Professor Dave Robertson

Dave completed his doctorate in artificial intelligence. He has worked as a lecturer, and is now a professor of applied logic and Head of School Elect for the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh.

The following text is a transcription of a career story collected by interview.

"I'm Dave Robertson, I am a professor of applied logic and I am the Head of School Elect for the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. Probably I spend about a third of my time in administration, a bit more than err a third of my time on research and the remainder on teaching.

"One of the things that has kept my research quite fresh is being actually to do a lot of teaching. Every professor, every lecturer teaches, and the reason why is because students are actually very good at keeping you sharp – they are extraordinary good bullshit detectors and they force you to actually articulate your research quite well.

"My research is related to the Internet and to building large scale systems on the Internet. They way that computers are starting to work now is in big collections on a large scale. At university I did a degree in ecology, I was a biologist, not a computer scientist so even in my underground youth degree I never thought of doing computer, computing science and I got involved in computing through biology because at that time simulation work was starting to take off in biology. And I was very lucky that I got onto another project right after my undergraduate degree that took me in to what is, was and remains a world leading research group in artificial intelligence. That was wonderful and that really opened my eyes to what you could do with research, I think. So that was the big break for me, was at that point, and then my career just then continued, snowballed after that. When I moved into the artificial intelligence department I had no idea what artificial intelligence was. None at all.

"I decided to do ecology because I was very interested in biology and I thought ecology would be the bit of biology that would give me the broadest background I could possibly have.

"After that an accident happened so there was a research project going on, it was a project on simulation for ecology. I was doing clever smart stuff with simulation and I was taken in as the ecologist. Possibly it was a bit risky actually for the people involved ‘cause I was just an undergraduate to hold up the ecology, make sure that was okay.

"Again I was lucky because at that time, the artificial intelligence had really taken off, this was the mid '80s. And there was really an awful lot of money being pushed into that from industry and from government. And I ended up doing reasonably well stuff that I was doing worked out, err the department was growing and I got a lectureship quite early, even without a PhD I got a lectureship which was very unusual. So what I did actually was I did a PhD in Barcelona err um and the reason I could do that was because I was heavily involved within research and it just seemed like a natural thing to do. I think with a lot of things in academia, what happens is that the subject actually carries you along, if you're lucky. I've been quite lucky, or clever perhaps, in being able to be in an area where it is obvious that money has to be spent.

"One of the things that you learn in any decent place in academia is that everything is fiercely competitive. The fact that we get it is because we compete very, very fiercely against every other research institute to do the best research in that area. There are so many different ways of developing a career in research, umm and my personal history is unusual. So one piece of advice would be don't do the things that I have done because a lot of them are not guaranteed to give you success."