Alumni profile - Mark Dunning

BSc Computer Science and Mathematics with a year in industry

I studied Computer Science and Maths at University and although I had a strong interest in software development, I wasn't sure what industry I wanted to work in. I therefore decided to extend my studies with an MSc in the Maths Department at York. This gave me a good opportunity to learn more practical skills and writing a dissertation was definitely helpful for my future career in research.

After the MSc, I decided to pursue a career in the emerging field of Bioinformatics; a combination of Biology, Computing and Maths. My entry-point into this was to do a PhD in Oncology at Cambridge.

I now work for Cancer Research UK and use the programming, software development and problem-solving skills that I learnt during my York degree on a daily basis. I recently contributed to a study that identified new treatment possibilities for breast cancer. It is very rewarding to think that the technical skills I learnt at university could give benefit to society.

My advice to students is to invest time in your transferable skills as they really pay off in the long-run. In a multi-disciplinary environment, you need good communication skills to explain your ideas to someone without your technical background. I work in a support role and have to juggle many projects at once; effective time-management is critical.

During your York degree you learn the principles of good programming, rather than specializing in any one language. I think this is useful for your future career as you can pick-up any language when required. We live in a data-driven society, so you can really turn your skills to anything.

Don't be afraid to look for jobs in areas outside your degree subject. For example, in the Biological Sciences huge amounts of data are being routinely generated. There are many opportunities and challenges in this area for those with a strong computational or mathematical background. I wasn't expected to know any Biology when I started my PhD training and you'd be surprised how much you can pick up by being surrounded by people knowledgeable in the field.

I look back at the time I spent at York, and the friendly and supportive environment, with great fondness. The experience provided me with a good knowledge-base from which I believe I have found my niche.