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Thaddeus M. Aid
I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, CA and I grew up around computers and they have always fascinated me. When I started looking for a career I tried several options (including being a machinist, a philosopher, a theatre technician, and a security guard) until I realised that I could make a living by turning my hobby of fixing computers and setting up networks into a profession. I started my first position as an IT administrator in 1998, quickly achieving my way up the experience ladder to a supervisory position at eGain Communications where I was set to continue, however the .com bubble burst at about that time and I was laid off through no fault of my own. I then spent the next several years working at other locations when I could find work as there was quite the upset in the technology sector as I am sure that you can remember, the majority of my positions at this time were short term project work. During this time I also focused on increasing my knowledge base by returning to De Anza Junior College in California. De Anza was ranked third best junior college in the nation as a place to learn computer science. De Anza had a program to allow me to achieve a two year degree and then transfer my credits into the University of California system for a four year degree. I was three classes short of my two year degree and I was about to start submitting an application to the University of California at Berkley, when my British mother in law suffered a heart attack. So my wife and I relocated to the UK to support my mother in law. I regretted having to abandon my studies being as close as I was to obtaining my goal, however the health care needs of my family took precedence.
In the UK I returned to work as an IT administrator and I continued to expand my skill base working on my Microsoft certifications, eventually achieving the status of an MCSE with a security specialisation. Most of the positions I worked for at this time were short fixed term contracts designed to only last the length of a project. This ended when I started working for Overland Storage, where again I was placed in a position of authority as an Enterprise Domain administrator and I was responsible for the McAfee ePolicy suite of security protections and the Blackberry email push service server, in addition to normal administrator tasks (such as redesigning the Active Directory structure of the company) and the day to day IT operations of the company. It was during this time that I started to apply the programming knowledge that I had gained at De Anza to automating my job function and I found that I enjoyed the task of programming in the workplace to make my job more efficient. I used the education grant at Overland to fund my “Access to Higher Education” courses at Thames Valley University, now Reading College and the University of West London, as I wanted to return to my studies and earn a degree. My manager at Overland once remarked to me that I am the person most dedicated to learning new skills that he has ever met. I continued at Overland until the company started having financial troubles, then I survived two rounds of layoffs before I was let go, once again through no fault of my own.
At the time that the layoffs were happening I was already planning on enrolling at the Open University to earn a degree in Computer Science as I was finally in a situation that I would be able to both afford and complete my studies, however with the layoffs happening I extended my UCAS application to the University of Reading to earn an offer of enrolment there. I accepted my offer to enrol at the University of Reading and I proceeded to have the time of my life. I loved going to university, spending my time learning new skills, practicing programming, and designing new algorithms. I cannot overstate the effect that going to university had on my life, being a mature student really allowed me to appreciate the opportunity that I had. While at the University of Reading I earned a position on the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme where an undergraduate is given a supervisor and allowed to conduct their own research program for a summer. I was paired with Faustina Hwang from the Cybernetics Department and we were given the task of producing an application for Christos Salis of the Speech and Language Sciences Department. Christos is a researcher into language capability recovery after onset of aphasia, a condition people lose the ability to produce speech, and it is most associated with stroke but can occur in other types of brain damage. I worked with Christos and Faustina to first interview people with aphasia and the clinicians that treat it to determine what would be needed in an application and then I worked to produce a three part applications suite that allowed a therapist to design a series of therapy exercises custom tailored to the person with aphasia’s needs, upload it to a server that I designed, and then the person with aphasia would be able to download the program into an Android smartphone or tablet and perform the therapy task wherever they liked. The summer project phase was a success with a prototype of the handheld device being produced. I then changed my undergraduate final project from the CUDA phylogenetic tree building application that I was planning on building and instead continued my aphasia project through my last year of university. I earned one of the highest marks in my year group on my project earning a high “A” grade. At the end of the project we submitted an abstract to the biannual international meeting of the British Aphasiology Society (the UK’s premier association of professionals on the subject) and I was invited to give a twenty minute presentation on my project, while Faustina was invited to give a keynote speech on the use of technology in therapy.
While working on my aphasia project I learned that I love to perform research. I like the puzzle of trying to find out what no one knows. It can be frustrating but I find it ultimately satisfying. I approached Faustina about turning my project into a PhD project and she supported my application to the university. Reading accepted me on to the PhD program, however Faustina, Chris, and I were unable to obtain funding for my degree. Faustina and Chris encouraged me to pursue other research programs and wrote me fabulous references and I started to search for other PhD programs that I could apply to. I contacted the Department of Computer Science at Oxford about applying there, however they have a requirement of a Master's degree before starting as a research student in the department. As an addendum to that email they mentioned the Doctoral Training Centre at Oxford to me and I found a program that did not require a Master's degree and worked to combine several of my interests (computer science, mathematics, and biological evolution) into a single research program. I was able to earn an EPSRC studentship on this 4 year PhD program and I spent the first year, along with my cohort, cross training between the mathematical sciences (math, computer science, and physics) and the biological sciences. The major benefit to myself was the ability at the end of the first year to both choose my PhD supervisor and to help define my research topic. I joined Simon Myers in the Department of Statistics researching “Positive selection in Homo sapiens”. I have presented my research multiple times within the department, within the Doctoral Training Centre, and to the public through Science Show Off! In addition to my research tasks in Stats, I also work as a demonstrator at the Doctoral Training Centre teaching new Doctoral Students the basics of programming, mathematics, statistics, and evolution. I have also been hired by the university's IT Learning Programme, first taking over the Introduction to Perl course and later developing my own online Introduction to Python course. My students give me an averaged teacher rating of 4+ out of 5, and I have been mentioned by name several times as an outstanding demonstrator for my work at the DTC. I am scheduled to graduate with my doctorate during Michaelmas 2015 (January 2016), though I may over run a term due to the computational requirements of my project. Once I graduate I will be seeking a research position in industry. I love teaching and academic research, however I do not feel that it is a good long term fit for my needs.
My research interests include but are not limited to: algorithm design, evolutionary algorithms, concurrent programming, phylogenetic tree building, population genetics, evolution, and human evolution. Though I currently sit in the Department of Statistics and I am focused on becoming a statistician, I am a Computer Scientist and I want to see my field grow and evolve. My time in statistics has honed my knowledge of probability and has been invaluable in my understanding of how mathematical models interact with the real world. I am particularly enamoured of Markov and Bayesian models and the ability to explore the solution space that they allow.
I am a proponent of the open information movements, both within the computer society and within academia. I have always been a fan of the Free Software Foundations' principles of open source and free software. While I think that people deserve to profit from their labour, I think that as a society we can advance more quickly with an open system of sharing information and techniques. I have carried this mentality into academia with me and I have become a fan of the open publishing movement, now required in the UK and by the USA's NIH.
While I am familiar with a large number of computer languages and technologies, my day to day research tasks have me focused on using Java and R to produce and analyse data. Since my project is about population genomics, I am gaining valuable experience in dealing with very large datasets. I also have spent quite a considerable amount of time learning how to work with the MPI interface in order to use my tools on the local HPC clusters available at Oxford.
In my off hours, I tend to spend most of my time with my wife and children. I have recently started studying the Japanese art of Aikido with the White Oak Dojo in Reading. I am also rebuilding an online gaming community that I used to manage a few years ago. I am a member of the steering committee and a former president of one of the student societies at Oxford. I am also a member of the committee that runs Think Week, as well I am an organiser for the Pint of Science festival. I enjoy cooking and when I have time reading science fiction novels.
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