Fully-funded PhD scholarship in user experience design

Applications are sought from passionate, creative and outgoing students interested in using their skills and interests in tabletop gaming in application to research in computer science, Human Computer Interaction, and User Experience design. This exciting PhD project will see the worlds of TTRPG and computing coincide to produce meaningful interactions to support the design, development and deployment of technology, whether from the software level, or at the pipeline level in support of those who will become developers and designers.

Tabletop Role Playing Games (TTRPG) allow the player to immerse themselves in a world where anything can happen — within the rules. You can become someone new, fight demons, play out exciting and speculative storylines, all with the help of your party. This ability to place yourself in the life of another person (or ethereal being) resonates with principles of User Experience Design (UX) where usability experts strive to understand the impact their application or interface might have on a hypothetical audience. There is also the potential for this technique to be used in computer science education, to enable students to explore real world design and programming processes, and the ethical challenges that ensue with the creation of new software and hardware.

The difficulty in eliciting requirements from users, especially users with complex interaction needs, is well-established in literature (Ferreira et al., 2019; Heumader et al., 2018; Pacheco et al., 2018). The process is one that is primarily an ongoing act of interpretation in which user ‘wants’ are translated from interviews, observation, focus groups and such into actionable ‘needs’ that can then be addressed in further design and development. The literature thus makes a distinction between ‘gathering’ requirements – as in collecting together feedback – versus ‘eliciting’ requirements, which is a a more participatory form of ongoing interpretation. As noted by Pacheco et al. the process is highly contextual and its complexities are influenced by everything from the project, the organisation, the environment, and the prior-experiences and skill-sets of all involved parties. It is also dependent on the requirements elicitation techniques employed.

Given the core importance of the techniques chosen and the impact this choice has on the quality of the final product, it is unsurprising that a rich ecosystem of competing and complementing techniques are regularly employed. These include interviews, workshops, observation, protocols and dialogue, scenarios, and prototyping amongst others. There is a rich potential to explore the parallels and potentials of TTRPG within the context of UX and requirements, its characters, contexts and interactions. – and further, in the education of those that aim to work within these spaces. There is the possibility to create playable, serious, UX worlds with the potential to provide deeper, more insightful output, and make recommendations for the addition of a TTRPG approach to User Experience processes and education.

It is essential that applicants have extensive experience of playing Tabletop Role Playing Games, and preferably have also run games as Dungeon Master or Games Master. Applicants should also have a keen interest in new technology, creative practices, and be capable of running workshops, user studies and liaising with industry contacts. Competency in programming would also be desirable.

How to apply
Informal inquiries can be directed to Dr Miriam Sturdee at ms535@st-andrews.ac.uk. Formal applications can be made through the postgraduate research portal.

The deadline for applications is 1st March 2024.
Informal enquiries can be made to Dr Miriam Sturdee, School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews.

Eligible candidates
Applicants must hold a BSc or MSc in Computer Science or a related discipline.

The University of St Andrews is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all, which is further demonstrated through its working on the Gender and Race Equality Charters and being awarded the Athena SWAN award for women in science, HR Excellence in Research Award and the LGBT Charter.

The University of St Andrews School of Computer Science was awarded the Athena SWAN Silver award for its sustained progression in advancing equality and representation. The School particularly welcomes applications from those suitably qualified from all genders, all races, ethnicities and nationalities, LGBT+, all or no religion, all social class backgrounds, and all family structures. The School values equality and diversity across its workforce and offers a family friendly and supportive environment in which flexible working is encouraged; we strive to hold important meetings/seminars within core hours of 09.30 to 16.30. In addition, a broad variety of measures are currently being introduced to ensure effective career progression for everyone and to eradicate the historical lack of diversity at higher levels.

Funding Notes
This scholarship covers all tuition fees and comes with a stipend (currently £18,622 full-time equivalent). Additional scholarships may be available from other sources.
The School welcomes applications from under-represented groups, and is willing to consider part-time and flexible registrations. The successful applicant will however be expected to conduct their research in St Andrews and not fully remotely.