Struan Stewart studied on the BDes Product Design programme at Glasgow School of Art from 2016-2020. His graduation project and dissertation, completed at home during the enforced Covid-19 lockdown, focused on potential applications for wearable technology in the field of healthcare. Following graduation, Struan was accepted onto the MSc Artificial Intelligence & Applications programme at the University of Strathclyde. Here, he talks about how his interest in wearable technologies informed his decision to transition into AI, and how studying on a Masters programme is a radical departure from the Innovation School’s project-based approach.

Struan says he chose to study at the Innovation School because he was interested in creating things and problem solving

Struan’s self-initiated project looked at how scent could help to provoke memories in people suffering from dementia
The Masters course in Artificial Intelligence & Applications is allowing Struan to explore his interest in human-centred technologies
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You graduated in June after presenting your final-year work as part of GSA’s Digital Showcase.What have you been up to since then and what are you working on now?

Since graduating I created a design website to showcase the work I’d done at GSA. Following this we were in a lockdown so I worked on a variety of projects at my parents’ house in the Borders, doing some gardening work, doing some DIY projects, building bridges, just very hands on work. Then I decided to pursue a Masters so I looked at a variety of subjects, from psychology to ergonomics and artificial intelligence. After a lot of deliberation I decided I wanted to study artificial intelligence, so I’m back in Glasgow studying at Strathclyde, doing a one-year postgraduate course in Artificial Intelligence and Applications. It basically looks at the fundamentals of AI and how AI can be applied indifferent business sectors.


Why did you choose to study Product Design at GSA?

I chose to studyProduct Design because I was always interested in creating things and in problem solving. The course was advertised as being quite heavily based on research and being able to follow your own interests so I thought it was not specific enough that I would end up graduating and going into a job that was predetermined for me, but it would give me the skills to be able to apply to whatever I wanted to do afterwards.


What did you enjoy most about your time at GSA?

One of the things I enjoyed most was the ability to follow your own direction. Although some of the projects had briefs and some involved working in a group towards a common goal, there was definitely scope to be able to tailor the projects to your personal interests. I also enjoyed the amount of group work we had. When I speak to friends who studied on other courses, they would say the worst part was having to work in groups because they worked individually for so much of their course.But having done so much group work during the four years at GSA I think I’m a lot more prepared to go into a work environment and to collaborate with other people, including people from other industries. I also enjoyed being able to set your own schedule. Even doing a Masters now, you’ve got a pretty tight schedule whereas at GSA it was flexible for you to create the timetable that suited your work ethic and working style.


What was the focus of your dissertation and self initiated project? Why did you choose this direction?

For my dissertation I chose to look at the use of wearable technology in healthcare. I went into this with an interest in speculative technology for monitoring, things like theApple Watch and Fitbits. Through my dissertation I became interested in how wearable technology could be used to track and monitor the health of the elderly. This technology could simultaneously provide them with the understanding that they’re in safe hands, that the technology is looking after them, as well as allowing the doctors to monitor them.

Following my dissertation I decided to move into my self-initiated project looking at how scent could be used to provoke memories in people suffering from dementia. I’d taken from my dissertation that technology could be used to help the elderly, but to do it efficiently there needs to be a more human approach. I found that implementing something to do with natural senses provided that bridge between technology and a human factor.


How did these final-year projects inform your choice to pursue a Masters in ArtificialIntelligence?

I’ve always had an interest in wearable technology and speculative technology so it was something that had impacted my other projects throughout my time at GSA. In fourth year, having the ability to choose whatever we wanted allowed me to focus my dissertation specifically on that topic and then distill the information from the dissertation into the self-initiated project. So when I finished the project, although it was cut short by Covid, I was able to come to the conclusion that I wanted to push this further through seeing how AI could potentially be implemented in healthcare.

GSA provided the fundamental human approach and choosing this Masters will hopefully allow me togo into a company and bring that knowledge of both the human side and the technological approach. I chose to do the course at GSA based on the need to help people and I chose this Masters course for the same reason. ArtificialIntelligence is going to be a huge part of everyone’s lives in the future so there’s a need to combine problem solving with that human thinking approach.

When we were setting up the digital degree show I was still unsure what I was going to do next. I made my website and a LinkedIn account hoping to get a job but because of Covid it just seemed that companies weren’t really looking to hire. I had thought I would do a Masters at some point so I wouldn’t say that Covid has made me do aMasters but it maybe sped up the process. I was also thinking of taking sometime off to go travelling but as soon as we went into lockdown that wasn’t really an option, it was just find work wherever or try and get a grip of something else.


How are you finding the Masters course at the University of Strathclyde? What are the big differences with how you were learning at GSA?

Starting the Masters was a huge shock. It’s a lot different to GSA’s approach in better and in worse ways. GSA gives you the freedom to explore whatever you want, whereas this Masters is only one year so it’s very intensive and you’re following a modular basis which I’m not used to. Before it was all project based, sketching and working on paper, whereas this is a lot of maths which I haven’t done in along time. I’ve got four modules at the moment, one of which is called quantitative methods for AI and it’s a lot of probability and linear algebra, which is quite intense. I also have a module called legal, ethical and professional issues of AI, which I find very interesting because it brings in aspects to do with privacy and the legal and ethical issues surrounding data. These are things I looked at in previous projects so I’m able to draw on the knowledge learnt during my dissertation research and my self-initiated project and see more real implications of that on business.


What was it like having to complete your studies during a lockdown and present your work as part of a digital showcase rather than a normal degree show?

It was a huge shock when we found out that GSA would be closing. It all came so suddenly. I think we were five or six weeks into our 13-week self-initiated project so we’d finished the research stage and we were halfway through the development stage.We’d just presented our work and then the following day received the email to say that GSA would be closing down. Less than three or four days after that the whole country was in a lockdown.

At first it didn’t feel real. We had our Easter break about a week later and we were still expecting to come back after the break and finish off our project. It was when the Easter break finished that it hit us that we were going to be doing the rest of the project from home. I know that affected a lot of people in the class indifferent ways, especially once GSA told us that nothing we did past that point would count towards our grade, which would be determined based on everything up to that point. I know for a lot of people it maybe seemed a bit pointless to finish the project but through speaking to the tutors on Zoom we were able to build up a bit of momentum again. Especially when it was decided that we would have a digital degree show we were able to continue working on our projects and have these weekly meetings and encounters we needed to bounce ideas off each other. To have some sort of closure was really good because, as bad as it was going into this lockdown, I think it would have been far worse if that had been the end and there had been no further communication with the class or the tutors.

I think the tutors did a good job of keeping up momentum and providing us with a platform to show our work. Some people from the class did end up getting jobs or internships through the digital degree show, which just shows what a powerful network the school has. I know myself now doing a Masters and knowing that I probably won’t have a graduation for this course either, that it will be difficult for the fourth-year Product Design students going forward and having the same mindset, but the school knows how to deal with it now. They’ve dealt with it already and they’re able to handle it better. Especially with blended learning, hopefully that comes into play and we’re able to have the face-to-face meetings that we need to bounce ideas off each other.


What’s next for you? What would you like to do in the coming years?

I would say in the future I’m looking to apply the knowledge both from my Product Design course and this course in Artificial Intelligence to help people, although I’m not sure yet within what sector. Obviously, Covid might dictate the sort of job I’m able to get but I’d like to do something that combines technology with this speculative future-thinking approach to benefit healthcare in some way. Covid has demonstrated that there will always be a need for it and for the merging of sectors. That’s why I find this Artificial Intelligence and Applications course so interesting, because although I’m struggling with how complicated it all isI’m also learning about the application side of it and seeing how the skillsI’ve learnt at GSA combined with this basic knowledge of AI could benefit people in the future.

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