Sam Thompson

Sam is studying towards a Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) in Computer Science.

An image of student Sam Thompson

Programme: Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) (BAdvSci(Hons))

Subject: Computer Science

“I will complete my Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours), specialising in Computer Science, at the end of this year. After graduation, I’m planning to undertake a PhD in Engineering at the University of Cambridge with a focus on Computer Science.

“The topic of my honours dissertation is the effect of personalised face-tracked avatars on embodiment in social virtual reality (VR). Put simply, I generate a 3D digital body (also known as an “avatar”) of an individual which is based on what they look like (typically generated from an image). Then I put the person in a VR experience where they are talking to another person. They can see the other person in front of them, and they can see themselves in a mirror to their side. The 3D model that was generated to look like them matches their own movements (moving hands, looking to the side, etc.) and using face-tracking technology the avatar’s 3D face also matches the facial expression that the person is pulling.

“I intend to base my PhD along this idea. There is so much more to research about how people interact with digital representations of their own body, and how that may change their own behaviour.

“I chose to study my PhD at the University of Cambridge for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is to see more of the world. I’ve never left New Zealand before and I’m ready to experience more. The Cyber-Human lab at the University of Cambridge has worked on some extremely interesting projects, and I am looking forward to working with them throughout my PhD.”

Throughout my degree I have fallen in love with research. I have a strong passion for computer science, so being able to work on original research in the area is extremely exciting. My favourite part of this final year of my current degree has been doing my original dissertation and I’m looking forward to focusing on this more in my PhD.

Sam Thompson

“I have really enjoyed the preparation that the Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) gives for research. In my second year I took CompSci 289, and in my third year I took CompSci 389. Both courses introduce you to the world of academia, how publishing research works and prepares you to do your own original work in your fourth year.

“For my final year of studies, I received the University of Auckland Postgraduate Honours/PGDip Scholarship. The fourth year of my degree has been the most full-on, however the scholarship has really helped me worry less about paying rent and to focus on my studies.

“I have received a Woolf Fisher Scholarship for my PhD study at the University of Cambridge, funding my PhD for up to 4 years, along with a stipend to support my living costs. This scholarship is an amazing opportunity for me, as without it there would be no way I would have been able to afford to study at Cambridge. This scholarship has opened so many doors for me and I’m extremely excited to begin this new chapter of my life.

“The Student Experience and Engagement team has been super helpful for me throughout my studies, especially Holly Honeysett as the Student Support Adviser for the Advanced Programmes.

“During my time at the University, I’ve been involved with a couple of clubs. Most notably, the Game Developers Guild (GDG) and the UoA VR Club. I was the president of the UoA VR Club and I’m proud that the community we’ve developed is super friendly and supportive of each other. We’re a group of people who are passionate about VR and it’s invigorating to be around a group of people who share a strong passion for the same thing as you.”