Bob Salmon - bestcourse4me.com

Senior Software Engineer, BestCourse4Me.com

What type of research projects do you offer Nuffield students?

BestCourse4Me.com take detailed data from two bits of government (the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the Office of National Statistics), clean, collate, summarise and present it as a website and mobile app. We’re trying to show prospective students information about A levels, university and careers, so that they can see how they link together and hence make informed choices about their future. Among the data we present is trends over time, such as how the average salary of people in a particular career has varied over the last few years. We were interested to see if we could extend this analysis over time, both for the end users and also as part of our quality assurance process. The projects we provide are in data processing and statistics, although in the future we could offer other things such as software development and usability research.

How do you design a suitable Nuffield Research Placement?

We think of more things to do than we have time to do them in, so we usually have a list of useful projects that we’d like to do but haven’t made their way onto our current plan. From this list we picked a project that had a good chance of being done in time that could be started from scratch by a student, had a clear objective, and was research-based.

What motivates you to supervise a student through the Nuffield programme?

At previous jobs I’ve supervised university students doing summer jobs, and as well as it producing the good feeling of helping someone, we learned from their new perspectives and ideas. The fact that the NRP student would be doing work, rather than just work experience for a short time, made me feel we would be likely to receive some benefit.

What do you feel have been the main benefits to you and your organisation from participating in the programme?

We got the results of the research, which we probably wouldn’t have got time to do ourselves, and the results have guided where we invest our resources. The student had ideas about our work that we wouldn’t have had ourselves, and has also given us ideas for future work. As the users of our service include A level students, we were able to get the NRP student to test out some ideas we’d had for improving it.

What would you say are the key benefits to the Nuffield students?

I think there are several benefits. The first is seeing their school subjects being applied in the world outside, in this case statistics. They also learn how to organise an extended piece of work, and then communicate that in writing. They gain experience of a workplace, such as having a boss and colleagues - which are different kinds of relationships to ones they’re familiar with, and a different working environment to home or school. They learn new skills – in this case how to work with databases. Finally they experience the sense of achievement of tackling something novel and probably daunting at the start, and working to its completion.