Mobile menu icon
Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer
Mobile menu icon Search iconSearch
Search type

Department of Computer Science

Understanding the role of the Web on Memory for Programming Concepts

Primary supervisor

Additional supervisors

  • Caroline Jay

Additional information

Contact admissions office

Other projects with the same supervisor


  • Competition Funded Project (Students Worldwide)

This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. Applications for this project are welcome from suitably qualified candidates worldwide. Funding may only be available to a limited set of nationalities and you should read the full department and project details for further information.

Project description

Websites are frequently used to support the development process. Both students and professionals regular resort to search engines and StackOverflow (amongst others) as a means of learning new programming languages, checking syntax, resolving errors etc.

Our prior work has shown that use of online programming content often acts as a reminder for things already known, and that most programmers consider themselves to have a good memory for programming concepts. Neither novice nor professional programmers seem to perceive a negative impact on memory from their use of the web. However, prior research in general knowledge domains suggests that there *are* impacts to memory from looking up information online, and one study has found these effects specifically in the context of programming concepts.

This project would therefore explore the effect of web use on memory for programming concepts.

A possible roadmap for this PhD may look something like:

* Year 1: A literature review to familiarise the student with (a) techniques for studying the effects of web use on human memory, (b) current understanding of web-impairment effects, and (c) use of the web during programming activities. Design and execution of a controlled study intended to explore the role of web use on programmers' memory.

* Year 2: Design and execution of a naturalistic study intended to explore the role of web use on programmers' memory .Development and execution of a follow-on study that explores a result from prior studies in greater depth.

* Year 3: Development and preliminary evaluation of guidance/tools to mitigate any negative effects of web use on memory (or to better leverage any positive effects). Writing of thesis (or alternate format submission) for examination.

However the above is not prescriptive, and we encourage all applicants to develop a proposal that is of interest and relevance to themselves (within the general topic area). Collaboration with other departments is possible (e.g. psychology) and you may want to consider appropriate use of technologies such as eye-tracking and EEG (where relevant).

The student should expect to publish their work in the form of academic papers at venues such as IEEE/ACM ICSE, ACM CHI, and Elsevier's Journal of Systems and Software.

This PhD would be attractive to candidates with experience and training in human-computer interaction or other related disciplines (e.g., experimental/cognitive psychology, mobile/pervasive computing). A successful applicant is likely to have demonstrable experience of EITHER experimental design OR software development; they will need to demonstrate both capability and willingness to develop the missing skill.

Person specification

For information


Applicants will be required to evidence the following skills and qualifications.

  • You must be capable of performing at a very high level.
  • You must have a self-driven interest in uncovering and solving unknown problems and be able to work hard and creatively without constant supervision.


Applicants will be required to evidence the following skills and qualifications.

  • You will have good time management.
  • You will possess determination (which is often more important than qualifications) although you'll need a good amount of both.


Applicants will be required to address the following.

  • Comment on your transcript/predicted degree marks, outlining both strong and weak points.
  • Discuss your final year Undergraduate project work - and if appropriate your MSc project work.
  • How well does your previous study prepare you for undertaking Postgraduate Research?
  • Why do you believe you are suitable for doing Postgraduate Research?