Doctor, Doctor?


PhD student Matt Stabeler talks to Conor O’Nolan about his life as a postgrad and what he hopes to achieve from his work on computer networking

What is the official title of your PhD?

Community Based Delay Tolerant Networking in Human Interaction Networks

Explain the official title in English please

Given a network of human interactions, I am trying to find a way to efficiently route information about that network, without the need for infrastructure, based on the idea that humans form communities. For example, as people go about their daily routines, they come into contact with, or in the vicinity of, many other people; friends, family, strangers, familiar strangers (e.g. the people you see every day at the bus stop) etc. If I wanted to get a message to my friend in Australia, without sending it using a postal/sms/email network, I might want to do it via this series of interactions between people, a bit like an automated postal system, where the person’s mobile phone carries the message. Surprisingly, there are only a few ‘hops’ between most people in the world, and so we should be able to work out the shortest route to the intended recipient through a knowledge of the community structure. I am trying to find efficient ways to predict the best person in my interaction network or community, to pass the message on to, who is most likely to get the message to my friend.

What undergraduate degree course did you do?

I studied BSc (Hons) Internet Computing  at the University of Hull.

What made you choose to do a PhD?

I enjoyed my undergraduate degree a lot. When I finished, I worked in industry for a while doing Computer Forensics, but I realised that I would not have the freedom to do really interesting research unless I did a PhD. It just so happened that a Professor at UCD had offered me a position when I graduated, so I took up his offer. At the time I wasn’t sure what a PhD would entail, but I’m glad I took the leap back from industry to academia; it’s a very different pace of life and income, but very personally rewarding.

What is the best thing about research?

To begin with, it was being free to explore fields I had very little knowledge of, but now that I am trying to finish my PhD, it’s knowing that I will be able to contribute something unique to an area I originally knew little about. Being able to learn about and see all the fantastic things that people are researching makes life interesting – you don’t often get to hear about bleeding edge technology and research in the non-research world.

What is the worst thing about research?

The hardest part for me is keeping up to date with and understanding the latest research, whilst at the same time trying to find my own contributions to the field. Often, experiments and ideas seem to lead to dead ends. There’s definitely something to the phrase ninety per cent perspiration, ten per cent inspiration!


How could your work make a difference to the world?

There are some scenarios where this sort of research can help, for example, in disaster situations when infrastructure is disabled, or in remote areas, where there are no cell towers to deliver wireless data, or even satellite communications between planets. However, I would most like to be able to contribute to the world of environmental sensing, and pervasive computing, where the people in a city become the carriers of information about what is happening, and allows the city as a whole to run smartly and more efficiently.

How do you hope your PhD will affect your career prospects?

I am hoping to continue my research after my PhD, perhaps with IBM, Microsoft or Google. I am sure a PhD will be a requirement for the sort of jobs I might apply for in the future, as I think it’s really just proof of a person’s ability to do research. However, I am a firm believer that it’s one’s attitude and experience that will get the job in the end.