Big Data Analytics: Visualising high-dimensional cost function landscapes - Computer Science - PhD (Funded) Ref: 2974

About the award


Prof Jonathan Fieldsend  tel: +44 1392 722090)

Dr Ozgur Akman  tel: +44 1392 724060)

The project will investigate and develop extensions to the local optima network framework for fitness landscape analysis of optimisation problems. Specifically, it will investigate methods for visualising continuous high-dimensional search, with real-world examples from the systems biology domain.

With the vast growth in scientific data, data visualisation methods have become ever more important. These are crucial to both bridge the gap between specialists and non-specialists (to aid the explanation of science and results), and also to investigate and probe the relationships within data (leading to new knowledge and discoveries).

One area where such visualisation is important is when visualising the properties of a problem that affect optimiser performance. For instance, visualisation of the fitness landscapes relating designs to their corresponding quality, and broader differences between design regions, is useful -- but difficult -- as the data may naturally live in a high number of dimensions. In the last decade, local optima networks (LONs) have arisen as a useful and compact representation of the fitness landscape in combinatorial spaces. However, their extension to continuous spaces is less well explored.

This College-funded PhD project, is closely aligned to the EPSRC-funded project, EP/N017846/1: The Parameter Optimisation Problem: Addressing a Key Challenge in Computational Systems Biology. It is concerned with the investigation and development of novel visualisation methods of the problem landscape associated with gene regulatory network models, with circadian clocks as a prototypical example. However, it is anticipated the work will be applicable to a broader range of problems.

The successful applicant will be embedded in a thriving research environment, which includes the recently opened Living Systems Institute: a £52.5 million investment into interdisciplinary approaches to understanding biological systems. The Computer Science and Mathematics departments at Exeter are dynamic and growing communities, with significant interactions, including a large and active body of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. The departments provide substantial support for postgraduate researchers, including the facility to attend appropriate masters level modules alongside their PhD projects. In addition, the applicant will have access to a broad range of centrally provided training courses relevant to this project (e.g. courses on utilising Exeter’s new £3 million high performance computing facility).

This award provides annual funding to cover tuition fees and a tax-free stipend of at least £14,777 per year. The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in January 2019.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. 
If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”. 
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Research proposal
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.
• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 30 September 2018.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus date TBC. 
If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor ( or ).


Application deadline:30th September 2018
Number of awards:1
Value:£14,777 for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Postgraduate Research Office