Case study

Research officer, part-time lecturer & PhD researcher — Tom

Tom's dissertation propelled him into a career in academia via Globecom 2013 in the USA...

How did you get your job?

I studied the HND forensic computing at Staffordshire University, which I 'topped-up' to computing science (specialising in security), and graduated in 2013.

My dissertation opened up the opportunity of my current job. I was chosen to present my work at Globecom 2013 in Atlanta, USA, and after this I was offered the chance to undertake a PhD at Staffordshire University.

My PhD research interest is in cloud security.

Question everything, and put all that you can to the test

How relevant is your degree to your job?

Both my HND and BSc study was very relevant to my current job, as my research involves academic study within computer science but also contains a heavy element of industrial based research.

Despite not following a career as a digital forensics professional, this aspect within my degree has proven useful due to the variety of research opportunities in this role. The first research project I worked on was concerned with the development of a Digital Forensics Gateway and my experience likely had some impact during my recruitment.

What do you do day to day?

A typical working day consists of, firstly, checking up on any experiments I have been running. I would then configure any more as necessary and collate my data for later analysis.

My days often vary depending on the nature and progress of my current research project. If I am working on an idea, this might consist of organising and reading a large amount of academic and industrial literature. If I'm developing an idea I will normally spend a full day programming and testing applications or analysing my data; otherwise I'll be writing up my results for an academic journal or paper.

Final activities involve presenting and discussing research in research group meetings and writing academic bids for funding.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

The most enjoyable aspect of my job is being able to spend my time developing my ideas and software to help secure people and systems against future threats. This is something I used to struggle to find time to do and now I am paid to do it.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Explaining my ideas to others and, likewise, understanding their work. This is due to the novelty of what everyone is doing but also due to the steep learning curve of articulating and conceptualising novel ideas. Another challenging aspect is time management, which is difficult due to the quantity and variety of projects I work on.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

As my role has progressed, my responsibilities have grown and the research I conduct has gained depth.

I am due to begin part-time lecturing, which will give me experience for my career later on.

I'm aiming to continue conducting research either by myself or for an academic institution in the areas of security and digital forensics.

Any advice for someone looking to get into research/lecturing in IT?

Question everything, and put all that you can to the test. Learn to use and understand Linux, this will give you a greater insight into computer science than using Windows ever would.

Finally, make sure you examine and do everything in a hex editor. Using a graphical user interface (GUI) may be easy, but if you can't do it in hex, then you can't do it at all.

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