Career Story: Computer Science Researcher For A Government Laboratory

Computer Science Researcher For A Government Laboratory

Job Title: Computer Science Researcher

Type of Company: I work for a Department of Energy national laboratory, providing computer science expertise.

Education: BS, Computer Science, Wilkes College (Wilkes-Barre, PA) •• MS, Computer Science, University of Virginia •• Ph.D., Computer Science, University of Virginia

Previous Experience: While in graduate school, I was a research assistant. I worked with my advisor on computer science projects funded by federal agencies (NIST and NSF, for example). I worked in the area of parallel simulation, where people want to model large systems and use computers working in parallel to do so. The challenge is that you have to synchronize the processes that are executed on each computer.

Job Tasks: I do research in "collaborative problem solving environments." Scientists are working together more than ever these days, across geographic (often national) and organizational boundaries. As a computer scientist I am working with biologists and chemists to build web-based environments where researchers can collaborate securely: work together in small groups, sharing data securely and using tools peculiar to their scientific disciplines. I design and develop environments to enable this type of science to take place.

One interesting problem that I work on is data provenance. Provenance records the origin and history of data. This is a way that scientists can track their input into databases, tracing their results through a complex workflow and documenting their scientific data for future use by other scientists who wish to repeat or audit their results.

Virtual collaborations will have an impact on the future of science. More publications are looking to see data (and not just manuscripts) published and available to all scientists, and with the increasing complexity of science and the large amount of data generated, it is critical that there be ways to tag the data, automatically, with provenance information so that it is searchable and identifiable in the future.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is that I work with scientists in other disciplines and I can use my knowledge and expertise both to help them and advance the science.

The worst part of the job, and an enduring irony in view of the work that I do, is the isolation I feel working at home, deprived of physical contact and social interaction with my colleagues. I work with scientists at labs and universities all over the country, but mostly by email and phone. Talk about a virtual environment!

Job Tips:
1. I think that a computer scientist today should be as well-rounded as possible. You can combine computer science with social sciences, physical life sciences, education -- almost any field and be successful.

2. In order to have a successful research career, you have to be able to present your results in both writing and in oral presentations. Get as much experience in technical writing and giving technical presentations.

Additional Thoughts: A Ph.D. opens a lot of doors. You can do research, you can work in industry, you can teach at either a small college or a large university. And in computer science, graduate school does not have to cost money. There are lots of opportunities for assistantships and fellowships, especially in computer science or engineering.

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