Beki Grinter

What do I do in the office, part II

In academia, computer science, discipline, HCI, research on December 20, 2008 at 3:00 pm

I didn’t say much about research did I?

(An aside: last semester was one where a variety of institutional things dominated my attention, not least the tenure process. The day the faculty all meet to discuss you feels beyond weird. So perhaps I have been focused elsewhere).

So, research. I do some. Well more accurately my wonderful students do research, and I try to help them do that. Wow, that’s an amazingly rewarding experience. This year, they have all individually been very successful, which leads to a feeling that can not be described.

My interests lie, as I have said, at the intersection of computing and humanity. I’m not alone, but what I think I bring to the table is that I am deeply interested not just in the new contexts in which computing finds itself, but also in understanding how a human-centered perspective can shed light on problems in traditional fields of Computer Science.

To describe this, I used to use the phrase HCI goes Down and Out, but it was suggested that I switch off of that path. It was suggested to me that playfulness (while an endearing part of the British character) was not perhaps appropriate for the tenure statement (darn, I thought a bit of humour would brighten the readers day, especially since they were going to spend some hours with it all).

My research has been deeply influenced by the truly amazing career I’ve had 🙂 To explain. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in some amazing places and for some amazing people. I began my career at Bell Labs. Bell Labs has made some amazing contributions to Science generally, including Computer Science. I was managed by, and worked with, people who changed the field. Bell Labs was a place where people came to visit too, so I met a range of people. Collectively these people changed the fields of Compilers, Operating Systems, Algorithms, Software Engineering, … and then there was the place, and all that it stood for, including the history of invention that was things like the transistor…

I then moved to Xerox PARC. And to its Computer Science Lab. And that was not short on legacy in Computing. Indeed, I now know where original Ethernet still remains in place… Weiser’s pads were on the walls. And there were the people again, and the people who came to visit.

But, if I learned one thing from this experience. Research knows no disciplinary boundaries. Good research is. That’s the common experience. All these people who contributed to computing seemed to care about solving hard problems. Of course they all had disciplines that they contributed too, but I am struck by their focus on research.

So, as I think about research, I am going to try and not get mired in disciplinary debates, get caught in the nets of disciplinary boundaries, … but stay focused on the prize, the resolution of hard problems, hopefully with and because of the work that I do with my students.

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  1. […] Science, I thought that that’s what taking risk meant, but I have always taken the risk identifying myself and my purpose as being invested in the future of Computer Science […]

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