UCI Summer Research Symposium 2016

 

Cover of a booklet for the summer research symposium. Has images of students posing in a group and working together to finish an obstacle course.
Cover to the Summer Research Symposium program.

Today was the end of the summer research programs on the UCI campus. This summer I was a mentor to both an incoming PhD student in the Competitive Edge program and an undergraduate student in the SURF program. The summer ended with a wonderful research symposium where half the students presented their work via oral presentations and the other half presented posters. We then had an awards ceremony lunch where everyone was recognized for the great work they did this summer.

A woman giving a presentation at a podium. To her right is a slide projected with the title "Developing a user friendly system to 3D print minecraft creations for autistic children"
SURF Undergraduate, Aminah Tamimi, giving her presentation on 3d printing from Minecraft.
Woman stands next to a podium and a slide that says "Who watches the overwatchers?"
Competitive Edge PhD Student, Amanda Cullen, giving her presentation on Overwatch.

These programs are a really nice way to help students prepare for graduate school. As someone who participated in a similar program (DREU) as an undergrad and in the Competitive Edge program, I can attest to their usefulness.

As a mentor for students in these programs I am also extremely grateful to the programs for the opportunity to give back and be a mentor. As someone who is passionate about increasing diversity in academia and in STEM programs, I am always excited about chances to “do my bit.” In this instance, working with both Aminah and Amanda was a wonderful experience. Not only are they both hardworking students who are going to go great places, but they are generous with me as I felt my way through my role as a peer mentor. I plan on staying in touch with them (especially Amanda since we sit next to each other in lab) as they progress along their careers and continue to be helpful when I can.

A big thanks to everyone who made this summer fun and full of learning!

A flock of birds silhouette against a yellow-orange sky.

Diversity

A handful of experiences and people helped to transform me from a lost undergraduate who was thinking of dropping out, to a successful, ambitious graduate student. I struggled for many years as an underrepresented student, both as a woman and as a student with a disability, to complete my undergraduate degree and find my niche in the world. Now, not only do I want to make a career of researching assistive technology, I also want to be a mentor for those who follow me, just as I had mentors to guide my way.

As the only woman in my undergraduate computing classes, I faced adversity and isolation. I sought support and attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC). Upon learning that I was one of many women facing isolation in their computing courses, I founded an ACM-W Chapter for women in computing at Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV). I felt the need to create greater participation of college women in computing, a support network for them, and a way to mentor freshmen and high school girls. As the chair of the chapter for the first year, I planned a campus-wide event to encourage women to pursue computing careers and spoke at a panel discussion. The event hosted 40 women from campus and the local community and received very positive feedback. The women from the community college who had not considered pursuing a four-year degree until they heard our panel inspired me. I have continued to mentor one young woman who is now pursuing her undergraduate degree in computer science and intends to continue on to graduate school.

On my graduate school campus, University of California Irvine (UCI), I am involved in a similar group: Women in Information and Computer Sciences (WICS). I volunteered with WICS in summer 2013 to mentor middle and high school girls interested in computing. In fall 2013, I also helped start a graduate chapter of this group. As a graduate student representative for UCI, I attended GHC 2014 as a student volunteer. My connections with these groups led me to other opportunities, such as conducting research and presenting at two academic conferences, as well as mentoring underrepresented undergraduates.

Through my experiences with the women in computing groups, I have realized how important mentorship is for those in the early stages of their careers. Through teaching and mentoring, I have been able to ignite my passion for helping others through research with students and also pass along valuable skills that they will use in their future studies. During my first year as a graduate student, I led a diverse team of undergraduates, all of whom are underrepresented minorities, in the development of a whole-body interface application on the Microsoft Kinect for children with autism. I encouraged my team to work together to solve problems and learn how to collaborate effectively. I also coached them in giving a presentation to the lab about their work. Continuing this project, I have expanded the scope of the software, and have begun working with a professor from the Dance Department to create new avenues of therapy for children with autism. One of the undergraduates I mentored has since graduated with a B.S. in Informatics and is now applying to graduate school.

In an effort to serve my local community, I volunteer as an instructor for technology use workshops for young adults with autism who are transitioning into the workplace from high school. In a more formal setting, I have also had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for undergraduate level courses. As part of my responsibilities, I have worked with students one-on-one, as well as leading discussion sections of more than 40 students. In addition to regular discussion lectures, I also gave a guest lecture to the entire class of 250 students. Knowing the importance of mentorship for undergraduates, these varied teaching experiences increase my desire to seek a position that allows me to continue mentorship my PhD.

Competitive Edge 2013, Week 4 & 5- New XP

It has been five weeks since I started this Competitive Edge program and got a jump start on graduate school life. I will admit that it has had its ups and downs. However, I can safely say that I am doing something that actually inspires me to wake up in the morning and go into work every day. The only other time I felt this way was when I was doing my DREU project last summer at UMBC- my first taste of life as a researcher. I have definitely found something to be passionate about and if there are bumps along the way, they are well worth the effort to overcome them.

In the last two weeks, I have accomplished a lot and gained a lot of new experience points. I’ll just talk about some of my experiences so that you can get an idea of all the different things going on in my life at the moment.

Presentations. It’s the dreaded event that anyone doing research has to deal with. Being able to present effectively is important for disseminating findings from your work. During Week 4, I was asked to give a short presentation of my planned research project to the STAR Group. We have weekly meetings where people have a chance to get the group’s opinion on research ideas or project planning. I gave a short talk on my project that I had just started planning. I will be honest that my presentation style still needs work, but that’s why we practice. I was also very nervous because this was the first presentation I was giving as a graduate student to my peers (and advisor). I had extreme anxiety over being judge “not good enough”. Anytime I have tried something new this summer, I will admit that I have fears that people will realize that I got into grad school as a fluke and they’ll realize I really don’t belong here. I am told by many more senior grad students that this is a perfectly normal feeling and that it does not really ever go away. Awesome.

After the STAR Group presentation (where I did learn a little bit about how to deliver a more effective presentation and no one told me I shouldn’t be in grad school), I gave another presentation, this time to my fellow Competitive Edge students and mentors. I will be honest, I was not nearly as nervous about this presentation. Partly, I knew that this group wouldn’t be judging me as harshly (not that my STAR Group was judging me harshly, but it’s all perception…). And, partly, I had a little more experience to go off of.

I have at least one more presentation practice with Competitive Edge this summer and then I have to give my presentation at the Summer Research Symposium on August 15th. People ask me if I am nervous about it, but I have to honestly say “not really”. I know by the time I reach the 15th, I’ll be adequately prepared and there’s no use wasting energy being nervous now. Talk to me 20 minutes before I go on stage and you’ll get a much different answer.

IRB. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is put in place to protect those that are participating in human subjects research. I whole-heartedly believe it is a very important process to have in place for a number of reasons. However, when one is the researcher that has to get their project approved by IRB, it can be a fairly intensive process- especially for newbies like myself.

The perks of the process were that I got to put myself down as Lead Researcher (and consequently take all the responsibility for the paperwork that that title implies). Nothing boosts the self-confidence like seeing your name next to the title “Lead Researcher”. The process also helped me clarify exactly what I wanted to do step-by-step for the study. It was like writing out a detailed research plan, which I think would be really helpful for any project. It forced me to work with my advisor to clarify details I was unsure of and helped me focus my research questions.

The downside, of course, is that I spent five days filling in paperwork and creating all the required documents. It was extremely time consuming and exhausting. When it was finished, I felt like I should have been relieved to turn it in, but instead I just felt anxious about whether or not I did everything correctly. The other downside to the process, is that now I have to wait. I cannot recruit subjects or start my study until I receive approval, which could take several weeks. Luckily, I have plenty to do in the meantime!

Spending Other People’s Money. This probably sounds weird, but I am finding spending money that is not mine extremely unnerving. As part of the preparation process for my project, this last week I have had to start procuring all the equipment needed. I was fine with the idea of doing this, but when it came to that actual deed, I had a minor panic attack. I realize, I’m not your average bear and do have a tendency to react with stronger emotions than most. But it was something that happened, so I will still write about it. I had all sorts of guilt and questioned everything I bought. “Is this the right thing? Am I going to get in trouble?” Completely irrational. My solution is to either never require equipment again (unlikely, unfortunately) or to somehow deal with these irrational fears. Hopefully, with experience, it will get better. I guess I didn’t expect to be the one to actually do the buying. We needed a computer for the study, so I give my advisor the specs. She says “Ok, go down to the bookstore and get whatever you need…” It’s very intimidating when all the responsibility falls on your shoulders, I guess. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even opened the box for the computer yet because I am so scared I bought the wrong thing or did something wrong. Pretty crazy, I guess.

Allowing Myself Downtime. This is a super important point that I keep forgetting. It’s okay to work hard and push until something gets done (especially with deadlines involved), but I have to remember that it is equally okay to take time off. This weekend, for instance, with the exception of wanting to write this blog, I am not even thinking about work. And this blog is more therapeutic anyway.

Learning To Be Myself, Whoever That Is.  I am finding that I am not like a lot of the other students in my cohort. And that’s perfect alright. We get along during workshops and are quite friendly. But I am not the sort of person that goes to bars or clubs. I don’t feel a burning need to do things on the weekends. I am actually perfectly happy curling up at home with a good book or video game. And that’s okay. I am just in a different space than many of the other people I’ve come across. I guess I could categorize myself as “settling down” or more sort of family oriented. It was different at WSUV because a lot of people had families and lives outside of school. There wasn’t a lot of pressure to drink, party, or stay up late. I’m happy for people who want to do those things, I just don’t want to do them myself.

Large-Scale Multitasking. I have to juggle a lot of different tasks at once. I have my project (which has several balls in the air right now), Competitive Edge requirements (which don’t especially overlap with my project), networking inside my lab and outside, maintaining my household, and making sure Kyle remembers who I am. I am working on my research project which I am hoping will turn into a submission to a conference while simultaneously working on my NSF GRFP proposal (will give all the dirt on this in a separate blog post) and working on past research (my ASSETS poster was accepted, YAY!). I feel like there is a lot in the air and I’d better not let anything drop!

Stay Tuned! I’ll be keeping you posted on my research project progress and I am planning a blog entry dedicated to NSF GRFP. Until then, DON’T PANIC!

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 2

Did you miss Part 1?

Summer 2012: DREU Internship, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

I won’t go into all the great details of my life during this summer internship. Most of it can be found other places on this blog already. The highlights I will mention are: after working at UMBC I began to realize that going to grad school could really happen and that I might actually enjoy it, Amy and others at the school really mentored me and helped me get a deeper understanding of the whole process of grad school applications, and I started actually writing my grad school application material.

Having this internship gave me a perspective into what grad school could be like. I can’t imagine applying to grad school without knowing that experience and knowing whether or not it was something I could handle/enjoy. I was also able to talk with Amy about potential schools and make a list of schools I would consider applying to in the fall. It was the mentorship and guidance that I really appreciated. Just being able to talk to someone who knew the field and could give solid feedback about my ideas was great.

I also got to do some really cool research and see other people working on some equally awesome stuff. I got the chance to write a paper (which I later submitted, more on that later) and present a poster at the end of summer festival. I was even selected to present my work to the entire festival, which was a huge learning experience. I had to put the power point together (make a video for it!), write the presentation, and then speak to a room with at least 100 people in it. It felt like every step I had taken that summer was a new one, going deeper into a mysterious cave of wonder or something.

August 2012: Home Again (And Time To Get To It!)

By the time I had come home and started back at school for my senior year, I had already completed my list of schools I was going to apply to, started a rough draft of my statement of purpose, and signed up (and taken the week before classes started) for the GREs.

It was at this point I made one of my bigger mistakes. I really should have asked for more help. It’s hard when you’re at a small university and very few people truly understand why you would even want to apply to a PhD program. As has been a consistent theme for me, I felt isolated and, therefore, isolated myself. I could have reached out to more mentors (at home and at UMBC), but I decided to go it alone. This was especially difficult to write and edit my statement of purpose(s) and the essay for the NSF GRFP.

I sorted out my references as soon as classes began. I committed one of those faux pas where I only had three letter writers. Fortunately, they all pulled through and I didn’t to materialize another letter writer at the last minute. I used two professors from my home institution that I had worked with on research and with my ACM-W Chapter. My third reference was my mentor from UMBC.

September 2012: Keeping it All Straight

I think the hardest thing from September on was keeping everything organized. I had to keep track of all the materials I was submitting to each institution. It felt like every single one had different essay requirements (not to mention all the other requirements!). Some wanted multiple essays, others wanted just one. And the length was different for each as well. Some only wanted 500 words or less, while others were 2000 words. There was no real way to write just one essay and tweak it for each. I had to write fresh essays for almost every university I was applying to.

Next week: lots of traveling and the submissions in Part 3!

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 1

This blog is probably one that would have been better written in the moment rather than as a retrospective, but as you will see from the timeline I was too overwhelmed with everything else going on to think about writing a blog.

When I was looking to apply to grad school I scoured the internet for information from other grad students and professors looking for anything that would give me the best possible chance at a) knowing if this grad school thing was what I wanted to do and b) giving me the best possible chance of getting into the grad school that was going to be best for me. Now that I’m on the other side of the application process and I’m feeling great about the outcome, I thought I would attempt to share my experience for the next generation of applicants looking for more information.

DISCLAIMER: This is a completely personal experience and should in no way be treated as a how-to guide. Everyone is going to be different, coming from a variety of backgrounds and going into a multitude of different fields of study. Please don’t read this as the perfect way to get into the grad school of your choice; I’m sure there are much easier ways of doing it.

I think the best way to do this is write this out as a timeline of events, with links and info about each of the events. If this gets to be too long, I’ll break this into multiple parts and if something needs more attention than everything else, I’ll break that into its own blog article.

October 2011: Grace Hopper 2011

I went to Grace Hopper in Portland, OR as a student volunteer. It was the first time I got a real good look at what someone could really do with a computer science background. I met a lot of students who were in grad school working towards their PhD. I heard about some cool research being done that I learned was in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Up until this point, I thought a computer science degree was good for getting a job at a software company writing code. The seed of the idea of grad school is planted.

January 2012: Industry Job Interviews

Between Grace Hopper and early 2012, I subjected myself to several really uncomfortable industry interviews. Let’s just say coding on the fly, in a high pressure situation and recalling complex algorithms and data structure optimization is *not* my strongest skill. It’s at this point I really start to question what I am doing and why I am trying to push myself into something that clearly isn’t working out.

February 2012: DREU Internship Application

At the very last minute, I decided to apply to the CRA-W’s DREU internship. It’s also around this time that I started working with a professor at my campus on his smart grid research. He had asked for volunteers, so I decided that it was worth the experience.

It was also around this time I decided that I wanted to pursue a career more in the area of HCI. I was taking the elective “Intro to HCI” offered by my school (which turns out was that great of an intro) and thought my interdisciplinary studies in Psychology and Computer Science were a good fit for this area. I applied for a scholarship to attend CHI 2012 in Austin, TX through the ACM-W.

March 2012: DREU Acceptance and Matching Results

At the beginning of March I received an email saying that I had been accepted to the DREU program for the summer. I was really excited and very worried at the same time. I hadn’t done any extensive traveling and never really on my own. They said they would email me soon with my matched mentor and the location I would be traveling to for the summer. I looked at all the past mentors and their universities. Where would I be living that summer? Who would I have to work with? The only things I had heard from friends that had completed REUs was how awful it was. The mentors just give you some project and are too busy to actually mentor you. The projects aren’t of much consequence or the results end up being something you can’t get a publishable paper out of… I started wondering if I had done the right thing.

I was up all night worrying I would be shipped off to some strange place I couldn’t survive and have a mentor I wouldn’t be able to work with. However, I was not in agony long. It was at school the next day when I got my match-up. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read plenty about my DREU internship on my blog space. Dr. Amy Hurst was the best mentor a person could ask for. She was exactly what I needed at a time when I didn’t even know what I needed or what I was doing with my life.

April 2012: CHI 2012 in Austin, TX

My first real research conference was CHI. Talk about amazingly overwhelming. It’s a lot of people. And I had never been to Texas before. And it was my first time on a plane in years. I really enjoyed it, nonetheless. I think my overall impression was excitement that so many people from so many different places were all passionate about the same thing. There were more computer-oriented people and there were more psychology-oriented people, but they all meshed together to make something pretty exhilarating.

People ask me what my favorite talk was and I don’t even remember. I think if I went back to the program notes and see what I went to, I would probably recall. I have learned a lot since I was there though. How to go to conferences and pick what talks you want to see is an important skill.

CHI is also where I met Dr. Amy Hurst for the first time and some of her students. All in all, it was a good first experience into a world I was soon to submerge myself in.

The saga continues next time in PART 2…

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

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.

Fall Week 5

I have yet to have a blog post this semester get published on time.  I am endeavoring to correct this.  Perhaps this is the week I get lucky!  This week I had to make some tough decisions and figure out what was going to get cut from my schedule because I am just too busy.  Between working (research), school work, home life (some of my home life is feeling sorely neglected at the moment), traveling, and getting ready for grad applications I have zero time.  It’s getting me sick and I’m super exhausted.  So, something has to give.

I decided to drop the Game Design class, even though it is by far my favorite elective.  I am still going to attend the lectures, but I simply don’t have time for all the homework.  I was spending ten times more of my outside class time working on projects for that class than all my other classes put together.  Not a good balance.

This week started off the first round of exams.  This coming week I have GREs on Monday, Web Data Management on Tuesday, and Algorithms on Thursday.  Luckily, then I’m off to Baltimore for Grace Hopper!  I have finished downloading the conference app on both my phone and tablet.  I’m starting to figure out exactly what I need to pack.  I’m super excited!!

Since dropping the extra class, I’ve actually managed to get some things accomplished.  I’ve finished fixing up my DREU section of the website, so that I can get my last paycheck (which I could really use right now).  That was a huge weight on me.  Now I have to build a new section for my CREU work, which I’ve been putting off.  I think I will actually have enough time this weekend to get that done too.  I’ve also gotten a nice chunk of research work for CREU done as well.  I’ll hopefully get around to updating my website, so I can start sharing snippets of that.

I also attended the club orientation on campus so that our ACM-W Chapter can be official.  I got some good ideas for things I would like to do with the group, so I need to start organizing meetings for that.  I still have to work on the website, but I think some of this will have to wait until after Grace Hopper, unfortunately.  There is just not enough time in the day for everything!

Fall Week 2

Well, as it might be imagined, I am super swamped.  I feel like I’m being pulled every which way and I need to get a better system for organizing my life.  I’ve this giant running to do list that is a little overwhelming.  I’ve started breaking things down by day and trying to organize one 24-hour period at a time.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve been trying to get my DREU final report finished up and sent off.  I’m actually quite happy with the results.  I migrated my work into LaTex and am starting to feel pretty proficient in editing in it.  I’m going to post my paper in my portfolio, if you’re interested.  I am a little bummed I couldn’t participate in some of the interviews and maybe work on getting something into CHI for this year.  I guess I could still possibly submit something for the Student Posters in January.  We’ll see.

I’ve also officially bought my plane tickets to Balitmore for Grace Hopper the first week of October.  I’m excited to have won the scholarship.  I’m looking forward to seeing Baltimore again too.  I’m already planning on meeting up with my friends from UMBC that I met during the DREU program.

I think that’s all for now.  I’m hoping I can use these blogs to get myself organized too.  We’ll see how it goes. 🙂

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!