Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘science’

Writing, Science and Performance Appraisals

In academia, computer science, discipline, research on October 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I saw this article in the New York Times, about the increasing value of a science degree in terms of employment opportunities. What I want to draw attention to is the paragraph at the end, in which one of the authors of the study says the following

Mr. Carnevale said that in surveys of employers, one of the biggest complaints about technical workers is that they “can’t talk and can’t write a memo and have horrible interpersonal skills.”

Setting aside the interpersonal skills portion, I teach a class that involves a substantial writing component. I see this too. Some years are better than others, but the ability to write is not uniform. And neither is the belief that it matters. I try very hard to explain that it does, but this year I found a new way. To introduce the students to the idea of the Annual Performance Appraisal. I was surprised how few students knew about something that they will write each year as part of their retaining their employment. There’s no programming on that form but there are sections not just for written words, but for making arguments that justify their accomplishments for the previous year. I have no idea whether this will work, I’ll find out when I get my course survey responses back. But I keep trying to find ways to explain why writing matters and so far this seems to be the most concrete one I’ve found.


HCI4D or HCID? Values

In discipline, empirical, HCI, ICT4D, research on June 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

In some of the Information and Communications Technologies for/and Development (ICT4D, ICTD) an important distinction is drawn between whether it is for or and. To paraphrase Tim Unwin, ICTD (i.e., and) has foci of what is, and what can be done. ICT4D asks critically, what should be done and how should we do it? While both entail a degree of social change (asking what can be done), ICT4D has a much stronger moral agenda of making change.

As HCI becomes increasingly interested in the “Global South” so we’ll be asking whether we’re going to do HCID or HCI4D. I think we’ve adopted the label HCI4D, but for some within the community that means as it does in ICT4D. See for example, Ho et al. in the special issue of ITID focused on HCI4D. I wonder whether the community at large has internalized the distinction, do we use HCI4D because it is the most popular term or does it reflect our stance?

There has long been a recognition that values matter in design. But recently, I am under the impression that there’s more attention to this, and to questioning whose values. It comes in a variety of forms. First there are efforts like HCI4D that for some are very intentional moral as well as scientific positions on the role of design. Second, there are critics of persuasive computing. For example, Purpura et al.’s Fit4Life paper that examines the principles of persuasive design applied to their logical conclusion on a technology for individual weight management. (link to the paper One of the things I very much like about this paper, and another piece by Maitland et. al. is that they both get at the important point that persuasive computing is taking a moral position (positing what change is right) and they both want to have a discussion about the consequences of that. And third, I just finished reading Shaowen and Jeff Bardzell’s CHI paper (well one of them, I think they could have had their own session) on Feminist design. One contribution of a feminist approach is to navigate a path between the distanced “truth” of science and an active agenda of social change.

As I write I think that values may not be the right term here, although I am at a loss for something better. I am struck I suppose in all of these by a tension between traditional notions of science, pursuit of knowledge, and the far more morally complex terrain that opens up when we come to design. HCID or HCI4D? Scholars in this area are asking us to take a position, but I walked away from CHI this year thinking that there are more voices in this arena than just those associated with the Global South.

Women in Science Forums: Beyond Parenting

In academia, academic management, women on June 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

I was reading a blog post about academic panels focused on women in science, and how they often largely focus on balancing being a woman in science with being a mother. I think this is a great question, especially in light of a recent report that suggests that three quarters of all women who leave engineering do not leave because of this. I have long wondered whether part of the answer to this question is a potential discomfort in talking about the issues that might face the other three quarters so we over focus on discussing that one quarter. I’ve wondered about this because my own experience of women’s forums tends to mirror the situation described by the blogger. But looking at the 4 questions the panelists chose to answer, and the 100 or so questions that the organizer of the panel that would result received I have changed my mind, somewhat.

I now realize that there are a whole set of questions that I don’t think should be hard to talk about, but do not get quite the same air time. And I now understand that’s because of the importance to so many people of having children. That came out in one of the answers that led me to this blog post in the first place.

But, I think it might be useful for all of us to keep an eye on the balance of conversation. Because looking at those 100 or so other questions there are some really important issues in there. And some of them might be harder to talk about. Take the one about broader impacts, the person notes that on a grant they are a broader impact as well as a PI and then asks whether that reinforces patterns of assuming that women are present based on their gender rather than accomplishment. This is something I’ve wondered too, and I find it hard to talk about because I do not want to admit in front of my colleagues, particularly while being in system where promotion turns on accomplishment rather than gender (or other demographic characteristics). Then there are likely questions that are just hard to discuss, harassment and discrimination for example.

So I now think that we discuss children because they are a profound experience for so many. And that the passion and wonder that they create leads to this focus. I do though think its important to keep an eye on the balance and I would like to create a space for both other and harder conversations that we ought to have.

And I also think it might be useful to have forums for parents, where men and women can come together and discuss lives balancing science and parenthood (I am not aware of any). I say this motivated in part by listening to some men recently describe their own anxieties and even sorrows about how they balanced their career with being a parent. And perhaps it would make more space for these other conversations.