The importance of networking

Most of my work as a computer scientist has been in collaboration with others, whether I'm working on a research challenge to understand the biology of cancer better through computer models, or deciding what to put in the lectures for my second year computing module. So how do you get to meet all these great people you might work with, who might inspire you, or give you cautionary tales about approaches that didn't work? Networking!

Networking is a chance to connect with your community (or communities); to find out what new work is being carried out, and what new problems are coming up. It's also an opportunity to share the successes and triumphs of your colleagues, as well as the day-to-day grumbles. Here are some of my examples from May this year. Although the events above have passed, the networks carry on. Come and join us - we welcome new members.

The POEMS "A Vision for Mathematics in Healthcare" meeting was on 13-14 May. POEMS is a research council-funded network which aims to bring together computer scientists, mathematicians, biologists, healthcare professionals and others to solve the problems of 21st century healthcare. What I find really exciting about this group is that the problems tackled are some of the biggest challenges facing our society, and that to solve them effectively we need to bring lots of different expertise together. For example, there's no point in developing a fantastically complex and clever piece of software if it doesn't actually solve the problems faced by clinicians. Anyone with an interest in these topics can join the network.

Then it was straight up to Aberdeen for a Scottish Women in Computing Research meeting. My department has quite a few women, but across the UK, computer science departments often have between 10-20% women on the staff. This can make computing and IT quite a lonely place for women, so for me it's really important to connect with women across the country to remind myself that there are in fact lots of us! The meeting was a great chance to catch up with colleagues at all levels in higher education across Scotland, but we also ran a workshop on research leadership skills. This was an opportunity to share experiences of what makes a great leader, and how to develop those skills.

My next networking events also related to women in computing: the London Hopper Colloquium and the 2015 Karen Spärck Jones lecture on 20 May. Both events happen every year, and celebrate key role models for women in computing and IT. I'd love to say more about role models, but that's for another blog. The Hopper colloquium brings together researchers from across the UK, from PhD students to professors, to talk about cutting edge developments in computing research. The Karen Spärck Jones lecture celebrates one role model (Karen Spärck Jones) by presenting another role model! The 2015 lecture was given by Cordelia Schmid who leads the Learning and Recognition in Vision group at INRIA, and talked about the advances in making computers understand the visual world, and how far we have to go.

Each of these events was a chance to network: for me to talk to other people about what I do, to listen to what they do, to make connections and figure out how we might achieve more together. How can you get involved and make the most of these opportunities? The Internet is overflowing with advice on networking. I have very simple advice: turn up, and engage. Welcome to our community!


Dr. Carron Shankland is a Professor in Computing Science at the University of Stirling, and Deputy Head of the School of Natural Sciences. Her research lies in the intersection of computer science, mathematics and biology: understanding the behaviour of biological systems through mathematical and computational models.

Her models (in process algebra) can describe systems at a high level of abstraction as networks of communicating individuals, scaling up to the emergent population dynamics. Her group has worked across a range of biological systems (disease dynamics, immunological systems, collective dynamics of cells, cell signalling response to cancer therapies) as well as in computer networks and protocols. In addition, her group is developing an exciting technique combining genetic programming with modelling to produce models directly from experimental data.

Carron leads activities in the modelling and abstraction theme in the Scottish Computing community, and nationally co-leads the POEMS network linking modelling to healthcare technology. She is passionate about the promotion of careers in science for women, leading a programme of actions at Stirling designed to achieve a gender balance in senior positions. She is chair of the BCS Women in Computing Research Group. When she's not doing computing science (or admin!) she likes to play classical chamber music (she plays clarinet and viola), or chop things down in the garden.