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Use-based Interfaces for Novel, Productive Email Clients (Advert Reference: SF18/CIS/HARVEY)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Email remains the most frequent form of digital communication in the professional world – the average British worker spends two and half hours per day on email tasks - and is still ubiquitous in the private sphere. Despite this, the interfaces of commonly-used email clients are little changed from those of a decade ago and do not actively support many of the ways people actually use them. Research has shown that there are a number of significant shortcomings of contemporary email clients, including under-developed search systems, which do not exploit many properties of human memory and, therefore, are a common cause of failed and abandoned searches.

The proposed project would first: use both the results of recent existing research on email client use, and additional primary research through focused user studies, to understand use cases that modern email clients fail to helpfully support. This understanding would then be employed to develop novel adaptations to email User Interfaces (UIs) to better support these use cases. Finally, these novel interfaces would be tested to evaluate whether/in which instances the proposed changes reduce users’ workload and improve their perceived experience of the email system.

The inefficiencies of contemporary email clients result in considerable lost revenue for organisations and regular frustration for the people who must use them in the work and private lives. Therefore, improving email clients so less time is spent dealing with messages – leaving more time for productive tasks – has the potential to be beneficial for both the economy and people’s general wellbeing. The project would integrate well with the Computer and Information Sciences department’s existing research interests and expertise and is aligned with the aims of the University’s “Digital Living” research theme.

Please note eligibility requirement:

* Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
* Appropriate IELTS score, if required

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF18/CIS/HARVEY) will not be considered.

Start Date: 1 March 2019 or 1 June 2019 or 1 October 2019

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University hold an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers.

Funding Notes

This is an unfunded research project


Harvey, M., Pointon, M. "Searching on the Go: The Effects of Fragmented Attention on Mobile Web Search Tasks". Proceedings of the 40th Annual ACM SIGIR Conference. Tokyo, Japan. (August 2017)

Harvey, M., Langheinrich, M., Ward, G. "Remembering through lifelogging: a survey of human memory augmentation". Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Elsevier. (2016)

Harvey, M., Elsweiler, D. "Exploring Query Patterns in Email Search". Proceedings of Advances in Information Retrieval, 34th European Conference on IR Research, ECIR 2012. Barcelona, Spain. (April 2012)

Elsweiler, D., Harvey, M., Hacker, M. "Understanding Re-finding Behaviour in Naturalistic Email Interaction Logs". Proceedings of the 34th Annual ACM SIGIR Conference. Beijing, China. (July 2011)

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