Attracted to IT from a very young age: Meet Karen Murphy

pic1Karen Murphy is a PhD student in High Performance Computing at the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Queen’s University, Belfast. Her field of research is data analytics. Here, Karen tells us how she decided to go for a PhD after years in the industry, and how Big Data has an exciting potential to change our lives in positive ways. Catch Karen on her Soapbox this saturday June 20th 2-5pm in Belfast, where she will be talking about “Analytics on big data: How massive data is collected and analysed to help keep us informed”.


SS: Karen, how did you get to your current position?

KM: Over the past 25 years my career path has alternated between academia and industry roles. After graduating with a degree in Computing and Information Systems from the University of Ulster I undertook a Masters degree in Cognitive Science and Natural Language Processing at Edinburgh University where I found the study of Neural Networks and its relevance to brain dysfunctions fascinating.  After graduating I was offered and accepted a software engineering post at a university spin-off compiler company in Edinburgh.  Whilst this was a challenging and enjoyable role I never lost the ‘research bug’.  After a few transitions between industry and academia I returned to academic research and in 2014 began a PhD in High Performance Computing at Queen’s University in Belfast driven by a keen personal interest in Big Data and the exciting potential for it to change lives in positive ways.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

KM: From a very young age I was attracted to IT. Back in the 1980s not many schools had computers, no dedicated IT teachers, and my school was no different. A teacher from a local Technical College was brought in to teach a small but very dedicated class of girls O’Level computer science. This exercise was a first for the school and I remember we learned BASIC programming. I loved it and from that point on dedicated my career to designing and developing software to find solutions to problems that would make lives easier.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?

KM: The field of data analytics is relatively novel and unexplored and there are many interesting applications just waiting to be discovered. I am fascinated by this research in particular because it offers opportunities to make a real difference to many aspects of our day to day lives; e.g. models that predict and manage traffic, early identification of potential criminal behaviour, detection of health issues in individuals enabling timely treatment, longer lives and likely cost savings for our health services.  As a researcher, I love that there are no upper limits placed on your creativity and there are endless opportunities for enriching lives through data analytics.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

KM: I was excited by the opportunity of sharing knowledge and ideas with people who have similar interests and especially with having an established and well respected platform for informing the general public. It feels good to be highlighting exciting new applications and the positive outcomes possible in this area to help explain how data is currently being collected on us through our everyday life activities and how it is already helping and informing us.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? Anticipation?

KM: Excitement and a little bit of all of them!


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

KM: I would attract more researchers from industry.  There is a wealth of experience which supports a strong professional approach to their work and those of their peers.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

KM: Specialise in something you are very interested in and the rest will fall into place. From my own experience of coming to research from a background in industry I love the pure aspect of research.  Departmental and personal objectives can only be dictated by what the science demands.  The work is very rewarding as everything you do builds on knowledge and understanding of your subject area and contributes to the research community.


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