Student Spotlight - Chris Lochhead
Get to know Chris, an Academy student using machine learning and computer vision to improve the health of adults in later life.
2. Project title
"An investigation into socially acceptable long term anonymous video monitoring for assessment of behaviour changes in ageing adults", supervised by Dr Robert Fisher (School of Informatics) and Dr Larissa Pschetz (Edinburgh College of Art).
3. What is your background?
My academic background includes a BSc (Hons) from UWS in Computer Games Technology and an MSc in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Strathclyde. Professionally I worked a variety of roles in care homes throughout my time in university from kitchen, care and domestic work.
4. What drew you to the Academy?
The project that was advertised which I am now on is what specifically drew me to the academy. I hadn’t heard or learned about the ACRC itself until after that. My project was originally envisioned by my supervisor as a marriage between computer science, machine learning, computer vision and older adults' care. The combination of interests was so specific to my own life experience that I even recall saying to him in my first e-mail where I expressed interest in the role as being “so specific to me I could have written the advert myself”.
5. How did you find your taught year?
The taught year was very good. One of the main fears I had of a PhD was impostor syndrome. Being in and doing well in taught-courses is one thing, but leading your own research seemed like an incredibly steep and punishing learning curve; a curve that the taught year makes far more forgiving. Unlike most PhDs, you actually go into your research phase ready and confident, knowing what you are supposed to do without having to waste your first 6 months frantically trying to learn how to actually do a PhD.
6. What is your PhD about and why does it matter to you?
My PhD is looking at assessing older people’s health purely using their gait, and I plan to achieve this by developing an at-home autonomous recording and assessment framework. The system employs novel machine learning methods to take a skeletal representation of a person’s gait and identifies and quantifies abnormalities.
This PhD is of particular importance to me for a few reasons. Firstly is the potential for good it can do if such a system was deemed effective and deployed, as it could feasibly assist people living at-home to preserve their health without sacrificing their independence. In broader terms, this PhD is also helping push research in the direction of patient involvement by making extensive use of PPI which I think is vital for the effectiveness of novel research in general, and specifically for medical applications. Finally, the novel machine learning algorithms I’m developing for this PhD have the potential for pretty wide-ranging use. I’m developing them for health assessment, but the underlying networks could be used in a wide range of applications both within and outside healthcare.
7. What’s something that’s surprised you about your experience so far?
How much I’m enjoying it! I always thought of the PhD as the last slog in my journey through academia before I am qualified enough to go into the areas of research I want to, but frankly the PhD has been the best part of the journey for me. The hours can be long and the work is extremely challenging, but I have the freedom to explore research directions I choose, I don’t need to sit exams, do multiple barely related modules like in undergraduate or any of the other monotonous things associated with taught-course university life.
8. Any tips for those interested in a PhD?
Maybe an unusual tip, but if you are still working out whether you actually WANT to do a PhD, and you are in an area similar to mine (computer science), take the opinions of people online with a grain of salt. I would often look up on various Q&A sites things like “is it worth going for the PhD” and the comment sections are almost always “no it’s not worth it, you can make X amount of money with Y years of experience instead of spending Y + 2 years in the PhD for the same salary”. It took me a while to realise that everyone saying that never actually did a PhD themselves, and appeared to be trying to justify that decision to themselves more than the person they were replying to. Not that it should be a decision you take lightly: in my case I had decided on the PhD route before my undergraduate was even done, but make sure it’s your decision whichever way you choose, as only you know best.
9. Where can we find you?