EducationPrimary school: St Augustine's RC Primary School (Stoke-on-Trent) High school and sixth form: St Thomas More Catholic College (Stoke-on-Trent) Undergraduate degree and PhD: Keele University
QualificationsGCSEs: English Language (A*), English Literature (A), Mathematics (A), Science Double Award (A*A*), GNVQ ICT (A*A*AA), History (A*), Geography (A*), Religious Studies (A), Latin (E) A-Levels: Physics (A), Mathematics (A), English Literature (A), History (B), General Studies (A) Undergraduate degree: first class dual honours degree in Physics and History PhD in Computer Science (title: 'Fusion of heterogeneous data in non-destructive testing and structural health monitoring using Echo State Networks')
Work HistoryI really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life once I had finished school, and I've done work experience at both the Wedgwood Museum archives and a local solictor. Since I finished my first degree, I've had the following jobs: Exam invigilator (at my old school) Desk study researcher (at Keele University) Programmer (for the Keele University School of Psychology) Sessional Teacher (at Keele University) Technician (for SciCorr Ltd) Student Demonstrator (at Keele University) Community Day Demonstrator (at Keele University) Teaching Support Assistant (at Keele University) Teaching Fellow (at Keele University) Lecturer in Mathematics, Computing and Physics (at Keele University)
Current JobI'm currently a lecturer in Mathematics, Computing and Physics for the Keele University Foundation Year. This means that I get to teach students with all sorts of backgrounds in a range of different subjects. I spend most of my time teaching Computer Science, but I've taught Maths to students studying all sorts of sciences and even health topics.
I’ve been at Keele University for ten years now, firstly as a student and then as a member of staff. I admit that I originally came here because it was close to home (meaning I get to keep my season ticket at Stoke!) but I’ve since fallen in love with the place and have never really wanted to leave. I now work on the Foundation Year, which is a sort of extra year at the start of a degree for students who might not have got the A-Level grades that they wanted, or who want to spend an extra year getting used to university. It’s a really rewarding job, and some of our students go on to achieve great things.
Favourite thing to do in my job: Teaching students - especially giving Foundation Year students a second shot at studying Computer Science
About Me: I'm a lecturer at Keele University who finds new ways to teach computers to stop bridges falling down. I'm wholly obsessed with all things relating to Stoke City FC, love medieval history (especially castles and cathedrals!) and spend most of my spare time playing computer games with my wife.
My Work: My job is to teach artificial intelligence to search the data and find damage, so that we can repair our roads and bridges.
When I teach students, the basic idea behind it is to explain new things in a way that students can understand. Teaching artificial intelligence is very similar, because I need to explain new ideas to a computer in a way that it can understand. To do this, I write computer code in different programming languages. Programming languages are just a way of talking to a computer and giving it instructions, just like I’m writing this answer in English. Most of my time spent on research is used writing code. A typical bit of code looks like this:
Don’t worry if it looks complicated – our spoken language looks even more complicated if you are a computer!
When I say that I work in artificial intelligence, most people think that means that I’m building robots that will take over the world. The truth isn’t nearly that scary! The AI that I use is based on a human brain (neural networks), but can only learn very simple things about one specific job. For me, this job is usually something to do with stopping a bridge from falling down.
A lot of the time, people send me data from one of their roads of bridges and ask me to use AI to find out if it is going to fall down. However, sometimes I have to go out and find the data myself. This is usually the most fun part of my job, although it doesn’t feel like it at the time. We use a special machine called an EMAD to look under the surface of roads and bridges, and I then get some of my AI to look for signs of damage in the data produced by the EMAD.
When I have to go out into the world to get data, we have to work at night so that we don’t cause traffic problems. This is often in the winter, and it is usually freezing cold! As you can see below, I also have to dress in very stylish (!) high visibility clothes:
In the picture, I’m using a portable version of the EMAD to try and look at the steel inside the pier that is holding up the bridge above me. After I’ve had to do some work outside, I’m usually quite happy to get back to working at my computer in my nice warm office!
My Typical Day: This depends on the time of year and every day is a little bit different. I get up at 7 am, have some toast and then drive to work for around 8:45 am. When I'm there, I split my time between teaching students about computers and teaching computers about bridges. I also have to spend a lot of time answering emails - I tend to get around twelve emails to deal with on a normal day. Then I go home to look after my house, make something nice for dinner and play computer games (Skyrim and Oblivion are favourites, but I'm currently playing Divinity: Original Sin 2).
What I'd do with the prize money: I like the idea of being able to put together a little model demonstrator bridge with some very basic sensors and showing how the output from this can feed into neural networks, which can help find damage in real time. This could then be used for all sorts of outreach with local schools.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Hardworking homeowning husband
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My parents and my teachers at school
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had absolutely no idea.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Can I pick anything? I'd like to be the manager at Stoke City, even if I wouldn't be very good.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
They Might Be Giants (a bit obscure, but loved by Computer Scientists around the world)
What's your favourite food?
Bacon and cheese oatcakes (the North Staffordshire kind, not the Scottish ones) or anything Italian
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Either seeing Stoke win an FA Cup semi-final 5-0 at Wembley in 2011, or kayaking around the Florida Everglades in 2016
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. The ability to time travel and solve historical mysteries without changing the past 2. Have an infinite amount of money 3. Manage Stoke City
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a dinosaur that takes good care of its teeth? A flossiraptor.