Learning to Look: Comparing Art and Humanities and AI approaches to the analysis of social media images

Funded PhD Scholarship


North West Collaborative Doctoral Training PartnershipT‌he Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Manchester Met, in collaboration with the AHRC NWCDTP National Productivity Investment Fund, has three doctoral awards in Artificial Intelligence and Data Driven Research in the Arts and Humanities. We're advertising projects on:

Learning to Look: Comparing Art and Humanities and AI approaches to the analysis of social media images

The Learning to Look project proposes to conduct innovative, comparative image research, aiming to critically compare results of human and AI supported analysis side by side.

Image use on social media continues to grow rapidly and some have referred to this rapid increase as social media’s ‘visual turn’. The research literature on social media images has been developing slowly over the last decade, particularly during the last few years. The key goal of this project is to contribute to these developments by conducting a comparative analysis of a large corpus of social media images using methods commonly used in the Arts and Humanities, such as content analysis alongside cutting edge commercial AI approaches, working closely with our industrial partner Pulsar.

Aims and objectives

The proposed research design is flexible enough to reflect the student’s interests and areas of expertise, but the supervisory team is keen to support research that addresses this overarching critical line of enquiry:

What exactly are the strengths and weaknesses of manual image analysis and what are the strengths and weaknesses of AI driven image analysis when examining the same data?

The project will thus concretely reflect on and give better insight into how humans and machines look, and indeed learn to look. The project seeks to develop clear evidence-based approaches to working with large image datasets to gain a better understanding of how to make the most of human – AI compatibilities and synergies in order to develop the most productive insight from social media image datasets. To date Pulsar has focused on developing domain expertise around four subject areas: Travel; Food; Apparel, and Weddings all of which produce millions of images on a daily basis. Aside from these four named themes, developed due to their commercial viability, Pulsar also has developed a more generic image analysis algorithm. Due to the cost of training new algorithms, this project will not create new algorithms, but instead will make use of the state of the art algorithms already developed. We therefore encourage projects that take into account this domain expertise in their lines of enquiry.

Candidates should describe their proposed research project in detail on the application form, indicating its academic aims and objectives in relation to the overarching critical line of enquiry and in response to one of the areas of domain expertise developed by Pulsar.

Studying at Manchester Met

The successful applicant will be based in the new School of Digital Arts and will also join a lively research community within the wider Faculty of Arts and Humanities. You will be a member of the Postgraduate Arts and Humanities Centre (PAHC) which offers a three-year training and research programme for the next generation of leaders in research, design and development. You will have the opportunity to work with industry partners and a multidisciplinary cross-Faculty supervisory team to support your research.

Specific requirements of the project

A knowledge of and interest in social media is essential, especially in social media images. We expect the successful candidate to have an understanding of the social media literature (especially methods for studying social media images), as well as wider debates around Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. As the project will draw on content analysis, a good working knowledge of this method is highly desirable. Candidates will be expected to work alongside our industry partner, thus experience of partnership working is also critical. The project will involve occasional travel to London to work with Pulsar and some occasional national and international travel for conferences. Full training to use Pulsar will be provided.

Academic eligibility

Candidates must have qualifications of the standard of a good honours degree at first or upper second class level, from a UK academic institution and a Masters level qualification in a subject relevant to the research area.

Residential eligibility

Candidates must have a relevant connection with the UK in order to qualify for a full award. This includes candidates who have been ordinarily resident in the UK throughout the 3-year period preceding the date of application and resident for this 3-year period for reasons other than education. Candidates from EU countries other than the UK are eligible for full awards maintenance and tuition fees if they have been resident in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of their programme. Candidates from EU countries who have not resided in the UK for three years prior to the start of their programme will be eligible for a fees-only award. 


To apply, click the 'Apply online' button below. Please ensure you complete the additional Postgraduate Research Degree Supplementary Information document and upload it to the Student documents section of your online application.


Informal enquiries can be made to:

Professor Farida Vis, e-mail: F.Vis@mmu.ac.uk OR Dr Simon Faulkner, e-mail: S.Faulkner@mmu.ac.uk

How to Apply

The quickest and most efficient way to apply for this course is to apply online. This way, you can also track your application at each stage of the process.

Apply online

Please quote the reference: ArtsHum-MSARC-NPIF-2018-3.

Please complete the additional Postgraduate Research Degree Supplementary Information document and upload it to the Student documents section of your online application. This collects important information about your research application and there may be delays if you do not submit this document.

Before you apply, we recommend that you:

Next Stages of Your Application

We will contact you to let you know the initial outcome of your application, and invite you to attend an interview where appropriate.

Once the university is satisfied with the following, we will send you an offer letter informing you that you have been offered a place of study:

Some offers may be conditional upon achieving certain grades in your examinations, or successfully completing a particular programme. You must satisfy these conditions before we can confirm your unconditional place.

Closing date

6 July 2018


Mid-late July

Research Study