"It's important to be passionate about research, open to new ways of thinking and capable of managing your own project and time.”
Typical users of computer systems have limited understanding, and consequently limited control, over the functionalities that machines can offer. Similarly, machines operate with little or no understanding of the user’s activities and goals and thus are limited in the support they can offer. My PhD investigates the extent to which semantic data can bridge this gap, functioning as a point of contact between humans and machines to enable richer forms of interactions. Such interactions can be seen as a form of human computation, solving problems that require a mix of human actions and machine computation.
One of the most immediate benefits of my research are computer systems that help users navigate instructional web resources (such as how-to articles) and automatically answer complex questions about know-how. A more ambitious goal is to allow users to specify complex machine behaviours through intuitive human-machine interactions that do not require any programming skills.
I became interested in this topic during my MSc in Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, here at Edinburgh University, after my BSc at the University of Turin in Italy. The MSc deepened my knowledge of several research areas and pointed me in the direction of several unanswered research questions.
I joined CISA because it was the best match for my PhD topic and because many academic staff I wanted to work with are members of this institute. I was exposed to many different points of view, as its members are active in many different research fields. This richness of perspectives and expertise is incredibly valuable for research; and in particular for interdisciplinary research. Also, the small size of CISA often results in more support being offered to individual students.
Any advice for other PhD applicants?
I would suggest talking with as many people as possible who are doing or have done a PhD, as PhD experiences can be very different from each other. My own PhD experience has made me more confident in my passion for research, and after completion I plan to pursue a research career.
A solid academic background in related fields is a great starting point for a PhD. But more important, I believe, is being passionate about research, open to new ways of thinking and capable of managing your own project and time