Really, a Ph.D. is Software Testing?

I didn't know such a thing existed....

Well, that's how many of the varied conversations with SIGIST members over the years have started. I attended my first SIGIST meeting in 1998 after my supervisor Professor Mike Holcombe was invited to address the SIGIST AGM in that year. 

Since then I have attended as many meetings as I have been able. Each meeting at which I’ve been present at has been a different learning experience. I've listened to some fascinating presentations by respected speakers. 

The meetings have also provided me with the opportunity to mix with a very diverse group of people who consider testing to be their career and one of their passions.

So, what is a Ph.D. in Software Testing? Well, I suppose technically such a thing doesn't exist. I carried out research for a Ph.D. and the topic of my thesis happened to be software testing related. 

So, what does it involve? Lots of reading, writing and thinking. It's not a like a Bachelors degree, in that you don't sit in a lecture theatre being told what it is that you need to learn. 

There are some excellent testing research groups at Universities within the UK, where a great deal of interesting and challenging software testing research is undertaken, both theoretical and empirical. 

It is disappointing that the academic testing communities and the industrial testing communities do not have closer links to be able to benefit from each other's expertise.  The SIGIST are trying to address this and I have been one of the beneficiaries of their efforts to develop closer relationships between the two. 

I received a scholarship from the SIGIST for a year of my post-graduate research. As well as the obvious financial benefit to myself, it enabled me to gain a different perspective on my testing and research that I would not have gained from academia alone. 

I first learned about the SIGIST's willingness to sponsor students through the first SIGIST meeting that I attended (I believe it was through conversations with Stuart Reid and Mike Everett). 

To be considered for the scholarship I was asked to provide a summary of my research to date, along with the goals of the research and a copy of my CV. My understanding of the process was that this was presented to the SIGIST committee to be considered. 

After it was agreed that I would receive the scholarship a list of project deliverables was mutually agreed between Mike Everett, Prof. Holcombe and myself. The process took a few months but was very painless.

In December 1999 I was able to address the SIGIST meeting - which was one of my scholarship deliverables. As it was the first time I had to address such a large audience, it was a very nerve-racking experience - probably the most nerve-racking of my life to date. 

Speaking to an audience of 200 testing experts in order to explain my research was quite a challenging task. I stood up on stage and was almost lost for words. I raced through my PowerPoint presentation - almost exclusively reading aloud the contents of my slides verbatim because I couldn't remember what I wanted to say. 

However, by the time that I'd got into my stride it was over and I was thanking the audience for their attention. At least by speaking so quickly I brought the program back on schedule, so it wasn't all bad!

On the 30th September 2000, my thesis was finally ready for submission, four years after starting the process that managed to temporarily take over my life. My thesis was examined and passed in late November. 

Overall, it was a very exciting, creative and rewarding process.  Although I must confess it is much easier for me to think of it in those terms after my 250 page thesis was written and passed than during the many long months of writing thinking "Is it ever going to be finished?"! 

I loved my time at Sheffield University (currently named The Sunday Times - University of the Year) and as a member of the Verification and Testing Research Group. I'd like to thank Professor Holcombe and the SIGIST for enabling my dream to become a reality.

I'm currently working for Insight, the computer retailer in their Electronic Data Interchange department, in the US.  At Christmas I'll be heading back to the UK to work for them in their new European Headquarters to be based in Sheffield. So, I'm looking forward to attending SIGIST meetings in 2002!

Sarah Chambers, (SIGIST sponsored Ph.D student)