Case study

Real-world problems inspiring Aaisha’s research journey

Real-life problems have always been at the heart of Aaisha Makkar’s research: from the way internet search engines serve you information, to how your data is used within the NHS – and the difficulties of getting a GP appointment.

A career driven by research

Aaisha began her academic career teaching database management systems as an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Kurukshetra, India. It was where she had completed her master's after finishing her undergraduate degree at Mehr Chand Mahajan Dav College for Women.

Though she enjoyed teaching, Aaisha wanted to keep pushing her career forwards in research and began a PhD in Cyber Security at Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, India in 2016. And her subject matter relates to something many people use every day – web browsers and, more specifically, web searches. Her motivation was to improve search engine results pages by detecting “spam” web pages in her project - An Efficient Spammer Classification for Ranking of Web Pages.

She explains: “Everyone uses web browsers in their day-to-day life, but we never get authentic results. I considered Google’s methodology of how webpages are ranked and eventually my findings outlined the research gaps.”

Beyond the PhD

While working on her PhD, Aaisha started to write a book based on her research. It focuses on cyber security using techniques of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) – which relates to how all digital objects connect. Her book ‘Machine Learning in Cognitive IoT’, was published by Taylor & Francis. She also published many articles during this time.  

After submitting her PhD, Aaisha realised she could go further with her research and education and started to look for a post-doctorate position.

And one of her articles led directly to her next role. She was contacted by a professor at the Seoul National University of Science and Technology, South Korea. They were really interested in her work and were keen to work with her.  

Aaisha says: “I applied because I was looking for opportunities and, after three rounds of interviews, I was successful. It was a beautiful country and I got so much exposure there. It was very advanced, and everything was fantastic there – a driverless car even came to pick me up! It was a great journey in my life.”

The year-long project focused on Cyber Security and provided security for automated systems. It was funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea. Aaisha helped the team design an algorithm to enhance cyber security for cyber-physical systems (a computer system in which the mechanism is controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms). It was recognised academically by a number of universities.

Aaisha Makkar presenting a lecture

I’m proud to be a part of this project. I have achieved a lot from there in terms of knowledge and articles, and it has also helped me to grow. Every year of my research career is full of achievements.

Dr Aaisha Makkar
Lecturer in Computer Science

Data in the healthcare sector 

Aaisha then joined us at the University of Derby as Lecturer in Computer Science in the College of Science and Engineering. However, after moving to the UK, she soon faced another real-life problem.  

She explains: “In the first month of moving to the UK, I struggled to get in contact with a GP. I either couldn’t get an appointment or had to wait until first thing in the morning to ring up, so a major gap was found. There is nothing wrong with the healthcare sector, just the synchronisation of data and how the data is being manipulated. Data is very crucial in this sector.”

Aaisha was eager to find out the different research gaps in this sector. She met Professor Myra Conway, Professor of Biomedical Science and our Theme Lead of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, at one of her Inaugural Lectures. They both discussed this problem and the effect it has on older people. Aaisha says: “Sometimes when older people call on 111 [the NHS urgent healthcare hotlline], the conversation is too long so they are unable to find out what they need to do or sometimes they urgently need to talk to a doctor but do not get the chance to. This is a gap that Myra and myself identified and we are hoping to offer a solution to the NHS which will help improve their services.”

Aaisha and Myra are now working closely with a postgraduate research student who is focusing on federating learning in the healthcare sector through a studentship – a funded MPhil/PhD. Federated learning means allowing multiple digital systems to synchronise their data. The research is looking to create a robust federated learning model that addresses statistical obstacles, system challenges, and privacy issues in healthcare data, as well as the implications and potentials in this field.

“Whatever I have learnt in data science, I am applying it in real-world problems like the NHS. Anything I have proposed, I have developed from scratch only. Now, we are realising the different gaps and various domains in the real world like health care and defence, and it is becoming more appropriate to say that data is everywhere, so there is a demand for these two domains - data science and cyber security – so I’m trying to dedicate my research to these applications to understand more.”

Inspired and inspiring

Aaisha is always encouraged by her fellow professors who recognise her work. This gives her the motivation to pursue new research project proposals. She says: “It doesn’t matter where you are from. I got the opportunity, and I had the skills. Research is like a passion, if you start working over it and work towards solving real-life problems, it will give you a position, which is remarkable.”

And these same sentiments motivate her teaching. She says: “I am teaching more and more international students in our department, so surprisingly everybody blinks their eyes when they see an Indian woman standing there as a lecturer. I wanted to make the students realise that your nationality or colour doesn’t make a difference in what is practised at the University of Derby.” 

Aaisha Makkar presenting a lecture

Dr Aaisha Makkar
Lecturer in Computer Science

Aaisha is a Lecturer in Computer Science in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Derby. In 2020, she served at the Department of Computer Science, Seoul National University of Science and Technology (South Korea) as a postdoctoral (research) Professor.

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