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School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

Ella Cullen


Ella Cullen is studying a PhD in Computer Science at Queen Mary. Ella's thesis title is 'Facial Expressions of Understanding and Misunderstanding' and her research focuses on how we can improve understanding in conversation, particularly through facial expression analysis.


What made you want to study for a PhD? 

The research itself. There’s a lot still to explore in my chosen research area and it has wide-reaching applications. It feels exciting to be taking part in research that I feel could really make an impact in improving services.  

How would you describe the doctoral experience at Queen Mary? 

The doctoral experience at Queen Mary has surprised me. A lot of people imagine that doing a PhD is mainly working at a desk on your own for three years. However, I’ve experienced the opposite, and I’ve gained so many experiences from this. For example, I’ve presented my research at conferences in different countries, and I’ve met key researchers in the field and there’s a real sense of community within the research group. A PhD is not purely academic, and it also gives you opportunity to build a very wide range of different skills.  

What challenges have you encountered during your PhD? 

I am part of the Cognitive Science research group, which has an inter-disciplinary nature; bringing in linguistics, psychology, computer science. This brings challenges in which you need to quickly learn skills that you did not have before to make the most out of your research. However, although it is a challenge, I also think it one of the most valuable aspects of doing this PhD as it has forced my skillset to grow to multiple fields. 

What has been your most rewarding research experience so far? 

I have just completed the first year of my PhD, but I already feel very fulfilled by what I have accomplished, and that is through extremely supportive and creative supervision. I had the opportunity to present my research at the Society for Text Discourse 2023 Annual Conference in Oslo. I met people whose research I have admired throughout my studies, and even managed to get feedback from them about my own research that I was presenting - which was an extremely valuable experience. 

Any advice for anyone about to start their PhD journey? 

Go for it! Be creative. I think many people suffer from imposter syndrome at times, but really everyone has a slightly unique perspective which is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and a PhD is for learning so don’t feel you need to know everything before you begin your journey. 

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