Dr Dalal Alrajeh
How can we help police analysts to catch repeat offenders? How can we make drones safer? How can we increase our cybersecurity? These are just some of the questions that Dr Dalal Alrajeh’s research is trying to answer.
Dr Alrajeh started studying Medicine in her native Saudi Arabia and after 18 months changed to Computing which offered the right balance of theory and practice for her.
She followed this up with an MSc in Computing and then a PhD, both at Imperial.
After several years as a Research Fellow, she is now a Lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Computing.
"My favourite thing about my job is that it never gets boring - I love that the research I do is on a deep, theoretical level and so can be applied to a wide range of fields."
Dalal Alrajeh (PhD in Distributed Software Engineering, 2010) didn’t expect to end up working on crime - it all began a love of maths. At school, she found herself particularly drawn to areas where she could use her problem-solving skills.
Following an academic career path is something I have always wanted to do - studying the MSc in Computing at Imperial College London seemed like a natural step."
Dr Dalal Alrajeh
When it came to choosing a university in her native Saudi Arabia, she was keen to study an applied subject. She wasn’t sure what subject choose, beyond the fact that she knew it wasn’t pure mathematics. She started studying medicine, but after eighteen months changed to computing, which offered the right balance of theory and practice.
That led on to a PhD at Imperial College, working with the same supervisors to start developing algorithms to build software. Through Research Associate to Research Fellow, she now finds herself a Lecturer in the department. A standard day might be split between teaching, focusing on research activities and working with international collaborators.
“I do still spend time at the computer playing around with code,” she says, “but sometimes I also find myself going back to simple pen and paper to try and formulate the theory behind what I am doing.”
What is one of your current research focus areas?
My major focus at the moment is a project to help police analysts detect patterns in crimes that will help them to identify serial offenders. The ultimate aim is to develop software that adapts to the context in which it is used. This involves gaining a deep understanding of the intuitive processes human beings in different cultures and situations use to detect when multiple crimes have been committed by the same person.
An analyst will have developed effective processes for spotting connected crimes over years of experience, even as the environments in which the offenders operate evolve, and this is invaluable in helping us design software that can do the same. But no one person can have a comprehensive view – naturally, these processes will be shaped by the particular cases an analyst has observed. The aim is to develop an algorithm that can get better at finding edge cases that human analysts might otherwise miss.
The software can then make recommendations for the analysts to assess. This is technology with people very much in the loop, and there is no desire or intention for computers to ever replace that human aspect. And this is just one of many problems that Dalal is currently working on.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My favourite thing about my job is that it never gets boring. I love that the research I do is on a deep, theoretical level and so can be applied to a wide range of fields. Today it’s crime, tomorrow it might be cyber-security, or I’m also working with some collaborators in the US on drone technology. It all begins with the underpinning mathematics and logical programming, but from there it can lead to any number of different software implementations.
Three of the best opportunities on offer for budding female computer scientists
While the field of computing is still largely dominated by men, Dalal is keen to see more women entering the field and believes there is lots of support on offer to help them to do so.
“My advice for anyone thinking they might be interested in this area is to make the most of everything that’s on offer,” she says. “Learn some coding online, find a project to get involved in where you can help to solve a real-world problem, reach out to ask for work experience. Make the most of every opportunity you can.”