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PhD Opportunities

Using stories to evaluate the limits of generative AI and large language models, and to promote the continued value of human-interference

School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science | PHD

Applications are now CLOSED
Reference Number
Application Deadline
31 January 2024
Start Date
1 October 2024


The project aims to: 1) use Cognitive Stylistics and short fictional stories to evaluate the limits of generative AI and their Large Language Models (LLMs); and 2) use the results to raise awareness, amongst the general public and specific professions (e.g., writers, software engineers), of the power and limits of generative AI, and to promote the continued value of human inference.

Programme of work: Essentially, we want to gather and construct a corpus of appropriate short fiction, model the fiction for its cognitive-stylistic elements, investigate interpretations of that fiction (e.g., student writers, professional writers, readers), investigate generative AI’s responses to that fiction, compare and interpret the results, and then disseminate them. We use stories because they are meaningful to people and therefore provide a directly understandable method of evaluation and demonstration of the performance of generative AI and LLMs. Also, humans naturally think in terms of stories which contrast with computers that process data (e.g., Schank’s work). We use already-deployed generative AIs and LLMs, rather than seek to build new ones, precisely because the technology is already in everyday use. We intend to ‘open source’ our datasets, tests and results to support open science.

Cross-disciplinarity: Jane Lugea will lead on the cognitive stylistic aspects of the research. Austen Rainer will lead on the empirical evaluation of the generative AIs.

Illustrative example: As an example of the challenges to explore, consider the following flash fiction:
“When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.”

This story, entitled The Dinosaur, was originally written in the Spanish, in 1959, by Augusto Monterroso. Cognitive Stylistics investigates how the text and the reader’s mind (in contrast to a generative AI founded on a LLM) work together to create meaning. Although the textual input of the example is minimal (nine words), there are enough world-building elements to activate the mind. For example, by using a definite determiner “the dinosaur”, the reader is assumed to know already of the dinosaur’s existence. Other textual features point to the characters (“he”) and setting (“there”) in the story, but remain vague enough to allow multiple interpretations, multiple text-worlds, and therefore multiple possible stories.

In the Spanish, the story begins, “Cuando despertó", which means "When s/he woke up", i.e., the gender of the character is not specified. English translators – and therefore the translations likely more dominant in English-based corpora used in Westernised LLMs – are compelled to choose between a 'he' or a 'she' (a ‘they’ would confuse the number of people who woke up). This reveals one way in which the universe of stories that might be meaningfully created from the one-sentence flash fiction is reduced to a – in this case, male – of possible stories. We want to explore how world-building elements, and the configuration of such elements, in a text creates a space for possible stories, and then compare how humans perform in that space and how generative AIs perform.

Other relevant information

We have growing access to professional writers in Northern Ireland and the wider UK through the School of EAL, Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, the UK’s Royal Literary Fund (RLF) and a RLF Fellow (Bernie McGill) currently assigned to the School of EEECS.

We have approached the RLF to explore how they might contribute to this project, e.g., the RLF have a cohort of about 60 RLF Fellows, all established professional writers.

We expect to engage with students undertaking Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in writing at QUB.
Jane and Austen are both members of the Steering Group for the Digital Scholarships Hub at QUB. This provides a network to both draw on expertise and seek participants for studies.

Dr Catherine Menon (University of Hertfordshire) and Austen Rainer have been collaborating on the relationship of story thinking and computational thinking for the last four years, with co-authored publications, workshops and grant applications (one with Jane).

Indicative sources of short fiction are:
Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. This book comprises almost one hundred different versions of the same short story, all told in different styles. In a study, this book would help to ‘control’ for content, allowing variation in style.

David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales from The Afterlife. Each story is short (two to three pages in length), thought-provoking.

Félix Fénéon Novels in Three Lines. The book contains over a thousand three-line entries that appeared in the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906. This provides a source for selecting flash fiction. (It is also, unfortunately, another example of where one person – the male partner – took credit for another’s work – their female partner.)

Funding Information

For more information about the LINAS Doctoral Training Programme, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, please visit:

Deadline for applications:
31 January 2024 for a September 2024 start (Your application must be clearly marked as LINASSEP24 to ensure consideration for funding.)

Project Summary

Prof Austen Rainer

Research Profile

Mode of Study

Full-time: 3 Years

Funding Body
Apply now Register your interest

Computer Science overview

The School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EEECS) aims to enhance the way we use technology in communication, data science, computing systems, cyber security, power electronics, intelligent control, and many related areas.

You’ll be part of a dynamic doctoral research environment and will study alongside students from over 40 countries world-wide.

We supervise students undertaking research in key areas of computer science, including:

- Artificial Intelligence
- Cybersecurity
- Computing Systems
- Power Electronics
- Robotics
- Sensor-based Systems
- Wireless Communications

As part of a lively community of over 100 full-time and part-time research students you’ll have the opportunity to develop your research potential in a vibrant research community that prioritises the cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovation in the advancement of knowledge.

Within the School we have a number of specialist research centres including a Global Research Institute, the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) specialising in Cyber Security, Wireless Innovation and Data Science and Scalable Computing.

Many PhD studentships attract scholarships and top-up supplements. PhD programmes provide our students with the opportunity to acquire an extensive training in research techniques.

Computer Science Highlights
Professional Accreditations
  • ECIT brings together, in one building, internationally recognised research groups specialising in key areas of advanced digital and communications technology.
Industry Links
  • Queen’s researchers have strong links with the local industry, which boasts a rich mix of local startups and multi-nationals. Belfast is the second fastest growing region in the UK in terms of Knowledge Economy activity (Northern Ireland Economy Report, 2018).
  • CSIT brings together research specialists in complementary fields such as data security, network security systems, wireless-enabled security systems, intelligent surveillance systems; and serves as the national point of reference for knowledge transfer in these areas.
World Class Facilities
  • The state-of-the-art £14m Computer Science Building and the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology offer bespoke research environments.

    The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), with state-of-the-art technology, offers a bespoke research environment.
Internationally Renowned Experts
  • You will be working under the supervision of leading international academic experts.
Key Facts

Research students are encouraged to play a full and active role in relation to the wide range of research activities undertaken within the School and there are many resources available including:

  • A wide range of personal development and specialist training courses offered through the Personal Development Programme
  • Access to the Queen's University Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme
  • Office accommodation with access to computing facilities and support to attend conferences for full-time PhD students

Course content

Research Information

Associated Research
Research within the School is organised into research themes combining strengths by working together on major projects, in many cases in collaboration with key technology companies.
ECIT brings together internationally recognised research groups specialising in key areas of advanced digital and communications technology.

PhD Opportunities
PhD Opportunities are available in a wide range of computer science subjects, aligned to the specific expertise of our PhD supervisors.

Research Impact
Queen’s is a leader in commercial impact and one of the five highest performing universities in the UK for intellectual property commercialisation. We have created over 80 spin-out companies. Three of these -
Kainos, Andor Technology and Fusion Antibodies - have been publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Research Projects
Queen’s has strong collaborative links with industry in Northern Ireland, and internationally. It has a strong funding track record with EPSRC and the EC H2020 programme.

Research Success
The research profile produced by the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) graded 80 per cent of our research activity as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent', confirming the School's reputation as an internationally-leading department.

Career Prospects

For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on Our advisors - in consultation with the School - will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.

People teaching you

Course structure
There is no specific course content as such. You are expected to take research training modules that are supported by the School which focus on quantitative and qualitative research methods. You are also expected to carry out your research under the guidance of your supervisor.

Over the course of study you can attend postgraduate skills training organised by the Graduate School.

You will normally register, in the first instance, as an ‘undifferentiated PhD student’ which means that you have satisfied staff that you are capable of undertaking a research degree. The decision as to whether you should undertake a PhD is delayed until you have completed ‘differentiation’.

Differentiation takes place about 8-9 months after registration for full time students and about 16-18 months for part time students: You are normally asked to submit work to a panel of up two academics and this is followed up with a formal meeting with the ‘Differentiation Panel’. The Panel then make a judgement about your capacity to continue with your study. Sometimes students are advised to revise their research objectives or to consider submitting their work for an MPhil qualification rather than a doctoral qualification.

To complete with a doctoral qualification you will be required to submit a thesis of approx 80,000 words and you will be required to attend a viva voce [oral examination] with an external and internal examiner to defend your thesis.

A PhD programme runs for 3-4 years full-time or 6-8 years part-time. Students can apply for a writing up year should it be required.

The PhD is open to both full and part time candidates and is often a useful preparation for a career within academia or consultancy.

Full time students are often attracted to research degree programmes because they offer an opportunity to pursue in some depth an area of academic interest.

The part time research degree is an exciting option for professionals already working in the education field who are seeking to extend their knowledge on an issue of professional interest. Often part time candidates choose to research an area that is related to their professional responsibilities.

If you meet the Entry Requirements, the next step is to check whether we can supervise research in your chosen area. We only take students to whom we can offer expert research supervision from one of our academic staff. Therefore, your research question needs to engage with the research interests of one of our staff.

- Assessment processes for the Research Degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present write up their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.

This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.

The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.


- Supervisors will offer feedback on the research work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.


Full time PhD students will have access to a shared office space and access to a desk with personal computer and internet access.

Entrance requirements

The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.

International Students

For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.

English Language Requirements

Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.0, with not less than 5.5 in any component or equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required (*taken within the last 2 years).

International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.

For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see:

If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.

Tuition Fees

Northern Ireland (NI) 1 TBC
Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2 TBC
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1 TBC
EU Other 3 £25,600
International £25,600

1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.

All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

More information on postgraduate tuition fees.

Computer Science costs

There are no specific additional course costs associated with this programme.

Additional course costs

All Students

Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.

Bench fees

Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.

How do I fund my study?

1.PhD Opportunities

Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.

2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes

We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.

3.PhD loans

The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.

4.International Scholarships

Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.

Funding and Scholarships

The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.

How to Apply

Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

Find a supervisor

If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.

To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.

You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.

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