On Getting Into Grad School, Part 4

Did you miss Part 3?

March 2013: UC Irvine Visit and THE Decision

After leaving Boulder and hearing what students there had to say about their school, I was more inclined to accept Irvine’s offer. I wasn’t going to say with 100% certainty until I had visited the school and made sure I clicked with the people there, but based on the research that was happening and what I heard from others, Irvine was the way to go.

It did not take me long to feel like my initial instincts were correct. I got off the plane and already felt like I had come home. Now, I had to be cautious, because in a lot of respects, I had come home. I spent the first 12 years of my life in Southern California. I had decided that Kyle, my husband, needed to come with me on this visit. If this was going to be our home for the next 5+ years, I wanted to make sure it was going to work for him. He was not as impressed at first as I was. I knew what he meant about it not being “green”. The Pacific Northwest is definitely a lot greener, but I think that’s probably not the best reason to turn down a grad school offer. J  I also have to say the women huddled around the hot chicken case at the Whole Foods because it was under 70 degrees outside was extremely humorous.

When I checked us into the hotel, I was given a “goodie” bag with snacks and a folder full of information about the school and department. I think the snacks were a really great touch, even though I couldn’t eat most of them. I did enjoy the pudding cup and the Star Wars gummies. The information packet was definitely overwhelming. It had lots of information on what research was going on and other facts about the school. It also contained a hardcopy of my acceptance and award letter. There was also a schedule for Friday, which included what professors I was going to interview with.

Thursday night we had a dinner with the current Informatics grad students. It was great waiting in the hotel lobby and meeting up with some of the people I had met in Boulder. Already knowing a couple people made the whole experience slightly less daunting. The current grad students picked us up and we had a big dinner together. I got to meet my roommate that I will be staying with in Paris for CHI. I also met other students who I would potentially be working with in the future. And apparently my reputation preceded me because at least one of them already knew of me. I am going to admit, it was completely surprising, but also felt pretty good.

I came back to the hotel feeling very excited for the next day. If the grad students were any measure, I was really going to like this place. I’m going to admit, it was hard to share these experiences with Kyle and give him a good sense of how I was feeling. I think my excitement (and exhaustion) was pretty obvious though.

The next day, Friday, I got up early and had breakfast with Kyle. I then waited for the shuttle to take me over to the school. Apparently, there was some confusion and only have of the prospective students had signed up for a ride, so the whole day started a little more slowly than anticipated. We drove straight to the Bren School of Information and Computer Science. I received an additional packet of information that was more general to the entire School. The morning was spent going over all the great things about the school, “the second happiest place on earth” (after Disneyland, of course). Then we broke down into subgroups of Informatics, Computer Science, and Statistics. We spent more time talking about the Informatics department specifically. I learned about the degree, what kinds of courses I would be taking, the research, how the department operates. One of the things that really caught my attention (and this had come up at the grad student dinner as well) was that there seemed to be a lot of collaboration and cooperation. It didn’t feel like there was negative competition, it was more like everyone was trying to help everyone else out. That’s the sort of environment I was looking for.

Then I got to meet with three professors. While they all had really interesting research that I could see myself working on, I knew as soon as Dr. Gillian Hayes told me about the Autism Research Center, I was hooked. This was the sort of assistive tech research that I wanted to be doing. I told her in the interview that I was set to come to Irvine straight away. How soon could I start working?

**

I feel extremely fortunate that things have worked out this way. I feel lucky that I found a department that feels good and an advisor that I felt an immediate connection to. I know the road ahead will be challenging, but I’m happy that I chose this road or that this road chose me. However that works out.

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 3

Have you read Part 2 yet?

October 2012: More Traveling Fun

Amidst getting through my senior year classes (which were amazingly more difficult than my previous courses), I traveled some more in the fall. At the beginning of October I went to the Grace Hopper 2012 Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I had been given a scholarship to attend, all expenses paid. It was great because I was traveling with some of my friends from the west coast. We all stayed in the same hotel and I got to show them a little bit of Baltimore (like the train from the airport to downtown).

At Grace Hopper, I was sure to visit the booths of some of the schools I was planning on applying to. It was nice to connect up with people I had made connections with the previous year and with those I had made connections with over the summer.

Later in October, I attended ASSETS 2012 in Boulder, CO. This conference was a lot smaller than anything else I had been to, but it was definitely worth the trip. Here again, I connected up with people from the summer and learned a lot about the assistive tech scene. It was sort of an affirmation that this was the field that I wanted to go into and was proof that it was a viable field to go into. I think one of the best parts was going to dinner with Amy and Michele (that I worked with over the summer) and getting all sorts of advice on how to proceed with my grad school application process. It was a lot more information in one evening than I had ever gotten from anyone at my home institution. I am glad to have made these connections and definitely don’t want to ever turn up the opportunity in the future to make more connections like these.

November 2012: Wrapping Up the Semester and the Applications

By the time I came home from ASSETS I was ready to finish up my applications and get everything done. I had a much stronger idea of what to write for my personal statements and a stronger overall story for the application package. I spent the rest of November writing all the different personal statements and starting to turn in my applications. For the most part, I was able to get all of my applications done by the first of December. This gave me a little breathing room before finals. While the majority of the applications were due December 15th, I didn’t want to be trying to turn them all in last minute.

It was at the beginning of November that my first paper (I was second author) got presented at a conference. The conference was in Taiwan, so I didn’t have the funds to go, but it was still exciting to have a paper published.

December 2012: This is the End?

I got all my applications done before finals and wrapped up the semester completely exhausted. And broke. Did I mention how much money this whole process ended up costing? I’m a little scared to actually tally up the total, so I won’t. But it was a lot. It was probably in the neighborhood of $1000 after application fees, GRE tests, and transcript requests.

Then the worst part of the entire process began. The waiting.

Knowing that my entire future was in the balance and that the outcome of these applications would determine where I would be living and what I would be doing in less than a year was completely nerve-wracking. And it wasn’t just my life I was messing with- it was also my husband’s.

January 2013: Dealing with Rejection

Luckily, schools were on the ball and started culling their applications by mid-January. I got a couple of rejections right away. While this was a bit discouraging, I had mentally prepared myself for such occurrences. And a rejection was much better than not knowing at all.

But I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself or worry too much because I was also keeping myself busy with school and MORE travel! I was prepping at this point to head to the Tapia Conference in Washington, DC. I was to present a poster on work I had done in the fall for my professor.

Right before I left for the conference I found out that I had a phone interview with UC Irvine the Monday after I got back. While I was very nervous about this, I was happy I had made it past the culling phase with at least one school!

I also got invited to interview with Facebook at the Tapia Conference and invited to a Google workshop called Google.GetAJob(). I felt like I would have a lot of hard decisions to make in the next couple of months about our future.

February 2013: It All Starts Coming Together

The first week in February is when I attended the Tapia Conference. While I was there I spent a day visiting my friends at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I talked to them about my grad school applications and interviews. It was really great to catch up and also know that what I was going through was completely normal. The conference itself was also really great. I got to meet people from all over and network with the research labs. I did a poster presentation, which I had only done once before. I got a lot of really great feedback and most of it was positive, too.

During the conference, immediately after my Facebook interview, I got an email saying that I had been accepted to present my poster at the Student Research Competition at CHI 2013 in Paris. If I had had any thoughts of just skipping graduate school and going to industry, they instantly vanished. I knew I wanted to do well at CHI and continue doing research that I enjoyed so much.

After I came home from the Tapia Conference, I had my interview with UC Irvine. It was very informal and a really positive experience. I was able to tell them I had gotten accepted to CHI, which really helped my own confidence.

I also found out that I was invited to an interview on campus at University of Colorado, Boulder set for the 14th of February. So, off I went on another trip after having just come back from Washington DC.

The night before I left for Boulder, I found out that I had gotten into UC Irvine. I was over the moon. It also made me feel much more comfortable while traveling to Boulder. There I met with students and faculty on the campus. I really loved the town, at least until I got snowed in and ended up staying an extra day. I’m not sure I could live in a place where there’s that much snow. It was still a great learning experience and I got a good idea of what I wanted to find out about Irvine when I visited them in March.

ASSETS 2012 Conference

To be honest, I started this blog immediately after I returned from the ASSETS 2012 conference, but everything else in this semester got away from me and I didn’t post it. I’m on winter break now, so I am finally able to catch up on things.

I have finally returned home from my journey to Boulder, Colorado. Firstly, we drove. We should have realized what a crazy idea this was when we stood in a room full of Ringlands, told them our plan to drive down to Boulder and back in a week, and no one even batted an eye.

Family eating lutefisk dinner.
Some of the Ringlands eating at the lutefisk dinner in Poulsbo.

With a belly full of lutefisk (because nothing says the start to a great road trip than unending plates of lefse and lutefisk) we left Poulsbo, WA to arrive 36 hours later in Boulder, CO. I’m going to admit upfront that I missed the keynote Monday morning.  We rolled into the hotel as the address was about half-way over.  If only we hadn’t stopped for that 2 hours of sleep in Rawlins, Wyoming!

First impressions:

*ASSETS is much, MUCH smaller than any other conference I have attended (less than 100 people versus a couple thousand plus).  This allowed me to get to know a lot of the people there.

*ASSETS is a single-track deal.  This was great!  I didn’t have to choose between two awesome papers.  Everything is in one room.  With the exception of the keynote, I didn’t have to miss any of the conference.

*It’s really nice having such a close-knit, small community.  People were super enthusiastic not only about their own projects, but other people’s work and were very willing to get in there and give each other ideas.

There was a lot of really fantastic work presented at the conference.  It ranged from web accessibility to assistive tech hardware to biofeedback interfaces. The populations being worked with were quite varied from physically disabled to the elderly to the visually impaired and so on. I think the most heartening thing about the conference was to see how much great work is being done to help people.

The grad student I worked with on my DREU project, Michele A. Burton, gave her presentation on the accessible fashion we had been working on. She did a fantastic job. I very much wish to follow in her footsteps.

Boulder itself was absolutely beautiful. I had the opportunity to visit the campus and see the Human-Centered Computing Lab there. It was great to meet some of the students and see what projects they are working on. This is definitely one of my top choices for graduate schools.

We got 5 inches of snow just as the conference was ending. It forced us to stay an extra day, but it was worth it.

Snowy creek and trees.
A creek near our hotel in Boulder, CO.

Week 10

In a whirlwind of getting everything done, the summer is over!  This past week I created a video showcasing all of the tagging systems I put into clothes.  I also wrote a presentation, which I gave at the Summer Undergraduate Research Festival on Wednesday, August 8th.  This was the same festival that I  created and presented a poster at.

Here are the slides from my presentation.  The video I created followed these slides.

Tagging Systems to Assist Visually Impaired Users Identify Visual Data in Clothing.

And here is the video I created:

 

All in all, I’m really sad to be going home and leaving this project behind.  I had a lot of fun working on it and learned a LOT.  It was wonderful working with so many great people.  I’m super excited to be continuing on with school and working on graduate school applications this fall!

Week 9

I can’t believe the summer is almost over!  I guess it’s a good sign that I wish I were in grad school now so that I could keep going with my project. The RFID Reader kit arrived, so I was able to put it together and actually get it to scan RFID tags.  The kit was a shield that just plugged into the top of the arduino.  I used the adafruit tutorial to complete the reader and upload the software required for reading the tags.

Reader Kit Unpacked
Reader Kit Unpacked
Breakaway Headers
Breakaway Headers
Soldering the Headers
Soldering the Headers
Soldering Set Up
Soldering Set Up
All Soldered
All Soldered
Reader Assembled
Reader Assembled
Antenna with RFID Tag
Antenna with RFID Tag
Working
And it works!

This week I also found out that I have been selected to present at the Summer Undergraduate Research Festival on campus next Wednesday.  This means I will be giving a 8 minute talk about the project I have been working on this summer.  So, I started working on my talk and a video that I will play during the presentation.

 

Week 8

This week I finished up putting tags into the clothes. I also did a lot of writing this week.  I submitted two poster abstracts- one to the campus Research Festival and one to Grace Hopper.  I also started a draft of the final paper for this project I have been working on all summer.  Luckily, actually quite enjoy the writing process.  I’ll be finding out this coming week if my poster abstracts were accepted.  Next up:  making a poster!

On Thursday, I went to the ADA Celebration on campus.  We put some of our projects on display, including the clothe I have tagged.  It was really great meeting people and talking a bit about the work we have been doing.  We also heard speeches from Dr. Hrabowski and Governor O’Malley.

UMBC HCC Group at the ADA Celebration July 26, 2012
UMBC HCC Group at the ADA Celebration July 26, 2012
Me at the ADA Celebration
Me at the ADA Celebration

This coming week I’ll be working more on my paper and designing my poster.  I hope the RFID reader parts come in, so that I can build the last system for the project.  I’ll also be playing around with an NFC enabled tablet to see if I can get it to read the tags we have in the lab!

 

Week 7

There was a lot going on this last week, especially now as I am looking at deadlines for my poster abstracts and wrapping up for the summer.

We finally got our “smart closet” put together with shelving and all!

Smart Closet
A nice, organized closet space for our clothes that are going to be tagged.

We narrowed down our list of tagging systems that we want to prototype.  We had a fashion hackathon on Tuesday to put together the website that will be part of our prototypes.  For some of our systems, the user can look up a button shape or specific location to help remind them of what it identifies (color, how to wash, etc).  In another web based system, the user can input a number that is written in braille on a tag inside the clothes to get all the information about it.

Fashion Hackathon
Fashion Hackathon
3 Braille Tags in Puff Paint
Ribbon with Braille in Puff Paint

 

 

Star Button Tag in Shirt
This star represent certain information about this shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also built some prototypes with a more high-tech solution.  One uses the QR code iron-on to the clothes.  A second solution is the RFID tag with reader.I am still waiting on the parts for the reader before I can prototype this system.

Row of QR Codes
QR Codes ready to be printed.

On Wednesday, I went to the Summer Horizons grad school information session on campus.  The information presented was phenomenal.  They went over the timelines,  keys to admissions (GRE Scores, Letters of Recommendation, and the Statement of Purpose), and what life is like as a grad student.  There was a panel of grad students that answered questions about their own application process and what their lives are like now.  To finish everything off, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski gave a great keynote speech.  I wish I had recorded it, but I was too busy watching!

One of the things Dr. Hrabowski said was the following quote, which really stuck with me: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
– Lao Tzu

I’m glad I attended this information session, even though it wasn’t strictly a part of the internship I am doing.  It helped me to really start exploring the reasons I want to go to grad school and how to organize my thoughts so I can get my applications together.

Wednesday afternoon, summer students from the Maryland School for the Blind came to visit UMBC.  As part of their visit, the HCC department gave them some information about the research they do here on campus.  Michele and I got to informally talk with some of the students about my project that I have been working on this summer.  Some of them were really excited about the idea of just scanning clothes and getting the information about them.  One student wanted to know when they would be able to buy the system.  It’s really nice getting such positive feedback about the work I have been doing.

This coming week I will be writing abstracts for my research posters.  I will be finishing up my prototypes, which will probably take the bulk of my time.  I’m down to sewing in buttons and ribbons.  As soon as we have IRB approval, we will be able to take our clothes to users to see what they think of our prototypes!

Week 5

This week was a short week because of the July 4th holiday.   I spent the week refining my project.  I put together a list of supplies I would need to build an NFC reader and the tags to put into clothing.  Sadly, a lot of the online stores did not have the components in stock.

In the meantime, I examined an already built RFID reader that was made by another graduate student last spring.

RFID Reader

RFID Reader Innards

It was great to be able to see how someone else put a system together with different components.  This system used a battery, an Arduino Pro Mini, a bluetooth controller, and a RFID antenna mounted on the outside of the box.

 

I also helped in the production of a tutorial video.  The video is for people who will be participating in a study using an iPhone app called VizWiz.  Learning how to make a video was a lot of fun.  My main role was narration, which was a new experience for me.

 

Week 2

I can’t believe another week has already gone by!  I guess that’s what happens when you keep yourself busy.  Monday we had our first “Fashion Project” meeting.  We discussed what each of us is working on and plans for the future.  I am working on this project with Michele, the PhD student, Amy, my advisor, and Jeffrey, another undergraduate.

My main task this week was to study up on the arduino and when the kit arrived to start playing with it.  Below are some pictures of the unveiling of my arduino kit when it arrived.

Arduino Kit

Unwrapped Arduino Kit
So many pieces.
Packaging of Arduino "We Love Open Source"
I love the packaging that says “We Love Open Source”.
The Arduino Uno
It’s so little!

 

Tuesday was an all-hands meeting.  It was nice to be able to meet everyone else in the lab and see what projects they are working on.  It’s also a nice place to get help and coordinate on skills.

Wednesday I volunteered at the NCIL Conference in Washington, D.C. at the Grand Hyatt.  I was there to help assist in the e-voting that was taking place for NCIL’s board.  The e-voting system was being run by a group from Clemson and is meant to be accessible to everyone.  There is an article about it on Clemson’s website, if you’re interested in learning more about it.

This coming week I plan on taking the plunge and getting my arduino to run with my laptop.  I have all the software installed, I just need to load the sketches and go.  Hopefully, I’ll have some success to report on that front next week.

Week 1

It’s amazing to me how quickly a week can go by!  I have settled in to my living arrangements and even ventured forth a bit over the weekend to check out a local yarn shop.  The weather is proving the most difficult thing to get used to, since I’m from Vancouver, WA- it’s 20+ degrees warmer here and much more humid.

This past week, I narrowed down my project, so I have an idea of what I will be working on now.  I’ve decided to try my hand at learning the hardware aspects of Arduino, even though my previous electronics experience is limited.  The project I’ll be working on is Making Fashion Accessible.  You can read more about it on Michele’s website.  She’s the PhD student that I will be working closely with, as the overall project is hers.  I really liked the idea of working on a project in accessibility.  My role will be working on the scanners or smart tags that could be implemented in clothing to make their information ‘readable’ by a smart phone.

This week my goal is to learn as much as I can about Arduino and fashion and technology.  Michele is going to a conference on Wearable Computing next week, so when she gets back, the real work on the project can start.  I have until then to learn about electronics and wearable hardware.

Even though it’s only been one week, I can already safely say that I am really glad I have had the opportunity to do this this summer.  I have learned a lot about grad school in the last week and I am more certain than ever that this is what I would like to do next year.  I am super excited to be working with such meaningful research!