Richard Alun Williams

PhD in Computer Science

Research: Agent-based modelling and simulation of the NF-kB intracellular signalling pathway - a complex biological pathway within cells
Group: Immune Modelling branch of Non-Standard Computation research group

I originally read Biochemistry way back in 1995-1998 as I had a love of science, but I've also had a fascination with computers and IT since my days of programming as a child in Basic on an Acorn Electron and BBC Micro. Following my undergraduate studies, I therefore pursued this avenue through an MSc (conversion) in Computer Science in 2000, and subsquently joined Oracle Corporation as an IT Consultant.

Life as a consultant treated me well - however, I continued to have a passion for research, and also felt an attraction towards PhD research. I therefore returned to education in 2009 for an MRes in Computational Biology at York, so that I could merge my backgrounds in Biochemistry and Computer Science, and also get back into the swing of full time study again.

Following my MRes, I was fortunate to receive funding to continue my research as a PhD, and I am now a member of the Immune Modelling Group led by Professor Jon Timmis, which is part of the Non-Standard Computation research group in Computer Science.

Why did you choose to study in Computer Science at York?

My MRes in Computational Biology, although based in the Department of Biology, had strong links with the Departments of Computer Science, Chemistry and Mathematics. Due to my background in IT, I felt a draw towards the Department of Computer Science, and was able to secure supervision on my two research projects by Professors Susan Stepney and Jon Timmis, both of Computer Science. Although my PhD is interdisciplinary, and so could arguably be hosted by Biology or Computer Science, because I felt "at home" within Computer Science, it seemed sensible to stay!

What has been your main highlight so far?

This was presenting at my first conference - 10th International Conference on Artificial Immune Systems - and winning the best paper award. A few months later, I was also invited to submit an extended paper for consideration in a special issue of BMC Bioinformatics. This was a great way to end the first year of my PhD.

Tell us what you think of the Department of Computer Science at York.

I feel right at home within Computer Science here at York. The facilities are outstanding, and the staff are genuinely interested in how your research, and indeed you as a researcher, are developing. I feel very lucky to have found the Department during my MRes, and to have secured a place here for my PhD.

I feel completely embedded within the research student community in the Department, who make every effort to be inclusive and involve everyone in their events. A good example is the annual York Doctoral Symposium, where students can gain experience of organising and holding a conference - I was part of the Programme Committee reviewing submissions, and also presented a paper myself.

What do you intend to do when you finish your PhD?

As a career changer, my intent is to use the PhD as a stepping stone into the world of academia. My plans are to continue acquiring research skills through a post-doctoral position for a few years, and then ultimately gain a lectureship.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of doing at PhD in Computer Science at York?

Do your homework! Come and have a look around at what York has to offer; ensure there is a close match between what you think you may wish to research and what the research interests are of Departmental staff; meet the relevant staff members for an informal chat of their work and your interests; and take the plunge!