Although term finished last week, this week has still been quite busy on the academic front. After I got my provisional exam results from Kings, I contacted a professor at Imperial, to see whether their Computational Logic group has any vacancies for PhD students. He said he'd be happy to consider me, but that I needed to get an application in pronto. So, I've filled out that form, gathered references (from my project supervisor at Kings and my old boss at PMSI) and proof of qualifications, and I hand-delivered that to Imperial on Friday. I've also emailed my CV to the University of Sussex, since they have a couple of funded PhD places available in the field I'm interested in. I'd prefer not to leave London, but I think it's good to keep my options open. Now to see what happens... Mind you, one problem is that I'm applying relatively late in the year - I may wind up reapplying next year, once I've got my MSc, as I can then get a more accurate reference from Kings, and apply earlier in the year.
I've also spoken to my supervisor, to choose a specific subject for my project. The general theme is anaphora resolution (working out who/what pronouns are referring to). In particular, I want to look at definite description anaphora ("the" being the definite article). Typically, if you say "The boy picked up the book, then he put it on the table", then whenever you say "the something" you're introducing ("evoking") a new object, and then when you use a pronoun ("he"/"it"), you're referring to an existing object. I'm going to handle the situations where you use "the ..." to refer to an existing object, based on a unique characteristic (in that context). For instance, if I refer to "the moon", then I am implicitly referring to Earth's moon, even though there are several moons around other planets. Similarly, if I refer to "the government" or "the army" in discussion with another British person, then I mean the British goverment and the British army. I will also handle alternate descriptions for people. E.g. you may have a news article that says "Tony Blair visited a school today. The Prime Minister told the children to study hard so that they can get good jobs in the future." The computer should understand that "The Prime Minister" refers to "Tony Blair", rather than them being two different people. Some of this would come from a knowledge base, and other things would come from the context. E.g. if some text establishes that one person in a group is French, you may then get a reference to "the Frenchman".
There has already been some research done in this area, so I'll be spending the next few weeks reading up on that, ready to give a 10 minute preliminary presentation in May, then the project as a whole needs to be finished in September.
On a side note, I think about science-fiction stories where a genius builds a robot in his shed (e.g. in "Buffy"), and then I think about a relatively small thing like this that I'll be spending months working on - puts the work involved into perspective...
I've also met up with another professor at Kings to get some feedback on the research paper I wrote in January. I got a B, but based on the advice he gave me I should be able to do better in the next paper, so it should average out ok. And I've finally got round to sorting out the references for my BCS application (for professional membership). I posted that on Friday, so I should now get an interview arranged within 4-8 weeks, and hear their final decision within 4-6 months. Not exactly a speedy process, which is why it's taken me so long to move it forward (I haven't been treating it as urgent), but at least it's moving again now.
By contrast, yesterday was an "off-duty" day. I went swimming in the morning, which went well, and then friends came round in the afternoon to play Magic (and a couple of other games), which was fun. I've also been reading (as always) - I've now read 6 of the 7 novels I got on the book crawl last month (as well as a few others) :)