The Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) multi-disciplinary programmes is what originally drew Michaela Brady, from Connecticut, USA, to applying to study at the OII. With a background in psychology, Michaela was interested in looking at the connections between digital life and mental health. “Applying psychology to the Internet, I found there are a myriad of gaps in research on cyberbullying, cyber abuse and the correlation between mental illness and social media,” she says.

Now, Michaela has taken her interests further and is working to develop an app that has been announced as a UK finalist in the 2018 Microsoft Imagine Cup. “The idea I submitted to the Imagine Cup is an app that centralises mental health support services within universities,” Michaela explains. “It currently features a chatbot that provides immediate support, image analysis of text conversations, and redirection to counsellors and welfare officers that can best address the student’s needs.”

The app has been a long-time ambition for Michaela. “Part of my reason for coming to the OII is to investigate how effective online therapy is in addressing cyberbullying and to perhaps one day create a service that fills the current gaps,” she says. “When I heard about Oxford’s IT Innovations challenge, I figured I’d propose a prototype app just to get feedback. Unexpectedly, that app has progressed to the project proposal stage. After receiving this news, my teammate suggested we submit the idea to Microsoft as well.”

Though Michaela and her team were not the final winners of the Imagine Cup 2018, it has been a great experience. “I am so honoured to have had this opportunity,” she says. “This app pertains to everything I am doing at the OII, and allows me to apply my personal experience, thesis research, and everything I have learned in the past months as an MSc student.”

Michaela and her team will present the app to the Oxford IT Innovation challenge in May. To find out more about their project, visit the Oxford Ideas website.