Beki Grinter

What do I do in the Office?

In HCI, research on October 31, 2008 at 5:37 pm

There are several reasons to write this post.

First, this poorly maintained blog has nothing about what occupies the majority of my life (there’s a relationship between the two).  And that is, research in Human Computer Interaction (well almost). Second, because I do research, and because I work in the Academy (which is University, for some reason my American colleagues tell me that as a Brit I tend to use that word more than is normal here) I work in an institutional context which make the “office” more interesting.

OK so that’s two reasons.

Taking the second reason first. The academic context, the University, is a really interesting place to work. If it was, it is no longer the “ivory tower” of lore. No, it is a place where much time and energy is spent in outward facing activities, such as working with sponsors (from the military-industrial complex) engaged in connecting research to real-world needs. And I like that, as some might say it has the effect of “keeping it real.”

In fact meetings are a real hallmark of the academic environment. The Academy is an organization in continual flux, imagine if a 1/3 of workers arrived and disappeared each year. Well if they are students then that’s exactly what happens. We’re constantly wrapping up and recruiting new students. That’s a lot of collective work but it also means that the sheer number of people I meet is enormous. Then there’s all the regular meetings.  Teaching, one-on-ones generated by teaching, and then advising meetings. I spent around 10 hours a week in meetings and interactions generated by the standing teaching requirements.

Then there’s actually finding time for writing and reading.

I’m not complaining, please don’t get me wrong. The job is invigorating in ways that are hard to describe. This is an environment that hands those who want it as many challenges to solve as possible, provides unbounded opportunities to meet people and learn new things from them, and so forth. But, I guess where I’m headed is that I think it always surprises people that I can’t meet with them on the same day, and that’s what I’m trying to explain.

So, when I am doing research it is with my fabulous PhD students. I said that my interests are in Human Computer Interaction and that’s a reasonably accurate description. Human Computer Interaction is all about the intersection of Computing and the human world. But, I’ve also always been very open to trying to bring HCI to other areas of Computer Science, so along the way I’ve published in a surprising (to me anyway) number of areas of Computer Science including Software Engineering, Security, Networking and Robotics. OK so the last one is a little bit of a stretch, I’ve published in conferences in Human Robot Interaction, a field that spans HCI and Robotics. But anyway, there it is.

So, that’s a trailer. But not too much content. What I do in the office is try to spread the wealth of HCI to all of CS, via a set of fabulous projects with awesome student led research, and then in the remainder of my time I meet with people to do all the things that I need to get done in order to do being a faculty member. And in a few months we’ll find out whether I’ve been doing the right things to be a faculty member.


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