UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering


Meet Silvia Rossi, PhD Alumni, researcher in VR

Silvia chats to us about how her interest in multimedia developed, her experience doing a PhD at EEE and her current research on user behaviour in virtual reality (VR).

Silvia Rossi

27 November 2023

How did you get interested in virtual reality?

It was actually by chance. I studied my undergraduate and masters in Italy, in electronics, and telecommunication engineering, nothing to do with multimedia. Wanting to study abroad for my master thesis project, my supervisor got me in contact with Professor Maria Martini from Kingston University, where I worked on 3D videos, evaluating depth. This was my first experience with multimedia, which I found I enjoyed and, after completing my master’s thesis and wanting to return to the UK, I looked for opportunities to return. I was put in contact with UCL’s Dr Laura Toni regarding an open position for a PhD in virtual reality, which I applied for and luckily got! Being interested in multimedia this seemed like a good next step. Now I really love my research topic and feel quite lucky to have found a research topic I really enjoy as this is not always a given for everyone.


How did this interest develop throughout your PhD?

I feel, as an engineer, I have always wanted to understand something before applying my knowledge. The initial focus of my PhD was to predict the movement of users in virtual reality, however I felt there was something missing. So I decided to take a step back from prediction to try to understand why people are moving in particular ways in virtual spaces. Is there something we could know before doing the prediction that could help us? That is what led me to developing metrics that could be used to analyse user movements, including a novel clustering algorithm that grouped users according to how they interact in virtual spaces.
At the start of my PhD, I was more closely guided by my supervisor, Laura Toni, and as I grew more experienced, I was more conscious of what I was more interested in investigating. So when I got clarity on how I wanted to shift the direction of my PhD, it was in that moment that I realized I was growing as a researcher.

What are some of your most memorable experiences at UCL?

I have a lot from great memories from UCL. We had a great community. Though Laura’s Learning and Signal Processing (LASP) team has since grown, when I initially joined the group I was alone. However, the environment at UCL helped me connect with other PhD students, such as from the Photonics and ICCS groups, and we grew very close. We gave each other feedback, had lunch all together in the Cullen break room and organised social activities. It was a nice environment to do research, so though I was working alone most of the time, I did not feel alone.

Do you have any advice for PhD students?

My advice is to be curious. That is the most important thing when doing research, if you lose your passion or curiosity, research might not be the right path for you.

Also, try to ask for help and create a good relationship with your advisor. Talk with your advisor and be honest when you're stuck because it's not always easy for advisors to understand your situation if you don’t talk about it. It’s natural to get stuck and have moments of difficulties throughout your PhD, but if we don’t ask for help it can make the situation more difficult.


What are you working on now?

Since graduating in 2022, I am continuing my research on behaviour within virtual spaces at in the Distributed and Interactive System (DIS) group at CWI, the research institute for mathematics and computer science in the Netherlands. My current research focuses on user behaviour analysis and Quality of Experience (QoE) metrics for immersive multimedia systems. For example, looking at how user movements vary within smaller and larger virtual spaces. We have explored how users act in different virtual spaces and how this impacts how they feel, finding that behaviour in these virtual spaces mimic that in real life; in smaller spaces users feeling more cramped and exhibit less movement.