PhD opportunity: Understanding optimisation processes with biologically-inspired visualisation

Director of Studies: Dr David Walker 

2nd supervisor Dr Alma Rahat 

3rd supervisor Dr Matthew Craven 

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2019.

Project description

Optimisation problems abound in science and industry, and in recent decades a plethora of approaches have arisen to solve them – many of these approaches fall under the umbrella term of evolutionary computation (EC), a branch of artificial intelligence. As well as generating good solutions to optimisation problems, it is important that the processes with which they are generated are understandable by non-expert problem owners, and often this is not the case. Visualisation is a natural approach to addressing this issue, exposing the solutions and mechanisms used to generate them to the end user.

This project will seek to identify methods for visualising solution generation mechanisms used within optimisation algorithms. Well known examples are crossover and mutation used within genetic algorithms, however this work will explore a wider range of evolutionary algorithms (EAs), hyper-heuristics and Bayesian optimisers, visualising the solution mechanisms used therein. Visualisation in these areas to date has mostly considered the visualisation of solution sets, so this work is an exciting opportunity to advance knowledge and practice in this area. As well as developing visualisations, the project will involve validating them through usability studies with real end users.

The student will work in the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics in a highly interdisciplinary environment, working on the interface between computer science and mathematics. Beyond academia the project will involve engaging with industrial optimisation problems, which will enable the student to develop a wide range of skills.


Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in computer science or mathematics, and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification. Experience with software engineering and/or an interest in artificial intelligence would be advantageous.


The studentship is supported for three years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £15,009 per annum.  

Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £12,285 per annum).

How to apply

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr David Walker. However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at the University of Plymouth.

You can apply via the online application form and selecting ‘Apply’.

Please mark it FAO Carole Watson and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics.   Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV, research statement, and 2 academic references.

For more information on the admissions process contact Carole Watson.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 31 May 2019. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview mid June. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 30 June 2019 should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.