School of Psychology


This Sussex Life: MSc student James Bowyer: “I loved being on the Sussex StartUp programme”

James Bowyer word cloud

Sussex MSc student James Bowyer won StartUp Sussex Entrepreneur of the Year and start-up of the year with with, an online service for students and researchers that uses machine learning to identify key points from research papers. 

During school, I enjoyed making websites for local people and causes: a youth campaign, art work display, or professional page, for example. Since the internet was often unreliable or busy (in the days of ‘dial-up’), I’d write code on slips of paper and try them at night. That was a blessing as it made me think more theoretically. Around 2013 I launched “”, which helped people find delete options on websites such as Facebook (which used to be very well hidden!) and ran a website with a live chat (a novelty in those days). Those experiences really helped me with and pushed me to learn about technology.

At Sussex I studied and came to love machine learning, and I realised I wanted to combine these two skills. I worked during the course and through internships in the summers to gain technical experience, and created a side project for better studying, which became The motivation was to avoid the dread of staring at lecture slides for hours on end when revising, and to add more interactivity and tracking to typical exam studying. I loved the lectures in person, but always struggled to focus during exam revision. One of Judith Good’s modules, Technology Enhanced Learning Environments, absolutely thrust me in this direction.

Living with two incredibly talented writers who studied psychology led to an MSc in Experimental Psychology. During the year, I opened access to further through a website. During exam periods, helps with flashcards and exam revision. Now, with most exams cancelled, it helps with research for essays.  

Given a PDF of a research paper, identifies the title, the year and the authors, and then does other exciting stuff, such as looking at the content and identifying the most important sentences automatically. So it will generally highlight information from the introduction, the results and the abstract, depending on open access. You can vote on the importance of the sentences and comment to help others. It also visually shows the importance of key topics. If  the word ‘neuron’ appears a lot within the text of the article, you see it as the biggest word in a word cloud, and then at a glance you kind of work out what's in the paper. I’ve also added features, such as automatic citations and some other nifty things. 

I visited the Sussex campus when I was 16 and thought, so this is what universities are about. I was actually visiting the law department because at the time I’d been randomly selected for work experience with a law firm. I didn’t want to do law, but I did think the campus was great. I hadn’t been thinking about going to university at all, and none of my close friends were either, so this outreach work is incredibly important. 

I didn’t come to Sussex with A levels, but I appended computer code in my application to study for a BSc in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. I think that helped. Once here, I fell in love with the social nature of the campus and especially student societies. I feel lucky that Sussex accepted me and am very grateful for the First-Generation Scholar Scheme grants, including the travel grant. 

Studying Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing really wowed me. Seeing how clever nature can be – in the modules Neuroscience and Behaviour, and Intelligence in Animals and machines – was mind-blowing. I absolutely recommend the AI course at Sussex because it is so interdisciplinary. Over time, I’m embedding more and more psychology research into the design and decisions taken at since cognitive, clinical and social psychology offer fascinating insights into how we learn effectively; insights that are unfortunately often overlooked and not applied.

Going to Germany on exchange was fantastic. I remember visiting Salzburg castle and the atmosphere was just joy. It was the first experience of snow for some of the international students and breathtakingly beautiful. I also loved learning German, often alongside refugees who were absolutely determined to learn and who gave it their all. I was thrilled to read that Sussex has recently became a University of Sanctuary and I hope Sussex paves the way further in the UK, especially given the local Hummingbird Project

I absolutely loved being on the Sussex StartUp programme. It was the highlight of last year for me. I was amazed that I won as all the final ideas were excellent and unique. What really made it was the optimism in the sessions – taught without expectations of prior business knowledge – and the excited “over-coffee” updates between friends on the programme. I miss that dearly! Sussex Innovation helps you across all the important parts of launching a start-up and at the same time the centre has experts on board who can help with specific business areas.

I recommend that students apply, if not solely to meet others and hear about their ideas. You’ll have the opportunity to talk to inspiring local business people and be connected to programmes such as Emerging Entrepreneurs, a national programme ran by Santander that I’m participating in right now. 

Before coronavirus, I often danced swing. Swing is a set of fun, upbeat, improvisational partnered dances, originating mostly in the African-American community in Harlem in the 1920s. Dancing as a break from studying or work helps solve issues. You often zone out from problems when you dance, a bit like gardening (which you can do on campus – try Roots!). Did you know that people who dance in synchrony remember each other more? That’s how powerful dance can be!

This is profile is part of our This Sussex Life series

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 8 July 2020