Jonathan Kelly is a PhD student in the School.
Here he tells us what it’s like to study for a PhD...
Where did you do your undergraduate degree and what did you study?
I studied Computer Science here at Queen's University Belfast.
Why did you decide to a PhD and why did you choose Queen’s?
Continuing to study at Queen's was an easy decision to make, as we have excellent facilities and because of the expertise in the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science both on campus and at The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) which is located in NI Science Park and is part of the School.
The decision to continue on to PhD level was something of a surprise even to myself. The opportunity arose quite quickly and when I thought about it, it seemed like a great way to really push myself to enhance my existing skills and develop new proficiencies.
What is your research about?
My work is in the field of software engineering. More specifically, ways to improve artefact (e.g. code) reuse in embedded system development.
What are the best and worst things about doing a PhD?
For me, the best thing about doing a PhD is being forced to really engage in your own development in technical and non-technical areas. You have to quickly get up to speed in a wide range of disciplines, as well as developing deep knowledge in your own niche. This all takes place under tight time constraints, and so I feel like I have developed much faster than I have done in the past.
The worst thing is probably the (self-inflicted) pressure. I could probably work on the PhD and related responsibilities 24/7 and not run out of important things to do. It is difficult, especially at the start, to allow yourself to stop and relax for a while without feeling guilty for wasting time.
What would your typical day as a PhD student involve?
One of the good things about doing a PhD is that there aren't many "typical days". At this stage, I ensure that some time every day is spent in front of the computer doing practical work towards my research goals. This involves creating models, writing code, staring at the screen etc. Aside from that, each day varies between meeting with supervisors, demonstrating at undergraduate tutorials, marking, supervising exams, taking part in School activities (I am involved with the school's research society and I'm a postgraduate student representative), attending presentations and of course reading!
What about Queen’s and Belfast in general – what is it like to study here?
I've been studying at Queen's and living in Belfast for a number of years now, so for me it is a comfortable experience. Belfast is close to my home town of Magherafelt, so I remain in touching distance of friends and family.
In recent years Belfast has become a more and more exciting place to live with plenty of great music, sporting and other cultural events. I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones, so seeing that being shot here in Belfast (a stone's throw from ECIT) is also exciting - my girlfriend works on set in costume so I am very excited to have that window behind the scenes!
Would you recommend doing a PhD? If so, why?
Absolutely, mainly for the reasons mentioned above regarding personal development. Doing a PhD gives you a three year window to become a world expert in an important and useful area. During those three years you have the full support of the university and all of its staff and their years of expertise. It is rare to have that kind of time to devote yourself to a project, working as you see fit with all that support behind you. If done well, you emerge as one of only a handful of worldwide experts in your chosen niche. It really is an incredible opportunity.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I enjoy research and I believe that the problem of reuse in software engineering is important, so I see myself continuing to work in this area for many years to some. Whether or not that is in an academic context depends on the opportunities that arise. I certainly plan to work with or in industry in some way, as I think software development organisations in Belfast and beyond stand to benefit tremendously from the work being done at Queen's.