Advanced Security & Digital Forensics student, Simon

After completing an MSc in 1991, I worked for several multinational companies including IBM and Shell International

I then worked as a consultant at a FinTech company as an implementation software engineer. During this time, I was involved in many high-profile international projects mainly within the finance sector. Some of the clients I worked for included the ECB, Bundesbank, Diageo, ABN, BMW, Daimler, Toyota, Travelex and several central banks. 

Route to postgraduate study 

I have always enjoyed learning new techniques especially relating to information technology. While some of this education was achieved via structured training provided by the companies I have worked for, the majority of the education I have gained since leaving university was mainly self-selected, structured and sourced. 

I recently came to the conclusion that I would like to gain a more complete in-depth comprehension of a subject that had interested me more and more over the past few years, this being cyber security. 

On reviewing the options I had available for me to gain this knowledge it became obvious that the best method would be to follow some kind of formal education as I believe that this would provide the best all round solution. 

I had already completed an MSc many years ago and joined the course from industry. The transition from work to study was made even easier as I took a break from work while attending the course.

Why I chose Edinburgh Napier University 

I did my general research online via Google, followed by a more focused research into Edinburgh Napier University and the GCHQ certification of the Advanced Security & Digital Forensics course (now MSc Cyber Security).  

The main and by far the most important criteria when selecting this course was the subject matter. When reviewing the courses available, the one provided by Edinburgh Napier was the obvious choice, due to:
  • The possibility to participate as a distance learning student 
  • The close integration of the on-campus and distance learning course. 
  • The GCHQ certification. 
  • The mix of theoretical and practical activities involved in many of the modules. 
  • The reputation of Edinburgh Napier. 
  • The fact that this was the only course of its type available that held the GCHQ certification and contained a significant practical element. 
  • The virtualised laboratory environment available for students to perform the laboratory exercises and coursework assignments.

 Highlights during my studies

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the six taught modules, and combined with the flexibility that the distance learning format provided, allowed me to delve deeper in to the subject matter when certain aspects caught my interest. The fact that the taught portions of the course were provided via video allowed me to watch them at a time that was convenient to me and also allowed me to watch the videos that covered difficult topics several times. These videos also proved useful during revision periods. 

The ability to discuss the course either directly with the tutor via email/Skype/chat as well as group discussions via webex/Zoom/moodle/Slack were very important. This significantly counteracted any minor feelings of isolation that may have been present. 

Despite being a lot of work, the final thesis was also a highlight, allowing me to investigate in-depth a topic that interested me, from initial research through design and on to the final outcome, receiving timely and qualified support throughout the process from the teaching and library staff. 

“One main highlight was having a paper based on my final thesis publish in a well-known recognised journal and receiving the feedback and interest that this generated.”

The ability to perform all the practical work online allowing the distance learning students to receive the same experiences as the on-campus students was very impressive. The breadth of systems available to the students and the quality, design and delivery of the laboratory exercises was outstanding. This added to the feeling of being involved in a high-quality course delivering cutting edge content on a modern rapidly changing complex technical subject. 

The seamless integration of the IT research infrastructures into the distance learning course contributed significantly to the feeling of inclusion and belonging to the University.

Student-led networking events

Despite being a distance learning student, I still felt a close connection with the university. On one occasion I did visit the university, I met with several of the teaching staff as well as some people from the student union, who were all very friendly and keen to help. I even managed a visit to the bar. 

I was also lucky enough to attend a presentation given by ENUSEC, which turned out to be a very interesting and enjoyable evening. Several topical presentations were given including online bitcoin fraud and being an entrepreneur. 

Is distance learning the right choice for you? 

I found participating in the course fairly straight forward as I was already used to working independently and being responsible for my own time management, however I can imagine that this could prove a challenge for some.  

I think going forward the experience of working from home that people have gained this Spring due to COVID-19, should prove very beneficial to people who choose to follow this course as a distance learning student.

What I did after my master's 

I was fortunate enough to be able to continue my studies in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, transferring from the MSc to a PhD programme. 

This transition was made significantly easier due to the support and encouragement of my thesis supervisor and course leader Rich Macfarlane and Professor Bill Buchanan. 

“I would wholeheartedly recommend this course for several reasons” 

  • The content of the course in both its breadth and depth. 
  • The quality of the course contents and engagement of the teaching staff. 
  • The flexibility provided by the fact that the distance learning part of the course follows the same timetable as the onsite course allowing the distance learning student to join the actual lecture if they have the possibility to travel to Edinburgh from time to time. 

In addition, the excellent IT infrastructure and virtual learning environment providing the distance learning students with all the facilities and support equivalent to the services provided to on-campus students.

My advice to other students 

If following the course as a distance learning student, then allocate specific times during the week to study and try and stick to the schedule. 
Also, create a dedicated space when you can study, such as an office, or corner of a bedroom. 

Speak with the teaching staff often and participate in any webex/zoom meetings arranged by the staff. 

Slack channels run for each course are a great way to interact with other distance learning students and a fantastic support mechanism.