Getting Started, Competitive Edge 2013

This summer I am participating in a program at the University of California, Irvine called Competitive Edge. The aims of the program are to give minority (and women) incoming graduate students a “competitive edge” on their Ph.D. programs.

After a successful drive from Washington down to southern California, we settled into our new home in campus housing adjacent to the UCI campus. One benefit of the Competitive Edge program is the early move in for the student housing. We had a couple days to acclimate before I started my program. This was spent mostly setting up house and trying to get used (mostly unsuccessfully thus far) to the heat.

A highway going through dry land.
Road to Irvine, CA.

The first day of the program was orientation, including a campus tour, luncheon, and a ropes course. Yes, a ropes course. Most of the folks back home would probably have a hard time imagining me up on a ropes course because, honestly, heights really aren’t my thing. But it happened. And I even did the zipline at the end.

Competitive Edge Students gathered near the ropes course.
Competitive Edge Students gathered near the ropes course.
Group of students at ropes course.
Competitive Edge Students after the ropes course.

Each week, the Competitive Edge will be holding workshops to help us make the most of our grad school experience. So far, I have attended workshops on Research Resources, various informational sessions on the types of fellowships available, a workshop on the Ford Foundation fellowship, and a session outlining the NSF GRFP. From here on out, the workshops get more specific into the application process. We will be getting feedback on our essays, proposals, CVs, and even on how we give presentations. At the end of the program, on August 15, we will each be giving a 10 minute presentation on our research at the Research Symposium. All in all, this program is definitely designed to make us much stronger graduate students.

The rest of the week I get time to do research in my own lab. I am a member of the Star Group in LUCI. I will be working on researching assistive technology for those with Autism. This past couple weeks, I have been doing background reading and getting settled in the lab. I will be working with a great group of people in my lab (everyone is really friendly and more than willing to collaborate) and I’m excited to really start working.

Daily Log: CHI2013 Day 4

So, I’ve finally found time to write my last day of CHI entries. I was sad to see CHI be over, but on the other hand, four days of solid conference is a lot of conference.

I first attended Vint Cerf‘s talk in the morning (he was one of the inventors of the internet). I thought the whole talk was interesting. He discussed how everything is now going on the internet and it’s important that standards be created so everything can talk to each and talk to the aliens when they come to visit from outer space.  The best part of his talk, however, was when he ended the first part of his talk and launched into the necessities of accessibility. Now this just happens to be my area of interest. And apparently, not enough people are interested, unfortunately.

Vint Cerf talks about Computer Conversations
Vint Cerf talks about Computer Conversations
Star Trek and Ubiquitous Computing, Talking to a Mouse
Star Trek and Ubiquitous Computing, Talking to a Mouse
Vint Cerf at the Podium
Vint Cerf at the Podium
Slide on Accessibility
Slide on Accessibility

I then went the session on Autism. I enjoyed listening to all the papers presented. The first (Why Do They Still Use Paper? Understanding Data Collection and Use in Autism Education by Marcu et al.) covered why teachers and caretakers in schools were still using paper to keep track of all the student records. Basically it comes down to: there is no really good software solution yet for schools. The second paper (TOBY: Early Intervention in Autism through Technology by Venkatesh et al.) was about the Toby Play Pad, which is an app that is meant as an early intervention tool when parents find out their child is autistic. It targets four developmental areas: sensory, imitation, language (receptive and expressive), and social (eye gaze, joint attention). The third paper (Evaluation of Tablet Apps to Encourage Social Interaction in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Hourcade et al.) was on a method to evaluate tablet apps for encouraging social interaction. The fourth paper (Investigating the Use of Circles in Social Networks to Support Independence of Individuals with Autism by Hong et al.) was about social media and using social networks to support youth with autism. This helps shift the burden off over-reliance on the primary caregiver and spreads it around to other people in the youth’s social circles.

In the afternoon, I also attended a panel with Vint Cerf discussing accessibility and what’s currently being done. It’s nice to know some big names in computing are concerned about this and maybe it will get more attention this way.

Finally, here is a slide show of the rest of Paris, in case I don’t get around to a post about that part of my trip:

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.

Because It’s a FAQ…

I just wanted to write a short blog entry about this whole “grad school” thing because I’ve been getting some questions about what exactly it is I’ll be doing in the next few months.

This fall I’ll start towards my PhD in Informatics from the University of California Irvine. My research area is in Assistive Technology and I think I’ll be doing my work in the area of tech helping kids with Autism and chronic illness. I really won’t know my research space until I get into the work and get a feel for what I’m doing.

The way grad school works, at least in the field of tech and computer science, is that when a school offers you acceptance there is usually some sort of funding package that comes along with it. For instance, a lot of schools will offer 3 years of funding, which usually covers tuition and then gives you a monthly stipend. In order to earn that monthly stipend, depending on the school, of course, you work 20 hours a week doing research or TAing. In my case, I’ll be expected to TA one year and then do research projects for the remaining time in the program. After you second year or so, you have usually settled on an advisor and a research path and can start getting grants for the work you are doing. This will be in lieu of “working” for the department. I have been getting some questions as to how I’m going to live while getting my PhD and there is the answer: I’ll be getting paid to do it. Yes, it won’t be as much money as I could be making as a programmer straight out of my bachelor’s degree, but if I wanted to be a programmer, I wouldn’t be going to grad school. I’ll still be making way more money than I’m currently earning, and I guess that’s the perspective I’m going in with. I’ll be quite comfortable with what I have.

I’m going to grad school because I love doing the research. This is what I learned from completing my DREU at UMBC last summer. That really was the one of the best experiences I have ever had in terms of my own personal growth. At this point in time, I haven’t really thought PAST earning my PhD; it’s be a long road just to get this far. I’m sure that in due course, it will become apparent where I want to pursue my career, whether it is in industry or academia.

Do feel free to email me if this didn’t clear things up for you. I’m quite happy to talk about all the in’s an out’s! =D