Summary

Chatbots are conversational interfaces where the user interacts with an intelligent agent using natural text. Chatbots have become a friendly pervasive technology since there are no cumbersome graphical user interfaces and they utilize natural human-human interactions. Chatbots can also be text based conversations or voice based conversations using Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa devices.

This project aims to explore how a chatbot can be designed and evaluated in order to support conversations for people with mental health and wellbeing concerns. Conversational data will be analysed in order to determine key conversational interaction metrics for example, turn taking in conversations, number of words spoken, complexity of sentence structure etc. Machine learning models will be developed based on this conversational training data and metrics.

This project has a series of funded projects that can support the research, including MENHIR (H2020 funding, a Mental Health Chatbot), Clinical Decision Support and Patient Safety (INTERREG funding), ChatPal (EU NPA funding, a Mental Health Chatbot for rural areas), Verbal Arts (Chatbot for Bibliotherapy, KTP) and Inspire (ESRC funded KTP, Chatbot for mental health support in workplaces).

Related research publications:

Cameron, Gillian, David Cameron, Gavin Megaw, Raymond Bond, Maurice Mulvenna, Siobhan O’Neill, Cherie Armour, and Michael McTear. 2019. “Assessing the Usability of a Chatbot for Mental Health Care.” In Internet Science, edited by Svetlana S Bodrunova, Olessia Koltsova, Asbjørn Følstad, Harry Halpin, Polina Kolozaridi, Leonid Yuldashev, Anna Smoliarova, & Heiko Niedermayer, 121–32.

Cham: Springer International Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-17705-8_11.

Cameron, G., Cameron, D., Megaw, G., Bond, R. R., Mulvenna, M., O'Neill, S., ... McTear, M. (2018). Best practices for designing chatbots in mental healthcare – A case study on iHelpr.

In: Bond, R., Mulvenna, M.D., Wallace, J.G., Black, M., (eds.) (2018) Proceedings of the 32nd International BCS Human Computer Interaction Conference (HCI-2018), BCS Learning & Development Ltd. Swindon, UK, 1509 pp., http://dx.doi.org/10.14236/ewic/HCI2018.129.

Cameron, G., Cameron, D., Megaw, G., Bond, R. R., Mulvenna, M., O'Neill, S., Armour, C., McTear, M. (2018). Back to the Future: Lessons from Knowledge Engineering Methodologies for Chatbot Design and Development,

In: Bond, R., Mulvenna, M.D., Wallace, J.G., Black, M., (eds.) (2018) Proceedings of the 32nd International BCS Human Computer Interaction Conference (HCI-2018), BCS Learning & Development Ltd. Swindon, UK, 1509 pp., http://dx.doi.org/10.14236/ewic/HCI2018.153.

Cameron, G., Cameron, D., Megaw, G., Bond, R., Mulvenna, M., O'Neill, S., Armour, C. and McTear, M., 2017, July. Towards a chatbot for digital counselling. In Proceedings of the 31st British Computer Society Human Computer Interaction Conference (p. 24). BCS Learning & Development Ltd.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Applicants will be shortlisted if they have an average of 75% or greater in a first (honours) degree (or a GPA of 8.75/10). For applicants with a first degree average in the range of 70% to 74% (GPA 3.3): If they are undertaking an Masters, then the average of their first degree marks and their Masters marks will be used for shortlisting.

Funding and eligibility

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

  • The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance of £15,609 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). The scholarship also provides £900 per annum as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,750 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

  • The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance of £15,609 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). The scholarship also provides £900 per annum as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation.
  • To be eligible for the full scholarship, applicants must meet UK residency requirements. This means that you must have been resident in the United Kingdom for the full three year period before the first day of the first academic year of the course.
  • EU nationals who do not meet UK residency are eligible to apply for a fees only award which will cover tuition fees (no maintenance support is provided).
  • Non-EU nationals must be ‘settled’ in the UK by the closing date of the application or have been ordinarily resident in the UK for purposes other than study for the past three years in order to be eligible for an award.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living


The Doctoral College at Ulster University