usage of travellers’ data.

The project’s principal investigator Professor Shujun Li said, “I cannot wait to start working on this exciting new project. The rapid development of technologies such as smart phones, mobile payment systems, sharing economy (e.g., Airbnb and Uber) and service robots has been drastically changing the whole travel industry and people’s travel experience, with increasing concerns on privacy protection of travellers’ personal data. By conducting the project, we aim at providing solid evidence on a social-technical framework that will lead to a set of new tools benefiting both travellers and travel service providers. We would also like to engage wider stakeholders, so if you are interested in contributing to the project please feel free to get in touch with us.”

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will develop a user-centric platform based on a framework of privacy-related traveller behaviour. The framework will provide intervention points to effectively nudge travellers to share their personal data more responsibly. The project draws from theories in social sciences, including consumer psychology and behavioural economics, to better explain how consumers make decisions to disclose personal information in exchange for values. The project also considers travellers’ psychological limitation, such as limited understanding of privacy risks, which may induce irrational behaviour in privacy-related decision-making process while traveling.

It will involve a group of researchers working in five academic disciplines (Computer Science, Tourism and Hospitality Management, Psychology, Business, Law) at three UK universities (University of Kent, University of Surrey, and University of Warwick). It has an overall budget of £1.4m, with 80% (£1.1m) funding from EPSRC. It is expected to start in October 2018 and will last for 36 months.

This interdisciplinary and inter-institutional project’s overall lead will be Professor Shujun Li, Director of Kent Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Cyber Security (KirCCS)and a Professor of Cyber Security of University of Kent’s School of Computing. At Kent the project will involve Professor Alex Freitas of the School of Computing, an expert in AI, Dr Lisa Dickson of Kent Law School, an expert of data protection and privacy law, and Dr Mario Weick from the School of Psychology, an expert in social and cognitive psychology, as co-investigators. Co-investigators from other partner institutions include Dr Iis Tussyadiah, Professor Graham Miller, and Professor Annabelle Gawer from the University of Surrey, Professor Jay Bal and Dr Xiao Ma from the University of Warwick.

The project will work closely with a number of unfunded external partners who will contribute to the project in various ways. Such partners include China Travel Service, Crossword Cybersecurity Ltd, Expedia (International), HAT Community Foundation (HCF), International Federation for IT and Travel & Tourism (IFITT), NCC Group, PredicSis, and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

In order to achieve its aim, the project’s research will be interdisciplinary, co-created, theory-informed, evidence-based, user-centric, and real world-facing. The project will combine both social and technical methods to collect and analyse data, integrating focus groups and interviews with relevant stakeholders, a panel survey, lab-based user studies, and field studies with real domestic and international travellers (end users) to identify and apply an array of effective nudging strategies to inform travellers with risks and consequences of sharing personal data while traveling.

Background information

In 2010, the UK government’s National Security Strategy identified cyber as a Tier 1 threat to the UK which led to the creation of the UK National Cyber Security Strategy published in 2011. As a result, from 2011 to 2016, the UK government funded a £860 million National Cyber Security Programme to deliver the strategy’s vision of ‘a vibrant, resilient and secure cyberspace’. This was renewed in November 2016 by another 5-year programme with an increased investment of £1.9 billion until 2021. As an integral part of this national initiative, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council(EPSRC) released two calls to address challenges about “Trust, Identity, Privacy and Security in the Digital Economy”, the first one in 2015 and the second in 2017.

The 2017 call received a total of 31 research proposals and the results of this research call were made public on EPSRC’s website at https://epsrc.ukri.org/newsevents/news/tipsresearchprojects/ in April 2017. A total of 11 projects will be funded over the next 3 years on topics such as personalisation, trusted data sharing, trust management, privacy, and forensics.

 

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‘Above and beyond’ award for Janet Carter

Janet Carter has been presented with a student-nominated award for her commitment to students in the School of Computing. Janet holds multiple roles including Senior Lecturer, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Tutor.

She was surprised with the award at the end of a Staff Student Liaison Committee meeting by student rep Kozhin Fatah, who read out a citation on behalf of the students in the School:

‘You have been awarded for going “above and beyond” expectations in your role. Students have told us how much they appreciate the work you do and so we, Kent Union, wanted to pass on this thanks!

Students have told us:

‘We would like to recognise Janet Carter for always having the students’ interest at heart. She always makes time for her students and goes out of her way to help in any way she can. If any issues are raised with Janet she takes effective and immediate action to help support the students. Thank you for all your support.’

The awards are organised by Kent Union, who received nominations for 143 members of staff across the University for excellent teaching and going ‘above and beyond’.

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Expert Comment: Bank botched upgrade – ‘data breaches should never have happened’

Commenting on the chaos faced by 1.9 million customers of the TSB, cyber security expert, Professor Shujun Li of the University of Kent said: ‘there have been data breaches that should have never happened with any modern e-banking systems.’

‘The ongoing IT system failure of TSB surprised me not because of the failure itself. Today’s IT systems are too complicated and dynamic to be totally bug-free, so what is more important is how risks related to such failures are managed.

‘What also surprised me is the fact that TSB allowed the buggy system to run through their 1.9 million customers without a proper testing of the new system.

‘I was under the impression that TSB got the priority wrong: it seemed that they wanted to offer availability and usability to their customers sooner but forgot about other security requirements an e-banking system must offer.

‘From what has happened, it is clear to me that something seriously went wrong with TSB’s procedures on a number of things, including but not limited to:

  • internal system testing,
  • customer communications,
  • information security management and
  • data protection.

‘While the system failure is more about lack of availability – many customers complained that they could not use the e-banking services or even their debit cards, there are also genuine security risks.

‘Some criminals (including external attackers and malicious insiders) may have grabbed the opportunities to launch spear phishing attacks and have attempted to steal money from some TSB customers’ accounts.

‘The problems with biometrics and one time passwords (the latter won’t be solved until the end of April) also suggested that launching an attack on TSB would be easier now if no other security mechanisms are added.

‘If such attacks did happen or are happening, the chaos we have been observing suggested that TSB will have more difficulties identifying such attacks and providing evidence to support investigations by TSB itself and the law enforcement.

‘In addition, if all the stories from TSB customers we saw on social media and newspapers are true, then there were clearly data breaches, e.g. one TSB customer said he had seen transactions details of somebody else’s accounts, which should have never happened with any modern e-banking systems.

‘While TSB is working hard to fix the system failure, it should also keep its customers and the authorities informed on what went wrong and what will be done to avoid such failures happening again in future.’

Shujun Li, Director of Kent Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Cyber Security (KirCCS), Professor of Cyber Security at the School of Computing, University of Kent.

KirCCS is currently recruiting PhD students to work alongside Professor Shujun Li and other cyber security experts.

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Computer Science student to compete in global competition

Masters student Sybil Mayard, from the School of Computing, has won this year’s University of Kent Big Ideas Competition with her business idea “Codable”. Each year the University selects a student, or team of students, to compete in the Global Entrepreneur Challenge, which takes place at Virginia Tech University in the US.

The University of Kent represents the UK in this prestigious competition which sees students from 15 universities from around the world pitch their business ideas for the chance to win $25,000 and the title of ‘Global Entrepreneurship Champion’.

Sybil’s winning entry, Codable, is a platform for students and employers in the IT industry to share examples of code in an online portfolio. In addition to her all expenses paid trip, Sybil has been awarded full access to the Hub’s Start Up Support Programme & Space (worth £2k) kindly sponsored by Santander Universities.

If you have an innovative business idea that you would like to take forward, then now is your chance to act on it. Bring your ideas to the team at the University’s Hub for Innovation and Enterprise on 01227 824 641 or at unikenthub@kent.ac.uk.

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Student Success Lecturers join the School of Computing

The School of Computing is delighted to have appointed two new lecturers to join the team. Dr Sahar Al-Sudani, based at Medway and Dr Jacqui Chetty, based in Canterbury, will be active members of the Student Success Project, contributing to making research-informed decisions on identifying interventions and activities to narrow the attainment gap within the School.

Sahar Al Sudani is a member of the Computing Education research group and the Data Science group She obtained her Bachelor’s degree and MSc in Computer Science in Iraq, then completed her PhD study in Collaboration with INRIA (the French National Institute for computer science and applied mathematics), one of the top research centres in France in 2006. Her research is mainly on using Semantic Web Technologies in Information Retrieval.

Sahar has over 19 years of experience of teaching in Higher Education. She obtained recognition as a Teaching Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK in 2011. In 2012, she was awarded an MA in Higher Education from the University of Greenwich with research relating to student engagement.

She said, “Working with a diverse body of students over the last 19 years has equipped me with skills and experience of managing and improving non-traditional students’ performance. I am proud of my students who were performing very well and seeing their improvement over the last years gives me confidence and self-satisfaction. I think I am always trying to be as explicit as possible with my students in term of their previous learning experiences and link it to current delivery of the various courses.”

Jacqui Chetty completed her undergraduate degree, masters and PhD at the Rand Afrikaans University and the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Her PhD focused on student success, where she was able to view the nature of the educational environment through a unique lens, to develop a set of educational design principles that provided opportunities for more students to pass.

Jacqui has been employed within higher education for the last 25 years teaching a variety of modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate level and has much experience regarding student success, as she has been involved in this discipline for a number of years. She said, “I have always had a passion for supporting the transformation policies at the universities within South Africa. Assisting the multicultural diverse cohort that often enter tertiary institutions under-prepared has been very rewarding. I had a unique opportunity to develop educational solutions for at-risk students.”

She aims to provide leadership through the development of educational solutions that can improve the retention and academic attainment within the School of Computing. “Engagement of staff as well as students is crucial so I hope to be able to work closely with School members to implement a sustainable solution.”

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Summer school opportunity for computing students

Students from the School of Computing can apply for free places on immersive summer schools in France. The three-week courses, which are taught in English, each explore a different theme in depth.

The topics available this year are:

  • Artificial intelligence and robotics
  • Augmented reality
  • Blockchain
  • Internet of Things
  • Launch your own IT start-up
  • Smart cities
  • Sport and technology
  • Video games

Last year two School of Computing students had a productive summer, learning about the Internet of Things (IoT); Waliid Abdi and Anthony Onwuzurike took part in the summer school at the Epitech campus in Paris.

Waliid said; ‘We had a really interesting time, not only working on an IOT project, but also exploring France. We were learning alongside students from all over the world including Russia and India so learned a lot about their cultures. We had French lessons daily and also had lots of social experiences such as BBQs, a Seine cruise and a visit to Disneyland. If any student is thinking of whether to apply, I would recommend they do!’

There are two free summer school places for Kent students. They are suitable for first and second-year undergraduates in the School of Computing (Canterbury or Medway). Students need to apply by 15 May.

 

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