What was your educational and professional background before coming to SILS?
I was an undergraduate psychology major at Carolina and wanted to marry my two loves: social psychology (including foci in social influence and judgment and decision-making) and human-computer interaction. Through both SILS and Carolina's computer science department, I graduated with a more in-depth understanding of not just the machine, but of its human users, including a major research focus on ethics in the digital age.
How has your career progressed since you graduated SILS?
I'm currently wrapping up the last two months of my PhD at Arizona State, which welcomed my plan to do interdisciplinary graduate research between the psychology, computer science engineering, and communications departments. My PhD in social psychology (with an emphasis in cyberpsychology) explores (1) hacking through a game theoretic framework, and (2) cybersecurity through a perceptual lens. I'm interested in better understanding how we use real-world cues of threat to inform our perception of danger when online, and how that sense of danger impacts downstream online safety practices. During my PhD, I completed two internships at Facebook as a quantitative User Experience (UX) Researcher at their Menlo Park headquarters. Since August, 2015 I've maintained a role as either an intern or a part-time contractor while finishing my degree.
In your current employment, what are your job duties and responsibilities?
I work closely with cross-functional product teams (including engineers, designers, product managers, and content strategists) to identify research topics based on user needs. UX researchers design studies that address user behaviors and attitudes, and use our findings to generate insights about how we should transform our products moving forward. I use a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative methods, and use UX, HCI, and social psychology to inform our final decision-making processes. At the end of each project cycle, researchers must communicate results and illustrate clear suggestions in compelling, creative, and approachable (i.e., non-jargoned) ways.
What projects have gotten you most excited and/or what accomplishments have made you the proudest?
I work for a team called Protect & Care, whose protect side focuses on issues of cybersecurity and whose care side centers around caring for Facebook's user base during challenging experiences. Although I've enjoyed my time with both, a few exciting projects that come to mind stemmed from our work in care. During my first week at Facebook, I was invited to a brainstorm meeting on Facebook break-ups. Their core aim was to ease the break-up or divorce process, give users the chance to "take a break" from ex-partners without cutting ties, and seamlessly isolate memories (digital artifacts: photos, messages, On This Day posts) involving the ex-partner with a single click. I was looped into the conversation based on my past research on Facebook stalking after break-ups. Over the course of a few months, we developed a "flow" for users who go through break-ups that speaks to needs that (1) we heard in qualitative interviews and (2) we knew existed from empirical research. The product launched in November 2015.
What were some of your best experiences at SILS??
All these years later, I still remember the shock I felt during my first group project in a SILS class. For the first time in my life, I wasn't the only one carrying the workload; my groupmates were equally as invested - and interested - in helping build an entity-relationship data model for the Orange County Public Library system (which was in desperate need of database help). We had such a fun semester applying our genuine passions to real-world problems, and I still keep in touch with those groupmates to this day. This single experience became a major theme in my time with SILS. Not a week went by that I didn't marvel at the dedication of both professors and students to basic knowledge and learning.
How did your time at SILS prepare you for the future?
Instead of speaking in abstractions, here is one concrete example of the many ways that SILS prepared me for a future in this digitally connected society: I'll never forget taking Resource Selection & Evaluation with Dr. Edwards, who tossed aside his carefully planned syllabus in our third week of class to instead dedicate the semester to the ongoing Arab Spring. He was so dynamic in shifting our learning objectives to speak to an international crisis, which allowed for a freedom of expression and exploration I'd rarely experienced in college.
What inspires or motivates you?
My biggest inspiration has always been my students. As a doctoral student at a (very, very large) public institution, I'm lucky to have the opportunity to teach and mentor undergraduate students who hail from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. I run a research lab (the Cyberlab) with a group of bright and inquisitive students from computer science, journalism & mass communication, marketing, visual art, and political science backgrounds. Academic research is so often constrained by the limits that researchers place on their own work based on knowledge of the same theories, courses, and degrees. It brings me so much joy to watch these students navigate new research questions with the unique experiences and skillsets that they bring to the table. They remind me each and every day to celebrate diversity of thought over uniformity of skill.
Is there any other information you would like to share, or any advice you would like to offer current or future SILS students?
My doctoral advisor took a gamble accepting me as her student. ASU, as an institution, is passionate about increasing its presence in interdisciplinary - and particularly technology-forward - research; however, it is still a risky bet in academic disciplines. My advisor recently told our broader research lab that she would never have given me a chance - me, with my unique blending of psychology and technology/HCI - if I hadn't graduated from the SILS program. She said that regardless of my strength in psychological research, it was my coursework with SILS that communicated a clear passion for this area of work. I'll always be grateful to SILS for helping make my graduate and professional careers not only possible, but more than I could ever have hoped for.