This re­search pro­gramme asks its stu­dents to solve real prob­lems with UK de­vel­op­ers

EDGE - - TIME EXTEND - PRO­FES­SOR PHIL WIL­LIS Di­rec­tor, Cen­tre For Dig­i­tal En­ter­tain­ment dig­i­tal-en­ter­tain­ment.org


Based across Bath and Bournemouth Uni­ver­si­ties, the Cen­tre For Dig­i­tal En­ter­tain­ment gives re­search stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to work with UK de­vel­op­ers on real prob­lems, quickly gain­ing in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence. Pro­fes­sor Phil Wil­lis is CDE’s di­rec­tor; here he tells us why CDE’s unique doc­tor­ate – the only one in the UK to place its stu­dents with a com­pany for the du­ra­tion of their re­search pro­gramme – is pro­duc­ing ex­tremely ca­pa­ble grad­u­ates. How does your EngD Dig­i­tal En­ter­tain­ment course work? The course funds re­searchers want­ing to com­plete a doc­tor­ate with an ap­plied twist. For that rea­son the stu­dents are called re­search en­gi­neers, or REs. Our REs first have one year’s in­ten­sive prac­ti­cal train­ing in one of our two uni­ver­si­ties, al­most all of which is project-led learn­ing with lit­tle of the tra­di­tional lec­ture-style teach­ing – this in­cludes mas­ter­classes from our vis­it­ing com­pany ex­perts. There are core cour­ses such as com­puter an­i­ma­tion and games, vis­ual ef­fects and ma­chine learn­ing, and a grow­ing em­pha­sis on re­search as the year un­folds. We cur­rently have 50 REs on the course and have fund­ing for 50 more – it’s a big and sup­port­ive CDE fam­ily! Re­search en­gi­neers are placed with a com­pany af­ter the first year of train­ing – how does this work? The setup is unique to the EngD model. REs spend three years in one of our part­ner com­pa­nies in the vis­ual ef­fects, games or an­i­ma­tion sec­tor, and work on prob­lems that com­pa­nies want to solve. They learn how the in­dus­try works and have ac­cess to a com­pre­hen­sive range of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. We make sure that all of our REs, wher­ever they are, con­tinue to meet reg­u­larly, at­tend in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences to­gether and take part in game jams and pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion events – all the while grow­ing their skills. They’ll learn a great deal about the in­dus­try and emerge with a CV that no con­ven­tional re­search stu­dent can match!

It seems like a very flex­i­ble setup. Ab­so­lutely: one of the ben­e­fits of our train­ing model is that we’re not limited to a fixed syl­labus and can re­spond to new de­vel­op­ments. For ex­am­ple, we have just fin­ished run­ning a Unity work­shop be­cause the stu­dents re­quested it. Which com­pa­nies do you work with? We work with Elec­tronic Arts, Ninja The­ory, Cry­tek UK, Dis­ney Re­search and SCEE, among many oth­ers. To be­come in­volved with us, a com­pany must have a UK re­search base, must have chal­leng­ing re­search prob­lems and have some­one who can ad­vise the RE in the com­pany. This is sel­dom a prob­lem with the UK games in­dus­try, which has high tech­ni­cal ex­pec­ta­tions and a his­tory of push­ing re­search to find prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions.

Do you of­fer fund­ing for the doc­tor­ate? We can of­fer a gen­er­ous fund­ing pack­age for a re­search stu­dent, backed by additional money for in­ter­na­tional travel, at­ten­dance at con­fer­ences and at other events to suit the in­di­vid­ual RE.

“With 50 stu­dents from five suc­ces­sive an­nual in­takes be­hind us, we have more ex­pe­ri­ence of this kind of high-end pro­gramme than any­one else in the UK,” says Wil­lis. “And with 50 more ahead, we’re here to stay”

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