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:

Daily Log: CHI2013 Day 3

Today I slept in and woke up in time to attend the Student Research Competition presentations. They were very good and gave me some good insight into how I should think about my own future presentations.

I then ate lunch from the grocery store at the bottom of the convention center. It is Labor Day and many of the restaurants are closed, along with most of the shops as well. Yesterday, Amy gave me some really great advice about how to choose sessions. So I looked over the schedule and tried to be more deliberate about the sessions I was choosing.

After lunch I attended two sessions. The first was on Mental Health. I really liked all of the papers presented there. These included a discussion about personhood in dementia, using a mobile app to track elements in Bipolar Disorder, supporting caregivers of patients with depression, and objects to help with Dialectical Behavioral Training for those with Borderline Personality Disorder. The first paper had interesting insights about the sense of self. People often talk about it as if it is something you can lose, but perhaps it is better to think of it as something that can be externalized by the people around you. The app for Bipolar Disorder was interesting, of course, because of my closeness to that particular topic. The paper about depression was interesting because the study was conducted in Japan. There caregivers are reluctant to tell their close friends and family about their loved one suffering from depression. I wonder if the same would be true in the US. And finally, the paper on DBT was great because it is another topic dear to my heart. The researchers actually created physical objects to help patients understand and go through their DBT training. For instance, they created a crystal ball that pulses with the heartbeat of whoever is holding it. The ball can be personalized by embedding meaningful objects into the crystal. The user can hold this ball while doing their mindfulness exercises. It’s really fantastic and I would love to have one of my own!

The second session I attended was Design for Children. These papers were also very good. I learned a lot about how researchers can use children in the design process (for things that will ultimately be used by children). I got a good glimpse of the idea of Participatory Design, which I hadn’t really formally encountered before.

After the sessions I walked back to the hotel in a torrential downpour. Seems like a good evening to stay in a take it easy. I am on vacation in Paris, after all!

Daily Log: CHI2013 Day 2

Today was day 2 of CHI for me. It was a long, but wonderful day. I started by attending the CHI Women’s Breakfast. The food was very good and we got some very cool swag from Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. I met a table full of very interesting people including Bonnie John and Arnie Lund. While I was not very happy with the logistics of the breakfast (the organizers tried to direct our conversation, which ended up just making the conversation more stilted and less about what I would have liked to talk about). We still ended up running over into the first morning session.

During the first break I was supposed to talk to people about my poster. Unfortunately, my poster did not get put up after the judging session. I am sad to know I will probably not get it back because a lot of hard work was put into that poster and I was hoping to hold onto it.

My favorite paper for the morning was Analyzing User-Generated YouTube Videos to Understand Touchscreen Use by People with Motor Impairments by Lisa Anthony et al. This was another study that looked at a specific set of videos found by searching on YouTube. I learned about how valuable user generated content on the internet can be as a source of information about a group of people.

Then I went to lunch with my UMBC family. It is really nice to be able to spend time with some people here that are friendly, familiar faces. CHI is so large that it can be quite overwhelming at times. After lunch, I spent some time with Amy and Lisa. They both gave me a lot of really excellent advice about my upcoming transition to grad school. It was nice to get some insight into my journey ahead and also to know that there are safe people I can turn to for advice if I need it. It’s these connections to a support network that will ultimately be the most important thing I foster as a grad student, I think.

In the afternoon session, I especially liked the paper entitled Technology Preferences and Routines for Sharing Health Information during the Treatment of Chronic Illness by Carolyn Pang et al. This was a study of how families with an individual with chronic illness uses different technologies to connect with each other for comfort. This was probably one of my top favorite papers thus far, it’s up there with the Motherhood paper from yesterday.

I then spent about five minutes at the hospitality reception at the convention center. It was way too crowded with not enough to drink, eat, and do. I met up with a bunch of people later to attend the joint UW, U of Michigan, and Georgia Tech party. I met a couple of people that I was happy to meet. Otherwise it was another loud, crowded place with not enough to drink and eat.

I’m happy for all the connections I am making here at the conferences. I feel like I can start this summer of research at UCI strong now. But first! Two more days of CHI!!

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…