Mike Simpson

I’ve always been interested in how things work. When I was four, I dismantled my parents’ exercise bike (and put it back together again!). I have vivid memories of being taken to places like The Launch Pad at The Science Museum, which I always loved. I was a bit of a nerd at school, particularly enjoying subjects like IT and Electronics. I can’t honestly say I loved maths, but I was pretty good at it, and I loved solving puzzles. Plus, I’ve always been a big gamer and movie fan, and I’ve always been curious about how those things are made.

I was doing GCSE Electronics when my teacher asked me if I wanted to apply for the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship. I thought it would be good experience for me and knew that it would look good on my CV. Plus, I knew that I was going on to do A-levels (and hopefully university) and thought that the Scholarship would help me with my studies.

I went on to do my A-levels, getting exactly the right grades I needed to get into Newcastle University. I chose a Computer Science degree because it was clear that robots, computers and AI were going to be a big part of the future, and I wanted to be involved. After my degree, I got a chance to do a masters in Games Engineering and to learn how video games are made, which I just couldn’t ignore. That landed me a job in the games industry where I wrote code for a handful of video games and learned a lot about programming in the real world, stuff that is difficult to teach in a classroom.

I was then offered the chance to do a PhD in Computer Science, which was an incredible opportunity. I used the skills and software I’d used in the games industry to build engineering simulations, basically building virtual trains and trying to derail them! It showed me that I could use my skills to build interesting applications and tackle difficult problems. Afterwards, I stayed at Newcastle University, working as a Research Associate for a few years, though my job always involved writing code.

I then discovered that my talents could be used to help researchers, which is how I became a Research Software Engineer. It’s my job to collaborate with researchers in all departments of the university (plus partners from across the UK and around the world) to bring digital skills, like programming and web development, to their projects. I work with engineers on one project, archaeologists on the next, pharmacists and speech therapists... I love it! I get to learn so many interesting things, work with some of the leading researchers in their field and contribute to some amazing projects. I’ve worked on projects that help make people’s lives better, help combat climate change or even prepare for future pandemics.

As I continue to work as an Research Software Engineer, I hope to take on more responsibility. I want to help researchers bring in funding to their projects, manage and mentor other Research Software Engineers who are earlier in their career and help our team to expand and grow. I hope to manage a team of my own one day, or help run a particularly large and interesting research project. But I hope that writing code and running experiments will always be part of my day job.

My Arkwright Engineering Scholarship was a huge boost for my confidence and cemented my desire to go to university. I know that it was a great honour to be considered and awarded a Scholarship. Getting to visit the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in London, where the awards ceremony was held, was also an incredible experience that inspired me to work hard and prepare to go off to university.

The Scholarship funding helped too! Some of it went towards a digital camera (phones didn’t have built-in cameras in those days!), which I used for several of my A-level Electronics projects and sparked a lifelong passion for photography. The rest went towards books and supplies to help me pass my exams and prepare for my degree.

I’m very grateful to the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship for giving me that boost and for helping set me on the path that led to me becoming a Research Software Engineer.

Arkwright Scholar 2003-2005

The Emmott Foundation

Computing, Maths, Electronics

BSc Computer Science, Newcastle University
MSc Computer Games Engineering, Newcastle University
PhD Computer Science, Newcastle University

Research Software Engineer, Newcastle University