Friday, November 21, 2008

Can graduate school be funny?

"Funny" does not come from graduate school itself, but comes from a kind of attitude to life, even if life is not easy.

                                                  -- Wendy Xie

This is my office for the first year at IST@PSU.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Survival in a graduate school

Ronald T. Azuma, Alice Domurat Dreger, and Marie desJardins provided a bunch of valuable advice in surviving and flourishing in a graduate school. I personally like the marathon metaphor: the Ph.D. life is more like a marathon rather than a sprint. “You have to pace yourself” so that you can keep yourself until you reach the finish line. I used to work too long time every week in my last job, eating irregularly and almost giving up all exercises. Though I liked my job, I ended up with chronic stomach inflammation, neck/shoulder muscle pain, and exhausted energy. These downsides are still exerting their power in my life and it seems they have brought me into a vicious circle. E.g. When I am under a big stress for the sake of workload, my stomach pain could become so severe that I cannot work, which further pushes me into a bigger stress. I have been struggling to change this situation but it is still a long way to go.

I think Dr. Azuma, Dreger, and desJardins are really wise in advising us to look outside of the “ivory tower”. This would benefit us at least in two aspects. First, as Ronald mentioned, surrounded by a cohort of smart, hard working people, it is not easy for us to hold self-esteem and confidence. Looking into the real world would help us find back self-confidence since we have already shown our excellence and potentials that won us a position at a graduate school. Secondly, keeping in touch with the real world would help us choose and evaluate the research line we would take. Personal interest serves as a good motivation to start a long-term research topic, but marketability contributes a lot to the sustainable development of this research topic, the related research line, and even the whole personal research career. 

As a supplement of their advice, I would share something I learned from my experience. First, I found the best way to reduce the extreme pressure generated by work is to start working immediately. Even if I just get a little progress in work, I will get a lot of pressure released. This does not mean you have to work ten hours without a tea break; it simply means we should get a big task started as soon as possible so that we won’t feel a bad headache whenever we think of the big task approaching to its deadline day after day. The second experience is that we do not try to make everything perfect. Well, I would say I am kind of a perfectionist person. I would probably feel uncomfortable even if a tiny piece of work is not done well. This is more or less infected from my previous Japanese coworkers to whom perfectionism seems as a kind of culture of work. But I am very clear that every “perfectionist” piece of work needs a great deal of time investing. There is too much work that is not allowed us to do so. It is necessary to differentiate which is more important and should be more time-invested and which is acceptable to be ended up with a so-so result. I have been learning to be more comfortable with those so-so endings. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Find a group: out of my academic work

As I mentioned in the first blog, I love playing volleyball. It is a great way for me to find friendship, fun, and relax. I launched the PSU Happy Volley group, which is an informal group with 34 members. Most of the members play volleyball in the IM building regularly (almost every Friday evening and often Wednesday evening too). This semester we have organized a BBQ at the Whipple Dam where there is a pretty good sand volleyball court. We currently are planning on designing and ordering our group T-shirt with the group logo, individual’s name and a unique number on it. Quite a few group members are active in various leagues or tournaments on campus or off campus. This Tuesday our Happy Volley team just got our successive third win in the IM tournament.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Future publication venues

I suspect researchers working on the broad sense of human-computer interaction or human-centered computing, including me, all once dreamed of having papers published in the CHI conference some day – a few of them have made this dream come to true, but most of them have not yet. Organized by ACM SIGCHI, the annual CHI conference is one of the top-tier conferences in the broad HCI field. Though ACM SIGCHI also hosts other conferences, THE CHI conference usually refers only to the conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. If a graduate student can put his or her name in the proceedings of the CHI conference as the first author of a full paper, I guess it should be not hard for him or her to find a satisfactory job in academia upon graduation.

MobileHCI is another annual conference where I hope to publish papers some day. The whole name of MobileHCI is the ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services.  Hosted by ACM SIGCHI and ACM SIGMOBILE, it is generally considered the most prestigious in the field of mobile HCI. I am interested in and have been exploring how to leverage mobile technologies to empower communities, so this conference should be a good place to publish the research outcomes.

The ACM CSCW conference has been held biennially since 1986. It is a leading forum to discuss diverse topics, methods and technologies that support collaborative activities. Within the broad HCI field, I am more interested in designing systems to enhance social interaction and social outcomes (i.e. the social aspect), rather than exploring the individual use of systems (especially the traditional cognitive aspect). So this conference should also be appropriate for me.

Before closing this post, I would like to share these two links that I found VERY useful to those who work on the HCI field: this page shows a bunch of most important HCI conferences, and this one shows some most important HCI journals. Both of them link to tables of content and further detailed records.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mr. Hao Jiang

Hao is one of the fourth year Ph.D. students in IST and one of my best friends. We both work at the CSCL, with different research lines though. I am glad getting to know more about him in the academic aspect after a tiny interview.

Currently Hao is doing research to explore the relation between social capital and information technology in community setttings. He is drafting a proposal for his dissertation and will be defensing it very soon.

Hao has attended the HCI Consortium (HCIC) as an invited student in February 2008 and volunteered in Design Interactive System (DIS) in 2006. In this incoming November, we both, as well as another two lab mates, will be volunteering in CSCW2008 that will be helding in the beautiful city San Diego. Hao has three papers published or in press, including a journal (Int. J. Technology Management) paper and two conference (CHASE2008, HCIC2008) papers. He also wrote a chapter on the digital case library for the second edition of Encyclopedia of Multimedia Technology and Networking (Idea Group Publishing).

Hao likes research very much, and is interested in many topics, especially social, psychological and educational issues, with regard to information technology. He tries to train himself "to be a knowledge user as well as a knowledge producer". To him, information technology is much more than instruments that assist human tasks; they can and indeed do fundamentally change human and the environment in which we live. That is why he thinks a certain degree of sociological awareness and knowledge is necesseary for him, as a scientific researcher, to address issues about technology, which I totally agree on. "However," He said, "so far, I am not well prepared for this long journey, so have a lot to learn."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who is my advisor: academic life and career

My advisor John M. Carroll is one of the biggest names in the HCI field. He is actually a founder of this field.

Dr. Carroll received his B.A. degree in mathematics from Lehigh University and Ph.D. degree in psychology from Columbia University. When he was still a Ph.D. student, he published a paper in the world-widely well-known academic journal “Science”, which is a rare thing for a graduate student since the journal usually requires very high quality papers. This paper helped him get a research job in IBM upon graduation.

Dr. Carroll worked for the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center for around 18 years (1976-1994) and founded the User Interface Institute at IBM in 1984. During this period, he also did research work at MIT, Yale University, Columbia University, University of Twente, and Xerox Research Center Europe as a visiting scholar. It is kind of amazing that he worked with Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, at MIT in 1980-1981. However, this experience did not drive him to devote himself into linguistics research; instead, it made him clear that he would not like to be a linguist. Dr. Carroll joined the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech in 1994. He was a professor there for 10 years, including 5 years as the head of the department. He came to Penn State in 2003, where he directs the Center for Human-Computer Interaction and the Computer-Supported Collaboration and Learning (CSCL) lab.

Dr. Carroll has written or edited 15 books, published more than 400 articles, serves on 12 editorial and advisory boards, and is the editor-in-chief of the ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interactions. He has received both the Rigo Career Achievement Award and the CHI Lifetime Achievement Award from the ACM SIGDOC and SIGCHI respectively, received the Goldsmith Award from IEEE and the Silver Core Award from the IFIP. He is a Fellow of the ACM, IEEE, and Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Dr. Carroll received a great renown in 1980’s for his theory of Minimalism in computer instruction, training and technical communication. He is also well-known for his later work in scenario-based design, community networking, participatory design, collaborative learning, and HCI theories.

In the last few years, Dr. Carroll taught graduate courses in “Theories and Frameworks for Human-Computer Interaction” and “Current Issues in HCI”, and upper level undergraduate courses “Usability Engineering” and “Community Informatics”.

* The image is from Jack's website

Friday, September 26, 2008

Who is my advisor: personal life and background

My advisor John Carroll likes people to call him Jack. He was born in Bethlehem, PA, but in terms of decent, he is Irish, Welsh, and Schwaebish. Upon graduation from Columbia University with a Ph.D. degree in Experimental Psychology, he worked for IBM for around 18 years, where he met and got married with Mary Beth Rosson, a pretty elegant lady who has a very good taste and concern about her dresses and accessories J.

Jack and Mary Beth are now both professors in IST at Penn State. They live in the beautiful university town State College, with their adorable daughter Erin and friendly Lab Kerby. Before they came to State College, they lived in Blacksburg, another university town and were both professors for the department of computer science at Virginia Tech. One of the luckiest things to Jack and Mary Beth is that they can always find satisfying jobs in the same place, from IBM, to Virginia Tech, to Penn State. They are not only a couple, but also best work partners. This is very rare for renowned couples. Erin is a Penn State junior in sociology. She once said to her dad, “I don’t wanna be like you.” So when she later decided to apply for the graduate school to stay in academia, Jack was really surprised. This might be the biggest impact Jack has on his daughter.

In his spare time, Jack brews beer and hikes with Kerby. He also likes music, especially Bob Dylan’s. He played folk guitar since he was 13 years old till his first five years at IBM and had his own band. This old photo portrays an aspect of his band life. I actually froze when seeing it for the first time; it is not an easy thing to link this punk-style youngster to a debonair but prestigious scholar.

Jack is not the kind of person who needs a bunch of friends. He is enjoying the easy life, multicultural climate, plus a little excitement in State College.

*Both images are from Jack's personal web page.