PhD opportunities in Urban System Labs, Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College London

Supervisor: Dr. Aruna Sivakumar

The Urban Systems Lab at Imperial College London is looking for PhD students for the following four research topics. Each of these topics is intended as a piece of interdisciplinary research, with a blend of social and behavioural science, urban and transport systems, information and communication technologies (ICT), and urban design.

1.       Role of ICTs in enabling activity participation for people with disabilities

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have revolutionised ways in which individuals can access services and conduct activities, often with a reduced or eliminated need to travel. These ways of conducting activities via digital means appear to offer, at least in theory, a new means of achieving equality and inclusivity objectives related to mobility. Arguably, these ICT-enabled mechanisms for activity participation could be especially beneficial to those with reduced ability to travel, due to disabilities, age or other considerations. However, tension exists in the realisation of this premise since the effective use of ICTs requires a suitable set of skills and resources, and vulnerable individuals are disproportionately more likely to suffer from access to such skills and resources.  The aim of the proposed research is to understand and analyse this tension with a data-driven approach and using a  combination of qualitative and quantitative methods; and to support the development of planning and policy interventions to address this tension. The research will be co-supervised by Dr Jacek Pawlak of the Urban Systems Lab.

 2.       Digital Social Markets

Urban environments worldwide are striving to become “smart” and guarantee an essential and sustainable environment for everyone. In the context of smart cities, the concept of a Digital Social Market (DSM) has been proposed: A DSM is an “approach to public service integration which incentivises and sustains citizen engagement” to promote sustainable living styles in local communities. The engagement amongst citizens, local businesses and local policy-makers exploits a digital platform (a smartphone app), through which local authorities promote sustainability actions, citizens engage in online discussions, respond to such actions and receive rewards that are sponsored by and redeemed in the local community. The aim of the proposed research is to examine whether DSM apps can be used as a large-scale tool to support public policies aiming to deliver environmentally sustainable, healthy, liveable and engaged local communities, using a data driven approach to analyse the potential benefits and develop a value proposition. The research will be co-supervised by Dr Nicolò Daina and Dr Francesco Manca of the Urban Systems Lab.

 3.       Activity generation and scheduling considering in-home activities

The past decade has observed profound changes in the ways people travel and conduct activities. Remote activity participation, including tele-activities or participation in mobile contexts appears to have become much more common in society, though there is significant heterogeneity within the population. Such tele-activities, including teleworking, online shopping, and social interactions are shown to have explicit impacts on people’s travel behaviour and activity scheduling. This research aims to model and quantify the role of virtual and digital activities in daily activity generation and scheduling, within the overall framework of an activity-based travel demand model system. The research will be co-supervised by Dr Ahmadreza F. Imani of the Urban Systems Lab. The student may be able to do a short-term placement at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute in Canada.

 4.       Investigating the rise of low-traffic and liveable neighbourhoods

Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) will be an essential part of future liveable and sustainable cities. Many cities including London have used or are planning to use LTNs to reduce through vehicular traffic in local and residential areas and consequently encourage walking and cycling. This research aims to investigate different aspects of LTNs by modelling their impacts on multi-modal accessibility, travel mode change, increased active transport, traffic congestion, and their subsequent effects on the environment, GHG emissions, and public health. The research will be co-supervised by Dr Ahmadreza F. Imani of the Urban Systems Lab. The student will have opportunities to collaborate with colleagues at King’s College London and Queen Mary University of London.

Academic requirements and experience:

  • A very good First Class Degree (or International equivalent) in Civil Engineering, Transport Engineering, Urban Planning, Geography, Applied Mathematics, Economics, Computer Science, or another relevant discipline. Experience with statistical modelling is required.
  • A Masters level degree qualification in any of these subjects/courses will be highly beneficial.
  • Solid background in statistics and applied mathematics, computer programming, or systems engineering.
  • Good knowledge of coding and programming in R, Python, Matlab and/or any other language.
  • Ideally, some experience in developing discrete choice and advanced econometric models.
  • Strong interdisciplinary research capabilities
  • Must be fluent in English.

A lack of experience in the above requirements and skills could be compensated by evidence of research potential. Appropriate training will be provided.

How to apply: Applicants wishing to be considered for these opportunities should send the following application documents to Dr Aruna Sivakumar (

  1. Current CV including details of academic record
  2. Covering letter explaining motivation and suitability
  3. Contact details of two academic referees

Application via the Imperial College Registry is not necessary at this stage. Following an interview with the supervision team, suitable candidates will then need to submit their application to Imperial College Registry and simultaneously apply to the London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Program (LISS DTP) Open Competition for funding.

The funding through LISS DTP, subject to the results of the open competition, is available for either a 1+3 studentship (1-year Masters degree followed by a 3-year PhD) or a +3 studentship (3-year PhD).  Full-time students receive a stipend of £17,285 per annum, and their fees are paid (Fees for International students may not be paid in full). The studentship can start from October 2021 onwards. The deadline to submit applications to the LISS DTP Open Competition is 29th January 2021. We can provide you with a supporting statement for your application and research proposal.

If you would like an informal discussion about this studentship, for the first topic please send your CV and a letter setting out your suitability to Dr Jacek Pawlak (, for the second topic to Dr Nicolò Daina (, and for the third and fourth topics to Dr Ahmadreza F. Imani (, but note that this does not constitute a formal application. We will not respond to enquiries sent by applicants who are ineligible for the funding (unless you do not require funding), so please check the LISS DTP website for details (

Closing Date: Interested applicants should contact us no later than 20 December 2020 to have time to submit their application to Imperial College registry and prepare the LISS DTP application to be submitted by the 29th January 2021. Later applications may be considered for future possible funding opportunities.