Building Statistical Models to Classify the Trajectories of Ships - Computer Science - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2935

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Dr Jacqueline Christmas, University of Exeter
Dr Zena Wood
, University of Greenwich

Streatham Campus, University of Exeter

Project Description
All ships must, by international law, report their GPS position, and vessel type and journey details at regular and frequent intervals using a system called AIS.  Often the GPS tracks indicate that the (manually-entered) vessel type and journey details are incorrect, and sometimes the GPS tracks are unusual in some way, for example, when the ship has gone aground.

The aim of this project is to develop novel statistical (Bayesian) models, based only on the GPS tracks, from which we may automatically classify the vessel types and their trajectories.  We will then move on to (1) identifying groups of ships that travel in a coherent way, e.g. ships converging on a single position, or ships travelling together, (2) detecting the presence of casualties (i.e. vessels in distress) and “phantom” ships (i.e. those that are illegally not transmitting their GPS coordinates) by the collective motion of detected ships, and (3) mapping the shipping network and hence the dynamic environment in which ships operate.

The successful applicant will be comfortable with programming in Matlab or Python, and will have a background in either Computer Science, Mathematics or another relevant, numerate subject.  Much of the work will involve the development of Bayesian statistical models for movement pattern analysis and classification, so some statistical modelling experience will be required.

Entry Requirements
You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Computer Science, Mathematics or other relevant, numerate subject. Experience in statistical modelling and in programming using Matlab or Python is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email:
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.