Reflections from OzCHI

On Tuesday I travelled to Sydney to participate in the Doctoral Consortium, part of the OzCHI conference (OZCHI is the annual conference for the Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group (CHISIG) of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia).

Some reflections:

  • Practice is really important: At the start of my PhD practicing in front of my supervisors didn’t even occur to me – I thought it was optional (Wrong!). This is probably because I was used to being so autonomous at work and also knew my subject so intimately that I was confident with minimal practice. It’s such a different situation in academia, and for good reason; your supervisors’ names are associated with your work and it is their reputation at stake. So they want to ensure that they are across everything you say. Even though it felt rather painful, practicing in front of my supervisors was actually enormously beneficial. I ended up substantially reworking my presentation and it was much better for it.
  • Leaders of the field are nice people too: One of the Responders at the Consortium was Professor Pelle Ehn. He is one of the founders of the HCI field, having led research developing technology with workers in Scandinavia in the in the 1970s. My supervisor kept stressing the great opportunity this provided and how it would be worthwhile to read his previous work and even reference his work. While this was good advice, I started worrying about my inexperience in HCI. It was a lovely surprise to find a very friendly person and a very supportive atmosphere (no scary academic monsters here!).
  • Balancing interdisciplinary nature of the PhD continues to be a challenge, particularly in terms of thinking about who examines my thesis (and the inevitably biases and preferences each discipline brings). Health and HCI aren’t always incompatible. For instance, HCI seems to be more focussed on the design and development of technology, while Health is (generally) more focussed on measuring outcomes (in a scientifically rigorous method).
  • Importance of passion (to me anyway): Okay this isn’t necessarily something directly from the Consortium. It’s linked to the interdicipline point above. Another Responder, Associate Professor Frank Vetere from the University of Melbourne, talked about the need to have a main focus or narrative in your work; ‘What area is most important to you?’ I guess this should be obvious, but it’s so easy to lose sight of it in the day to day slog and with so much reading to distract you. It was evident that this is something that many of the presenters were struggling with. And it’s where the interdisciplinary PhD becomes problematic and messy. Probably the most challenging question I had was: ‘What theory or body of work are you extending? What is your theoretical or research contribution?’. This is a fundamental question and something I need to untangle in the coming months (which one to chose?!).
  • The meaning of ‘social’ goes beyond interactions, speaks to ‘the feeling of being valued’.  This is a reported quote from Associate Professor Frank Vetere at this morning’s keynote presentation at OzCHI (from Twitter, as I’m not at the conference). It came through as I was writing this blog and it’s THIS which excites me about technology and reminds me that looking into dry systems theoretical frameworks is as much about enabling the social as anything. It reminds me of the potential of my research to have an impact.