Working with me

Would you like to work with us in the Make4All group? Are you considering a career in research? Curious about how to use technology to solve real world problems? Interested in honing your skills in fabrication, machine learning, data analysis, or mobile app development?

If so I encourage you to read this page. I’d suggest reading it all, but for your convenience, here are the topics covered:

What is the focus of our work in Make4All?

Technology is an artificial construct, by people. The only explanation for its existence is to help people (its developers, deployers, and users) to achieve their goals. It has the proven potential to change the world. My goal is to help us do even more with technology, while simultaneously asking whether we are creating the right world with what we build.

What does it mean to do more with technology? A good reading about tool building in general is the Past, present, and future of user interface software tools (Myers, Hudson and Pausch) A good reading about doing technical research (also very general) is the book chapter Concepts, Values, and Methods for Technical HCI Research (Hudson and Mankoff) in the book Ways of Knowing. While my group’s technological focus has shifted over time, the current focus in my group is primarily on fabrication, with healthy doses of ubiquitous computing and machine learning mixed in.

What does it mean to create the right world? This is an enormous problem, and making progress requires focus on specific domains. While my group’s focus has shifted over time, the current focus in my group is primarily on assistive technology.

Given this focus, some of the questions we ask include:

If you look at my website, you will see that this is not the only domain I work in. Some of my group’s projects are about diversity in domains as diverse as as STEM, sustainability, and health. This work represents passion projects, and are usually primarily about data collection and analysis in a software world. If you want to know more about them, you can look at projects such as EDigs: Improving the information economy for tenants or ask me about our study of 200 first year students focusing on how discrimination, assault and other major life events impact student success and wellbeing. To accomplish this work, I make use of and innovate in the domain of data modeling, such as my work in modeling human routines and dynamic question ordering.

What are some skills you might need or develop?

Working in the Make4All group means being willing to use the best research methods available to solve the problem at hand. That said, there are some core skills and abilities I expect everyone to develop

Talk to people: The work we do almost always involves understanding how technology impacts people. The ability to design and execute a study, including getting IRB approval, collecting data, and analyzing it, is a core activity in our group. Sometimes it is in support of technological advances and sometimes it is the whole point of a project, but it is almost always present in a project. As with most of what I do, I pick the method most appropriate to the context. Thus studies may range from wholly qualitative to wholly quantitative, and developing comfort with this range will likely be valuable to you.

Build things: I am a technologist, and my work is intended to move beyond understanding to creating impact. This requires building things. Sometimes we build things just to prove it is possible and open the door to new ideas about what problems might be solvable. Other times, we dive deep into problems and then build solutions that derive from our studies. But project success in our group means creating artifacts. The specific building skills may vary by project, but our group has in the past printed cello bow holders, built social networking sites, built interactive hardware, developed android apps, and trained machine learn algorithms. You should expect to work on a range of these skills if you join our group.

Read widely: Working in applied domains means getting to know not only ‘our’ literature (Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Science) but also ‘their’ literature (whatever domain that is). Drawing boundaries around who knows things we should build on makes less and less sense as we advance. Fabrication work I have done or seen published in HCI draws from material science, engineering, and even textiles. Working in disability means reading about disability studies. Our work with low income communities and tenancy drew from everyone from Foucalt to Alexander to Castells. Reading should not stop you from doing, but it should be a regular practice along side of the doing.

How to apply if you are an undergraduate or masters student at UW?

If you are a local student who wants to do research with us, you should reach out to me and ask what projects are available. Sometimes I forward your emails to my students to see if any of them are looking for help, so include a description of what you are interested in, and a c.v. or resume when you reach out.  A good strategy for finding out what projects we might need help with is to read this whole page, and to look at papers we recently published in this site’s research page and let me know which of them you found most appealing and why.

How to apply if you are a prospective PhD student?

A PhD is a long term commitment on both our parts to raise the money and put in the time to work together on a problem of mutual interest. In addition, a PhD in a particular program (such as the Allen School) is a specific kind of degree with a specific set of expectations. If you are wondering whether the Allen School is a good fit for you, you should read about the mission of the Allen School PhD program, and look at things like required classes to understand its expectations. While I do sometimes co-advise students from the iSchool and HCDE, I more commonly take on PhD students from the Allen School. If you are wondering whether the Make4All group is a good fit for you, read this page and look at our research, and our values.

I am frequently contacted by students interested in doing a PhD in my lab. In fact, that is one of the things that inspired me to write this page. I don’t have time to answer most inquiries, but I hope that this page will provide more depth than any single email I might write. You should only email me personally if you have specific, brief question about my research or my lab. I cannot help with your application (beyond this page), and have no input into the admission process until it has been narrowed down to only a few top students.

Here are some answers to common questions about the PhD program and application process.

Can I afford the financial cost graduate school?

Doctoral students at the Allen School are given tuition and a stipend, or the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant to support their education. The students have the option to join a union, and the union helps to negotiate for a living wage in what is admittedly a very expensive city.  This combination makes graduate school in Computer Science much more affordable than a field such as medicine or law or business where students are typically expected to pay their own way, but of course the financial calculation is in the end a personal one. Hopefully these resources will help inform your decision.

I’m different from most Computer Science students. Can I still succeed?

You may have a family or other commitments that are important to you, and have heard that graduate school is only for people who work all the time. You may be balancing a health condition or have a disability and require accommodations at work.  You may be a member of an under represented minority group and have concerns about equitable treatment. Whatever your difference, know that we all benefit when a diversity of perspectives and life experiences are represented in our field.

I will actively work to create an inclusive environment. I believe that while a PhD is a full time job, success requires an environment where work and home life are in balance.  If you wish, I am happy to mentor you as you seek this balance, drawing from my own experiences with addressing inequity for myself and others and balancing home, disability, illness, and professional success.

I’m not sure I want to fabricate assistive technology (or even what I want to do)

You may still be a good fit for this group, since we also do a lot of work that is generally pushing the field of computer science/HCI forward (and may benefit assistive technology), and we also do work that lies in other domains (software only, for example) and other application areas (health, and diversity, for example). Also, many students don’t know exactly what they want to do when they arrive in a PhD program, and that is ok! Part of the process is to explore and learn from those explorations.

In addition, students don’t apply to a specific research group — they apply to the Allen School and have some opportunity to jointly explore with our faculty who is the best fit. In fact, there is no guarantee even if you are admitted that I will be your advisor. That said, you can certainly look at whether we are likely to be a good fit based on these pages.

That said, if you have no idea what you want to do, graduate school may not be the right choice at this time. A doctorate is characterized by moments so difficult that if you don’t know why you are there it may be hard to continue. You will need to know you want a doctorate by the time those moments hit if not before.

I’m not sure how to apply for a research position

When we evaluate applicants, we look for evidence that they will succeed in a research setting, and in our specific department. We also look for fit with our faculty. These are things that will hopefully come out clearly in your essay and recommendation letters.

If you have very little research experience, or no focus, you may want to take some time to think and learn about what topic interests you. You could join a research group at your university to learn more about the process or a specific problem or take some time to continue what you’re doing now and read and think about what you want to do. Even if you don’t know a topic is forever, it helps if your application can discuss a topic to show your ability to think about it from a research perspective.

If you have a non traditional background, you can also help us evaluate fit and probability of success by talking about how your experiences would contribute to success in scholarly endeavors. Do you have strong writing skills? Are you able to pick things up quickly and learn them? Are you very independent or a strong leader? Can you show evidence of perseverance? How are your programming skills? What about interviewing or other people skills? Tell us about these things so we can better understand your likelihood of success in research. Be sure to use anecdotes and other evidence to support what you say.

It’s also spending time on a few basics: Get things done on time, get help proofreading your application, show that you know what the Allen School is about. You may also want to check out Andy Ko’s advice pages.

How to apply if you are hoping to visit the group as an international intern/postdoc/etc?

I am frequently contacted by people who want to travel to Seattle to spend some time (6 weeks, 6 months, a year, or more) as an intern in the group. You may be an international student, a post doc, or event a PhD student.

I have had some wonderful collaborations with people in this position over the years and appreciate the effort and difficulty of reaching out. That said, I usually get a request of this sort once a week, and cannot possibly accommodate them all (or even answer them all). Some things to keep in mind if you email me:

  • I don’t have funds for interns or post docs at this time. If you are looking for a funded position, look elsewhere
  • I also don’t take on unfunded interns who will be paying their own way out of pocket (unless they are already UW students). I am willing to consider helping with an application to a program that will fund you if you can identify such a program, however.
  • You should have a specific proposal for something we would work on together. I do not answer emails that were obviously boiler plate sent to many professors, or that don’t show evidence that the writer took time to read my web page.
  • It takes time to get a visa. If you email me about a position starting in a few weeks, I will probably ignore it, as this is an indication of lack of planning.