Public Impact Fellowship

I’m happy to announce I have been awarded as a Public Impact Fellow for 2017.

Public Impact Fellowships highlight and support doctoral students whose current research has the potential for substantial impact in the public sphere. Ideal candidates will be involved in research designed to significantly improve or enrich the lives of Californians and/or national and global communities.

Challenge Accepted

I had a conversation with a fellow grad student mom today who was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t have just one day as a “normal grad student.” My reply was, “Yeah, but you’d just be bored.”

And yes, I really do understand and feel her pain. We work hard all day. Then go home where we don’t get rest, but rather we get to start in all over (as I write this post, my own toddler is screaming because he’s decided bedtime is for babies). And our munchkins don’t understand deadlines, only that they need mom. Really, though, who wouldn’t want to come home to this face?

A toddler smiling open mouthed at the camera with a monster shirt on.
The happy face of someone who couldn’t wait for Mom to get home.

The demands of having a kid waiting for me at home were something I was expecting though, having planned having a kid in grad school. What I was not expecting were the subtle ways in which my colleagues do not understand how to accommodate a mother in grad school. Academia is rife with hints that mothers are not welcome here (although it’s much better than in the past). From lab mates deciding to meet up at the pub last minute instead of the family friendly restaurant (when I’m already en route with my toddler) to the late night receptions at conference (where the main purpose is to imbibe). To be honest, as someone who didn’t drink before having kids, I only feel even more excluded than I did before, but that is perhaps a blog post for another day.

In some ways, becoming a mom in academia has made my job at networking both harder and easier. I might be losing out on some of the fun parties, but I’ve also been able to tap into a whole new academic network through other moms in the same boat as me. I feel like the support (unlike in other mom-on-the-internet forums) is very positive and academic moms have a great sense of humor.

I understand the wish to have one mom-free day of grad school (not kid-free, because we love our children beyond anything else). A day where we can plan a celebration lunch without worrying when we have to get back for the sitter or have a late night coding session without having to run home to breastfeed. (I can’t even start with trying to pump at school…) So, those who are perhaps wondering if grad school is the right time to have kids and thinking about making the plunge—yes! Totally worth it, but it’s really hard work. You’ve been warned. And it’s okay to have moments where you wish you could shed your mom mantel for just a moment, because you’re human.

Stay strong, my fellow grad student moms!

ARCS Fellow Scholar

I’m happy to announce I have been awarded as an ARCS Fellow Scholar for 2016-2018.

The National ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) Foundation, Inc., is a unique, nonprofit, national volunteer organization of women dedicated to providing scholarships to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete their degrees in science, medicine and engineering, thereby contributing to the worldwide advancement of science and technology.

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.

A Letter for My Little Boy

My Dear Son,

Nine months ago today, you joined our family rosy cheeked and ready to go. I remember seeing you and crying because I knew you were perfect in every way, before your daddy took you out of the operating room to meet your BeBe. Hours later, when I got to hold you for the first time, I knew we were meant to be.

Thinking back on the last nine months, I am amazed with how much you have accomplished and learned. I have laughed with joy at your triumphs and admired you as you have touched the lives of so many people. You’ve gone from a squirmy little newborn, to a crawling, cruising, babbling ball of energy. I love your voracious appetite for books and your sweet, wet kisses. You are amazingly stubborn and independent, but also deeply caring and loving.

In the first couple of days, while we were still in the hospital, I learned how very close I came to never getting to hold you that first time. The thought that, in one moment, I could have not woken up from the operating table and missed all of this, stabs deep in my heart every time I think about it. But in these nine months, with you by my side, I have learned to be fiercer for it.

I am more protective of my time with you. While you’ve been learning to be more independent, I’ve been learning to be more mindful of every moment that I have. I cherish every second, all the laughs and through the tears. And while I’ve been learning to let my guilt go when I have to go to work, I know that you are stronger for that, too. When I feel busy, like there is no end to the work, I take a breath and remember that I get to come home to you and that I am building a home for you. I know that, for these last 9 months, and for the rest of my life, I will be pushing forward for you, setting an example for you, and living in the moment for you.

I love you, my sweet pea. I look forward to every moment I get to spend with and I look forward to all that you grow to be.

Love Always,

Your Mom

Kai and Mommy Having Fun

My Time: Where it’s spent.

Categorizing my Time

So I logged all my hours during the last week to see where I was spending my time. I am not surprised at all by the results, but it’s still fun to see it visualized.

For anyone wondering – yes, I am basically doing two full-time jobs at the moment – being a mom and being a grad student. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully, as I have time (haha), I will write more posts about how I manage my time and get everything done!

Crawling out of the fog

For those that know me personally, you’ll know I recently gave birth to the sweetest little boy. He is known as baby Kai in my HCI circles to identify him from the many Kai, Khai, and CHI’s floating about. He’s 3 months old and, as I have heard from several sources, I am just now starting to come out of the fog. I perhaps likened my experiences as more sort of clawing my way out of a pit, but the end result is the same. I am here, slightly battered and definitely disoriented, but so very much richer than I was before.

laughinBaby

I start this blog up again because I feel like it was always an important thing for me to document what has been happening in my life- both for my own amusement and to point to when people ask me how I “do it” (that is, go to grad school, be a mom, and stay a semi-sane human being).

The plan is to produce posts (realistically, semi-sporadically) about my research, writing, things I’m reading, videos as I make them, tales from being a grad school mom, progress on video games I’m making, and gaming in general (I’m going to be honest, you’re going to probably get a lot about Minecraft).

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.

GamerGate Lecture up on YouTube

Last week, I co-led a lecture on GamerGate. This was meant to give our class (Computer Games and Society) a small taste of the GamerGate controversy. First time giving a large-lecture hall talk! It was nerve-wracking, but exciting. I’ll leave it here for you to enjoy.

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!!