The main thing I love about being a part of the CDT is the freedom I've got to follow an area of research of my own choosing. As I didn't start with a specific PhD in mind, the wide variety of research groups appealed enormously, offering a broad range of study options for me to follow.
After working in industry for a number of years, I decided to do a degree in Computer Science at MMU starting in 2009. During my third year, I completed a unit in Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) which completely changed the direction I wanted to take my career in. I finally found an area of Computer Science that, for me, focused on an area of science, as opposed to say software development, and the biological plausibility of the subject, as in the influence of principles found to occur in the brain as an inspiration for ANNs, just increased my interest in the area.
After discussing with my then tutor I started to look into the possibility of undertaking a PhD, and I was very interested in applying for the University of Manchester to see if I could pass the criteria to obtain a place. Both the University and the School of Computer Science has a fantastic reputation when it comes to research, and I consider it to be my greatest professional achievement so far to be accepted for a funded place with the Centre For Doctoral Training in Computer Science (CDT).
My first impressions of the university were very impressive. I've lived in Manchester for many years, but have never studied here, so to find myself studying at what is generally regarded as the best University in the north of England was a great privilege. I was instantly impressed by the calibre and the friendliness of the staff here. With regard to the city, its a great place to live, with an incredible music scene and thriving cultural calendar. Being a father to a 4-year-old daughter, there is also a huge amount of stuff to do for kids.
The CDT programme has given me an opportunity to follow an area of research of my own choosing. I'm extremely interested in the area of biologically inspired unsupervised machine learning, and that is exactly the area that I have found myself involved with. I am receiving the guidance necessary to get me through the hurdles required to complete a PhD, whilst being able to choose the direction I take my work in. I thoroughly enjoy not just working with a supervisor and co-supervisor, but have found other members of staff, from within my research group and beyond, to be of invaluable help in guiding me through the programme. I also really enjoy getting involved in demonstrating various units for the undergraduates and masters students. Its good to get out of your research bubble from time to time and get to know other groups of students. I've always been pretty good at communicating with others, and I love passing my knowledge of computer science onto those at an earlier stage in their studies.
If you are considering doing a PhD in Computer Science then I would definitely recommend the CDT course here. You don't arrive with a given topic, but you have got funding for 4 years giving you the opportunity to choose your own direction. This is a very well-established school with a number of world class research groups, all of which are possible destinations for any CDT student. It is hard work, and very stressful at times, but having the chance to follow and add to a body of work that you are passionate about is not one that should be passed up.
Listen to more about Jon's story on our CS@Manchester podcast: