Case Study

Charlotte Knill

After completing a year-long placement in the High Tech Crime Unit at Northumbria Police as part of her BSc (Hons) Computer Forensics course (see quote below), Charlotte Knill was awarded the University of Sunderland Alumni Achiever of the Year award. We caught up with her to chat about all things computer science and cybersecurity.

I see my placement as essential for building up the experience that will help me stand out from other graduates when we are all searching for jobs. My chosen field – computer forensics – is not the sort of thing you can do as a Saturday job. The best way to get your foot in the door is to build up your credibility and reputation over the course of many months. That’s exactly what I’m doing through my year-long placement with Northumbria Police.

My first two years at University were great at giving me theory and skills. But it’s my placement year where everything is coming together and making sense. As I put theories into practice, I understand them better and see how they relate to practical problem-solving.

I’m currently working in the High Tech Crime Unit. The Unit’s role is to deal with all aspects of cyber-crime and to gather evidence from mobile phones and computers for use in prosecutions. It’s a fascinating and important area – especially when retrieval of a text message or email might be vital for securing a conviction.

The modules I took at Sunderland are directly relevant to my work, particularly in the areas of networking and so-called ethical hacking. One of my tasks is to use advanced retrieval software to find information that might have been deleted, deliberately hidden, or just filed unthinkingly. As one of my tutors says, it’s like trying to find one particular needle within a haystack that’s got lots of other needles in it!

I enjoy working with colleagues who have a lot more experience of computer forensics than me, and who know how challenging it can be to achieve some wins against cyber-crime. I’m learning a lot from their approach to problems and their example of professionalism in the workplace.

I’ve developed a LinkedIn profile with connections to these colleagues. I’m now starting to get messages from recruitment consultants who are alerted by my job title and connections. They are going to be a source of job opportunities when I’ve completed my final year back at University.

Overall I’d certainly recommend a work placement between your second and final year. If you don’t invest your time in undertaking one, how will you answer potential employers when they inevitably ask about your work experience? There is a huge difference between one person who has only studied a subject at a theoretical level, and another who has spent time actually tackling real-life problems and putting theory into practice."

Published 1 March 2017

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