PhD studentship in extreme citizen science – Human Computer Interaction approaches to design and evaluation of data collection tools

Project Description

Applications are invited for one full-time PhD studentship as part of the European Research Council (ERC) funded project named ECSAnVis (Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis & Visualisation). The studentship is aimed at an HCI researcher with experience or interest in Geographical Information Systems, theories of spatial cognition and the design and development of data collection tools for low-literate users.

Citizen Science is the participation of members of the public in a scientific project, from shaping the question to collecting the data, analysing it and using the knowledge that emerges from it. The challenge of Extreme Citizen Science is to enable any community, regardless of literacy or education, to initiate, run, and use the result of a local citizen science activity, so they can be empowered to address and solve issues that concern them. Over the past 4 years, the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) research group at UCL has demonstrated that non-literate people and those with limited technical literacy can participate in formulating research questions and collecting the data that is important to them. Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation (ECSAnVis) takes the next ambitious step of developing geographical analysis and visualisation tools that can be used, successfully, by people with limited literacy, in a culturally appropriate way.

For more information on ExCiteS and ECSAnVis, please visit here and here.

Studentship Description

The ExCiteS research group has been developing Sapelli since 2012. This is a platform that facilitates data collection across language or literacy barriers through highly configurable icon-driven user interfaces. The successful candidate will join a team of anthropologists, ecologists, geographers, computer scientists and designers and focus on extending the undertaken research work. This will include the design, prototype and testing of Sapelli components that answer the needs and wishes of participants in citizen science projects.

The project will mainly focus on the design and HCI evaluation of data collection interfaces to support users with different literacy levels, experience levels in the use of digital technologies and mobile devices, various needs and requirements in different cultural contexts.

We will specifically focus on running experiments with non-literate people across many European countries as well as non-literate forest communities in central Africa, and we will further seek to enable these vulnerable communities to conduct their own environmental monitoring or mapping. For more information, see papers by Stevens et al. 2014 and Vitos et al. 2017.

Person Specification

The applicants should possess a good honours degree (1st Class or 2:1 minimum) in a relevant discipline such as Geography, Anthropology or Computer Science. The ideal candidate would also hold an MSc in Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, Human Factors, Digital Anthropology or Geographical Information Science and must have proven experience in the use of Human Computer Interaction methods. Applicants will also need to demonstrate they meet UCL’s English language requirements which can be found here.

The ideal candidate should have excellent verbal and written communication skills and should be able to work as part of a team to design, develop and evaluate software prototypes. Preferably, the candidate should have experience in conducting HCI research (i.e. applying for ethical approval, knowledge of various HCI methods, recruiting participants, designing and conducting HCI experiments, analysis of qualitative and quantitative data) and good understanding and experience in paper prototyping. Technical skills to support the development of low fidelity prototypes would also be desired. Finally, since the case studies might involve travelling to various countries including central Africa, the candidate should have a willingness to travel in remote forest locations – French (or any other) language skills would be desirable. The ability to be patient and understanding with local people is essential in this regard.

Training and support will be provided to help the PhD candidate develop any new skills which are required for the successful completion of the research project.

As this is a very interdisciplinary project, candidates with background in some but not all the desired areas are encouraged to apply, or contact us to discuss the post, as time and training to develop the other skills will be provided.


This post is only available for EU and UK nationalities who satisfy the residency rules for Home/EU fee status.

Start Date

November 1st 2018 or as soon as possible thereafter.

Application Procedure

Applicants should send a cover letter, 2-4 page research proposal, examples of academic writing (e.g. BSc or MSc dissertation), code outputs from past work and CV to Michalis Vitos ( and Artemis Skarlatidou ( The cover letter should include a personal statement explaining your interest in citizen science, why you are interested in our project and how you would see your work integrated into ExCiteS’s vision and activities. You are welcome to contact Michalis or Artemis, or other ExCiteS members, with queries about your proposal or for an informal conversation.

Deadline for application: 31st October. Interviews will take place in the last week of October or as soon after that as possible.

Funding Notes

The appointed candidate will receive a tax-free PhD stipend of GBP £22,278 per year for 3 years of PhD studies within which the candidate is expected to submit their PhD thesis (by 31st October 2021). This stipend is significantly higher than an average PhD stipend in the UK because the student must settle Home/EU fees of £5,060 per year from within the stipend payment. Additional funding is available to support conference travel, participation in PhD summer schools, travel and research equipment.

Funding Body: European Research Council (ERC).

Supervisors: Professor Muki Haklay, Dr Artemis Skarlatidou, Dr Michalis Vitos

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