Microsoft Research Funded PhD on Conversational User Interfaces for Mental Health

Health self-report or self-monitoring activities, such as mood logging, are a central part of many treatments for mental health problems. It serves to help raise awareness of the person?s own feelings, daily activities and cognitive processes, and provides measures and recordings that offer information for independent action, or consultation with care providers. In addition to mood charting as a standalone activity, or an activity conducted between face-to-face therapy sessions, accurate reporting of mood is integral for wellbeing applications and technologies to function appropriately.

One interesting possibility for supporting such self-disclosure is through conversational user interfaces, allowing users to disclose sensitive information without judgment, facilitating more honest reflection and emotional reaction. Currently there is little understanding about 1) the opportunities and challenges that potential users see in using voice based technology for mood logging; 2) appropriate design parameters (e.g. appropriate dialogue structure, linguistic strategies) and their effect on user engagement; and, critically, 3) how effective this interaction would be in producing honest and frequent reporting in a real world deployment. The PhD will aim to target these three challenge areas, providing a viable alternative to current technology based mood logging practice, supporting regular mood logging.

Supervision Team

The student will be based at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), supervised by Dr. Gavin Doherty (TCD), and co-supervised by Dr. Ben Cowan (UCD). The student will also benefit from supervision and mentorship from Dr. Anja Thieme of Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Dr. Gavin Doherty and his team have done pioneering work in the area of technology in mental health for over 15 years, developing engaging and novel technologies that are used in the real world. This has included the development of the SilverCloud platform, which has been used to deliver human-supported mental health programmes to over 400,000 clients.

Dr. Ben Cowan is an expert in conversational and voice user interfaces, and is founder of the Conversational User Interfaces (CUI) conference series.? He is co-founder of the HCI@UCD research group, has led 11 projects as PI., and is also co-creator of D-REAL, a multi-million Euro Centre for Research Training.

Dr. Anja Thieme is a Senior HCI Researcher in the Healthcare Intelligence group at Microsoft Research Cambridge. Most of her recent research intersects the domains of healthcare, accessibility and AI. Taking a human-centred approach to technology development, she explores how AI and Machine Learning (ML) can effectively be applied in real-world applications to support important health and care needs. A key focus is the design of interpretable and actionable ML insights that can augment human decision making and agency.

Funding Information

The position is funded by Microsoft Research through the EMEA Scholarship program. The PhD studentship funding includes a PhD fees allowance (approx ? 7,300 per annum for three years) and student stipend (?23,000 per annum for three years). An additional budget for research costs & travel costs is also provided.


Candidates must have (or are expected to obtain by September 2020) the equivalent of a Master?s degree in one of the following fields (or related disciplines): Computer science, Interaction Design, Human-Computer Interaction, Natural Language Processing.

Skills & Competencies

Our approach involves building innovative systems which are capable of being used in real world environments. The proposed research will require skills in interaction design, and conversational/voice user interface prototyping and development in particular. Applicants should have a strong interest in human-computer interaction and conversational user interfaces. As the research will involve extensive work with stakeholders through the use of English, as well as the preparation of scientific publications, a high standard of both spoken and written English is required.

About Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin

Founded in 1592, TCD is the oldest university in Ireland and one of the older universities of Western Europe. Trinity is recognised internationally as Ireland’s premier university and is the highest ranked in Ireland in all major rankings. Located in Dublin city centre, the university has 16,293 students and 754 academic staff, and is a member of the League of European Research Universities. The School of Computer Science and includes 59 academic staff, 78 full time research staff and over 100 PhD students. The School is ranked number 1 in Ireland, the top 25 in Europe and top 100 worldwide according to the QS rankings 2018/19. ?

Application Procedure

Candidates should submit a cover letter together with a full curriculum vitae including details of qualifications and evidence of standard of English, and the names and contact details of 2 referees (with email addresses) to:

Name / Title: Dr. Gavin Doherty

Email Address:


Applications will be assessed until the position is filled. The first round of applications will be considered on the 15th of May 2020. Interviews will take place shortly afterwards.

Further Information for CandidatesSchool of Computer Science and Statistics:

Principal Investigator