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Faces of HPC: Samantha Ahern

Samantha Ahern is a Learning Technology Project Officer at University College London (UCL), having studied computer science and worked in secondary education for 8.5 years.


Samantha Ahern came into HPC having being a teacher for 8.5 years. After completing an MSc in Intelligent Systems, Samantha transitioned from a training role at UCL to her current position where she works on understanding learning analytics, involving the analysis of 1TB of data using HPC.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up and still live in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. In the promo literature for the guided busway to Cambridge it was described as a more rural market town. I left school at 17, and completed a BTEC ONC in Electrical/Electronic Engineering at the local FE college whilst working full time. I was 20 when I started my undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Kingston. I did a sandwich degree, so spent a year in industry working for Xerox as a Software Engineer, it was during this year that I decide I wanted to be a teacher. After graduating I completed a PGCE in Secondary ICT, and subsequently taught for 8.5 yrs. During this time I completed a PGDip in ICT in Education and obtained the Award in Basic Expedition Leadership. In 2010 I started an MSc in Intelligent Systems part-time via distance learning with De Montfort University (DMU), as I was still initially teaching then changed jobs part way through to a training role at UCL it took me 5 yrs to complete.

I am a member of local archery and canoe clubs, I am also a Sustrans volunteer helping to guide local leisure cycle rides. I am hoping to become a Breeze champion, I am due to attend the British Cycling Level 1 ride leader training in July.   This summer I am taking on 6 charity fundraising challenges, this includes ZSL’s Streak for Tigers – eek!

What is your current job?

I am currently a Learning Technology Project Officer. Half of my week I am doing some preliminary investigations into learning analytics, this has involved obtaining just under a TB of data from systems across UCL. This is too large to do any analysis on locally, once I have cleaned the data I am hoping to do my analysis using our HPC.

The other half of the week I am working for Research IT Services as a learning designer. I am helping to create some online-only versions of existing face-to-face courses. One of these is our introduction to HPC/HTC course. As prep I have observed our course, attended some PRACE training and completed the FurtureLearn Supercomputing course by EPCC and PRACE.

As part of this project we want to celebrate the diversity of HPC, in particular to promote equality across the nine “protected” characteristics of the UK Equality Act, which are replicated in world-wide equality legislation. Do you feel an affiliation with this matter, and if so how has this interacted with or impacted your job in the HPC community?’

Thankfully in my work at UCL I have not encountered issues relating to my gender but have come across some interesting attitudes towards women in IT generally at some events.

Is there something about you that’s given you a unique or creative approach to what you do?

Not really, but my use of these technologies is a little out of the norm as I am effectively a social scientist.

Were there any challenges when you first entered the field?

Being a part of Professional Services I do not have immediately have available to me the exisiting expertise in how to undertake this kind of work at scale - I am the sole person working on this project, no one  in my main team has experience with HPC. Luckily I am also working with Research IT Services so am able to easily seek help and advice from them.

What’s the best thing about working in HPC?

Sense of support and community.

If there’s one thing about HPC you could change, what would it be?

The learning curve.

What’s next for you in HPC?

I’m not really sure, am hoping to continue working on learning analytics next academic year but other than that I’m not really sure.

Samantha Ahern was interviewed by Toni Collis in May 2017.

Last updated: 18 May 2017 at 19:10