Finishing Summer at SACHI

Leaving any project is difficult, especially ones worked on exclusively for an entire summer.  It seems like the finished product is rarely what was initially planned. I believe this is because better ideas have organic growth during the maturation of a project. The summer and my internship finished before I knew exactly what was happening.  There were twists and turns, and here I am with a finished project and a head full of knowledge and experiences.

I learned how to use the javascript library D3 (https://d3js.org/) to build my visualization, a standard in the industry, and improved my programming skills in general.  During my internship, SACHI began a reading group to discuss important foundational papers in Human-Computer Interaction and to keep up with the current research being conducted in the field; we would read a paper every week and discuss its contributions to the field and its research methods.  These discussion groups provided me with insight I didn’t plan on receiving.  Analyzing the research methods of other people (especially groundbreaking research) provided me with a strong foundational understanding of the field and its methods.

Photo: http://www.wired.com/2013/12/tech-time-warp-engelbart/ From “The Mother of All Demos”
Photo: http://www.wired.com/2013/12/tech-time-warp-engelbart/ From “The Mother of All Demos”

This additional understanding, along with the work I completed this summer, has helped me cement my interest and future goals in Human-Computer Interaction and more specifically Information Visualization, as well as helping me plan potential future research of which I wish to be a part.

This summer also helped me through a great deal of self-reflection.  I had never traveled to a foreign country alone, and living in Scotland for three months was a sink or swim exploration into the daily reality of adult living.  While at work I learned the power of persistence (if I don’t fix this bug, nobody else will) and how to work a full day in the lab, I would go home and learn the amazing power of a grocery list before going shopping (I have a problem with impulse shopping when alone).  At the beginning of the summer I was terrified I was unqualified for my position and unqualified to be a functioning adult.  But I did it!  It was difficult, admitting sometimes that I didn’t know what I was doing and asking for help, but that’s universal.  Very few people are experts at everything, and most people are glad to help.

That’s been one of my huge takeaways and something I’d recommend everybody take advantage of no matter their field.  Talk to people! To anybody working in a computer science or any research lab like SACHI:  Ask people about their research.  People are all doing incredible things, but people rarely share their work without prompting.  Now, most people in the lab are working towards publishing for the biggest Human-Computer Interaction conference, CHI (https://chi2016.acm.org/wp/).  I’ve learned so many things just from casual conversation, and in turn, getting feedback from somebody else on my own work is useful when I’m stuck or frustrated.  Sometimes I forgot the big picture can be groundbreaking when I’m stuck on one piece of the puzzle, and that’s how to keep motivated.

To anybody working in research, design, or even just computer science as a field, I would highly suggest exploration in your work.  When there are multiple ways to accomplish a goal, don’t just choose the method that first comes to mind, spend an hour or two (or more), following other trains of thought.  When facing a problem from multiple directions, you get a more clear view of what the solution needs to include.

And so now I’m done.  That in itself feels like an accomplishment.   But even more than that, I’m proud that I get to continue.  The work could still be improved, and that’s the plan.  I hope that my visualization will reach a point that it’s publishable.  This summer was absolutely fantastic, and I’ll not only look back on the memories, but forward to what I can now achieve.

One of the SACHI weekly meetings
One of the SACHI weekly meetings

–Katherine Currier

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