I'm a first year PhD student, and I struggle with writing. Every line I write for my upcoming literature review is like drawing blood from a stone. With the situation as it is, myself and my whole cohort started our programmes at home. We have limited access to campus, our peers, supervisors, and the research culture that's important to our growth. Because of this, it's hard to find anyone to talk to about the struggles of writing. I wanted to create a friendly bot who would always be there for me and other students, when we need some tips, motivation, or just someone to talk to about writing.
What it does
Edna is a simple chat bot that talks to you about writing. First it asks you for you name, for the personal touch. Then you can talk to Edna about how your writing is going and she will give you positive vibes and encouragement. She can also give you some tips about writing to help you on your way. If you're finding things really hard, she can also advise you to seek further help from the University.
How we built it
I made Edna in Python 3.9 with the chatterbot library.
Challenges we ran into
So many! I was under huge time pressure because I'm a mum! So I only worked on the project a little yesterday afternoon, after bedtime last night until I fell asleep at midnight, then some more this morning. I'm so glad I joined though as it pushed me to try something new. I've never done anything like this, although I can use R so I have some understanding of general coding. First, I had to get the right libraries installed. Chatterbot hasn't been updated recently so there were some version conflicts that I had to figure out and fix. I struggled to get Edna to work with an external training file (.yml) so I integrated the conversations into the main script. This isn't optimal but the best I could do in the limited time, and it made Edna work!
Accomplishments that we're proud of
I'm just so proud that I participated and made something, and really pushed myself to learn some basics in a new language (python)!
What we learned
I learned a lot. The literal basics of python. How to make a github repo for my scripts (not sure I fully understand push/pull requests but it's a start!) How hackathons even work. I learnt some things about developing a web app too, as my initial goal was to make Edna into a web app that you could talk to on the internet from anywhere (using Django). Unfortunately that was a faaar too lofty goal for this time but I have a better understanding of how apps actually talk to the web and are interpreted to the user.
What's next for Edna - a writing chat bot
I would love to learn how to implement Django to get Edna onto the web. I've set up an account with Python anywhere and will have a go at deploying her in the near future. I would also like to make a bigger training set of conversation with more good advice for students, and implement that as an external training set I can update easily. I would also like to add into that more advice and contact details for help, if someone says in chat that they are feeling really down.