MDS Research Committee Announces 4 Summer Research Scholarships

Media Design School's Research Committee has announced a Call for Applications for 2019/2020 Summer Research Scholarships.

Our Summer Research Scholarships allow students to work with Media Design School faculty members as Research Assistants over the summer.

For the 2019/2020 period, there are three distinct projects to choose from, led by Dr Sarah Elsie Baker, Simon Nicholls, Dr. Imran Khaliq and Fawad Zaidi. Research Assistants will receive a tax-free stipend of $5000 over 8 weeks, or $2500 over 4 weeks.  Read on to learn more about the projects and the faculty members involved, as well as for details on applications and eligibility.  


Queering/Repurposing the cultural probe 
Dr. Sarah Elsie Baker and Simon Nicholls

Media discourses about gender and sexuality are often highly polarizing and reinforce binary thinking. However, people’s experiences and feelings often bend, blur and break society’s binary codes. This project aims to repurpose user experience design methodologies to encourage intimate reflections about gender and sexuality that emphasize complexity and contradiction. Through design intervention, in the shape of a participatory experience, the project seeks to emphasise the queerness of everyday life. It will flip design methods by making data the foundation for shared understanding rather than data collection being the starting point for generating design solutions. In doing so it will question the power of the designer. By repurposing the UX method of cultural probes the project seeks to foster empathy not as a means to a market, but in order to encourage understanding. 

The summer scholar will work closely with Dr. Sarah Elsie Baker and Simon Nicholls over 8 weeks to redesign a cultural probe kit. The team will utilize an agile UX approach informed by a queer design methodology. The summer research scholar will: 

  • contribute to ideation regarding what is included in the cultural probe kit. 
  • help design the visual identity and UX of the cultural probe. 
  • help prototype the kit.

This project requires a student that has knowledge of design thinking methodologies and strong ideation skills. Sound graphic design and branding skills are essential. Some knowledge of debates about gender and sexuality would be advantageous but not required. Enthusiasm, a keenness to collaborate and a sense of humour are also essential.

Increasing Self-compassion in Young People through Virtual Reality 
Dr. Imran Khaliq

Studying at tertiary institution can be a very stressful experience. According to Kei Te Pai Report, the prevalence of stress is increasing among tertiary students. Such stress effects student progression and student retention. If stress is left untreated, it may lead to depression. Self-criticism is one of the major psychological factors, defined as dominant response style of negative evaluation and judgement of self to perceived failure. To address self-criticism, one effective way is to increase self-compassion through compassion-focused therapy. To implement compassion-focused therapy, the general approach is in-vivo exposure based, which is resourced demanding. To make this treatment feasible and timely to every student who needs it, we can use Virtual Reality (VR) technology. 

Using Summer Research Scholarship, we would like to build a VR prototype to conduct a pilot study as proof of concept and invited young people to take part in our study. Once, we have a prototype and pilot results, we will then apply for future funding granted by a third-party organization to achieve our ultimate goal for this project, which is  to fully develop a VR based artefact to implement compassion based therapies (which are feasible, timely and non-threatening) and be able to use them in tertiary institutions/clinics to help health care professionals in supporting patients with mood swings.

We need a developer and an artist for development of VR prototype. (2 x 4 week projects)

Skills required for developer:

  • Experience in Game engine (Unity or Unreal) 
  • Proficiency in C++ or C# language 
  • Experience in Virtual Reality development is a must 
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills 
  • Organisational skills 

Skills required for artist: 

  • 3D art skills 
  • Animation skills 
  • Organisational skills 

Generating Virtual reality based environments for exposure therapy facilitated by an AI based Avataar
Fawad Zaidi

Rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has meant an increase in research which explores where/how the technology could be useful and effective in daily life. With the intention of seeing a positive impact on people’s experience, we will work with AI technology and virtual reality (VR) to understand the feelings of people with persistent non-vertiginous dizziness and unsteadiness by supporting them through virtual interaction. In scoping the project we will explore the complexity of the dizziness symptoms people might have and design an AI based Avataar based on our findings. At this stage, the project will focus on design and development. 

It is a good opportunity for an enthusiastic young researcher(s)/developer(s) who would like to work on virtual reality technology and testing contemporary relevant tools that could be integrated as AI support. 

The summer scholar(s) will work closely with Fawad Zaidi over 8 weeks on VR based development. The candidate should have:

  • Experience in Game engine (Unity or Unreal)
  • Experience in Virtual Reality development
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Understanding of concepts of Artificial Intelligence
  • Organization skills 
  • Knowledge of C++ or C# language(Preferred)
  • Understanding of Speech to text recognition tools ( Preferred)
  • Research experience ( Preferred)
  • 3D art skills ( Preferred)


Research scholarships are open to high-achieving domestic and international students who are enrolled in a New Zealand or international university and have the potential to succeed in postgraduate study. You have to have completed at least two years of an undergraduate degree and are enrolled in an undergraduate degree at a New Zealand university at the time you apply for the scholarship, or enrolled in a postgraduate bachelor (honours) or postgraduate diploma programme at a New Zealand university at the time you apply for the scholarship, or enrolled in an undergraduate degree at an international institution in 2019.

To apply, please send a cover letter (stating which project you are interested in), C.V. and/or portfolio to

Deadline for applications:  Wednesday 11 December.

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