University of Exeter funding: QUEX PhD Studentship

Deepfakes: re-balancing the governance of persona appropriation created with AI. PhD Law Studentship (Funded by the QUEX Institute) Ref: 3895

About the award


Lead Supervisor: Dr Mathilde Pavis, Senior Lecturer; Director of Undergraduate Studies (LLB Dirrector) , University of Exeter

Second Supervisor: Dr Lisa Bode, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, University of Queensland,

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants.  The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of:  Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 31 August 2020 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 October 2020.  The start date is expected to be April 2021.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.

Project Description:

Can ‘Deepfakes’ be good? What does ‘good’ or ‘bad’ persona appropriation created with artificial intelligence, such as Deepfakes, look like?

This interdisciplinary PhD research project proposes new ways of governing the practice of persona appropriation created with artificial intelligence (AI) to rebalance public and expert debates on this topic. To achieve this ambitious aim, this PhD studentship will be dedicated to developing an innovative critical framework which will serve as a tool for assessment of positive and negative persona appropriation within a spectrum of harm and benefits.  Persona appropriation refers to the act of manipulating, modifying, adding or erasing aspects of an individual’s persona. Persona can be broadly defined as the representation of a person’s identity through the imitation of their image, voice or likeness. The latest and most challenging form of AI-made persona appropriation is colloquially known as ‘Deepfakes’. Deepfakes refers to the synthetic content produced using artificial intelligence; they are a type of AI-made persona appropriation. Deepfakes most commonly take the form of fabricated audio-visual footage of a person created using existing (authentic) footage edited with an AI algorithm to produce more realistic and high-quality results. This project focuses on synthetic audio-visual content, as the most cutting-edge application of the technology in the context of persona appropriation. The reader is invited to view examples of Deepfakes here: . Deepfakes have revived public and expert interests in tackling harmful forms of persona appropriation to the extent that countries like Australia, the United States or France are implementing or debating new legislation. The industry is also investing in detection programs and developing best practice principles. Yet, these conversations have been overly focused on abusive forms of persona appropriation at the cost of a more balanced and informed approach that could account for both negative and positive applications of AI in this context. The research project fills this gap in knowledge to produce sustainable governance principles for AI-made persona appropriation.

Entry requirements

Applicants should be highly motivated and have, or expect to obtain, a Merit in their Masters degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline.

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.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, supporting statement, academic transcripts and two academic references. Your supporting statement should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project, with particular reference to the collaborative nature of the partnership with the University of Queensland, and how this will enhance your training and research.

Applicants who are chosen for interview will be notified week commencing 5 October 2020, and must be available for interview week commencing 12 October 2020.

Please quote reference 3895 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:31st August 2020
Value:Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £15,000 are available over the 3.5 year studentship
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office