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Towards user-informed VR design: Investigating the role of user traits on VR presence

   Department of Computer Science

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  Dr Crescent Jicol, Prof Eamonn O'Neill  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project commencing in October 2023.

Overview of the Research:

User presence is instrumental to the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) applications ranging from entertainment to training, learning and rehabilitation. The process by which presence is formed, however, remains largely unexplored. Newer research has begun to systematically investigate user factors that contribute to the formation of presence, such as user emotions and perceived agency (see paper).

However, the way in which users interact with VR content is heavily impacted by their individual characteristics, or personality traits. Still, there is currently no consensus as to which personality traits impact presence and how. This could be in part due to the lack of investigations into those factors that impact presence, but which might themselves be moderated by user traits, such as emotions and agency.

The project thus focuses on systematically investigating how user individual traits influence emotions, agency and presence within a variety of VR environments. The scope is to expand the above-mentioned existing model of VR presence and inform further VR design practices.

We envision that the created model could stand at the basis of a new generation of real-time adaptable VR applications, which will be able to adapt the content presented based on the users’ individual differences and measured emotions through physiological measures. We believe that the future of VR is one that leverages new technologies to make content more accessible, comfortable, and effective for all users. This is especially relevant with the advent of the Metaverse and mass-adoption of VR, which calls for customisable content that would help prevent the onset of mental health problems. Better understanding the user is a crucial step towards creating such content in the future.

Candidates are advised to propose their own research direction, so long as it revolves around VR user presence-formation. This proposal should leverage the candidate’s strengths and be based on experience they have. The successful candidate will work closely with the wider team formed of academic and industry collaborators, spanning the departments of Computer Science and Psychology, as well as the Centre for the Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research and Applications (CAMERA).

Project keywords: virtual reality, user-centred design, presence, user traits.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Crescent Jicol on email address [Email Address Removed].

Formal applications should be submitted via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Computer Science prior to the application deadline of Sunday 22 January 2023.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK and Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Exceptional Overseas students (e.g. with a UK Master’s Distinction or international equivalent and relevant research experience), who are interested in this project, should contact the lead supervisor in the first instance to discuss the possibility of applying for supplementary funding.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Funding Notes

A studentship includes Home tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 per annum, 2022/23 rate) and research/training expenses (£1,000 per annum) for up to 3.5 years. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.


Effects of Emotion and Agency on Presence in Virtual Reality | Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (

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