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Why I chose Cyber Security and A PhD at Queen's

Hey! First blog post here, so I’d like to give a general overview of my studies and why I chose Cyber Security at Queen’s.

The exterior of the ECIT building based in the Northern Ireland Science Park

To begin with, I have had an interest in Cyber Security for the past few years. I knew about the MSc Cyber Security at the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology, (which is now the MSc Applied Cyber Security) though when I researched it initially, it turned out my prior degree (Business Information Technology), also at Queen’s, wasn’t eligible.

So I thought, “OK, how do I get into this?”. Then I read about the MSc Software Development conversion course (this means it's open to students who have studied a non related subject previously), and I had a plan. Do the first Masters in software, then go do the second Masters in Cyber Security. Sorted.

 a promotional sign within ECIT highlighting the different centres working within the building

Some different centres in ECIT

Cyber Security is such a hot area to be in right now, there are so many exciting technologies in play, and you can really make an impact and a difference to people and society. Doing a 9-5, doing pretty much the same stuff for a year or two, then getting a bit of a promotion and repeating the process, was less appealing than a PhD. I get to specialise in something, stay technical, keep learning, become an expert in it, broadcast those ideas to other people, and when I’m done then I have so many more options open to me.

As it turned out, halfway through the MSc Software Development, I started thinking about a PhD and found out that there was a Cyber Security PhD program, the CDT program to be exact, which stands for Centre of Doctoral Training. Then I discovered more about ECIT/CSIT, attended a PhD open-day at in the Ashby building at Queen's and got to meet different supervisors and some existing Cyber Security PhD students.

They were all very encouraging and I decided I was going to apply and go for it. If you’re interested you can see the CDT PhD projects here.

Stuart Millar's desk within ECIT

My desk – fairly tidy in this shot!

For my MSc Software Development I had to complete my dissertation over the summer of 2016 which was in essence where you develop a piece of software from scratch, and write the whole process/experience up, with reflections. Companies and academics usually set projects and then students pick or apply for the ones they want to do.

I wanted to get onto the PhD Cyber Security program so badly that I decided I would try and get a specific Cyber Security related project. One concern I had was what technical skills I was going to need. I had already been in touch with the course director, Dr. Kieran McLaughlin, and he had highlighted that C/C++ would be useful for some of the modules. C/C++ are super fast languages used in a lot of cyber security applications.


second floor sign within the ECIT building

The second floor at ECIT where I am based

I went and met three or four different people who lectured on the Cyber Security modules and they were so helpful. I originally thought it was going to be a long shot – I had no previous with any of these lecturers and I guessed they would be too busy or there would be some protocol that would prevent them being involved in my work since they weren’t from my pathway. But no, they were really friendly and offered to set projects for me.

In the end, I worked with Dr. Jesus Martinez-del-Rincon who is a Machine Learning specialist, and my dissertation project was developing biometric access control software to identify users from keystroke patterns and behaviour. He was very supportive, we met every week over the summer, and the whole thing was a success.

signs for some of the businesses based within ECIT

A few companies who are based at ECIT/CSIT

I had applied for his PhD also, which is applying Machine Learning in Cyber Security, and I was fortunate enough to be picked for it, so it was great that I was working with Dr. Martinez-del-Rincon during my MSc and now my PhD.

Another cool thing is auditing modules. This is where you go to class, get resources, do practicals etc but you don’t do the exam. I’m not one to dodge work but the first year of my PhD involves me sitting the MSc Applied Cyber Security modules, which is a lot of work, so when I had the chance to audit Advanced Intelligent Information Systems (minus the exam) I knew I had to do it, as it would be relevant to my PhD.

I’ll leave it there for now - loads coming up to write about, including our trip to Cambridge representing Queen’s and CSIT at the inter-ACE Capture The Flag Event, Mexican food, and the recent Northern Ireland Science Week which I was lucky enough to speak at. Catch you soon!

The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen's is a Global Research Institute and host to the award-winning UK national Innovation & Knowledge Centre for cyber security, The Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT). 

PHD Research Projects at CSIT for 2017


Stuart Millar

PhD Cyber Security | 1st Year | Belfast

I'm doing my PhD via the CDT programme at CSIT.  I want to make a contribution to people's lives (I know! But seriously I do) and cyber security lets me do that.  It's about keeping people safe - think nasty software on your phone, protecting hospitals or fighting off international bad guys. Plus I always wanted to max out my academic potential; in a different life I'd be an actual doctor.

I enjoy getting out with friends, training, catching movies, and writing electronic music.  I used to work in radio too, presenting and producing with BBC Radio 1 and RTE 2FM. Secretly I'm a closet nerd, I don't do selfies (though that may change for this blog!) and somehow it took me until 2017 to discover Cards Against Humanity. Hope you like my ramblings!

Twitter - @StuartMillar | Instagram - @stuart.millar | LinkedIn

Profile image of Stuart Millar with grey background