Leysia Palen on creating a new research area, the long path to tenure and starting a department

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Leysia Palen is Professor and Founding Chair of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has also led the establishment of the Crisis Informatics research area. Leysia shares her career journey in getting to this place, an amazing story of being a first generation PhD, dealing with imposter syndrome, and moving to a new university to support her spouse. It is also a story of focus and perseverance, defining a new research area, being supported by her own soft money, then finally getting a half-time faculty position, while at the same time having a family and growing the internationally recognised Project EPIC. It was only relatively recently that she got tenure and then quickly became a full professor. Leysia also talks the challenges and lessons learnt in setting up and leading a whole new department and what higher education can be in this era.

“I was a trailing spouse…and the closest fit for me was Computer Science…but it wasn't an easy fit. […] It's important that both people [academic couple] be valuable in terms of how other people measure value.” 

“The truth was I still was uncertain if I belonged in the academy. […] I was smarter than I knew and I was more naive than I knew.”

“To do research and to do teaching, you have to just be present all the time. You have to stay with a problem. You have to stay with other people and where they are. And that's a particular kind of energy .”

“It's naive to think science is only about pursuing ideas that just come to one's head. They have to be good ideas, they have to be tractable ideas.”

For a full transcript, click here

Overview:

02:45 Being a first generation college student, undergrad at UCSD and PhD at Irvine

08:51 Moving to Colorado CS department as a trailing spouse, focusing on keeping the research thread going

11:34 Working in soft money, needing to reduce work to what she could do well while she was having children

15:08 Moving to a half-time tenure track position, trying to deal with not being a close disciplinary fit, moving to formalize research to make a difference

18:23 Setting up a crisis informatics research agenda, and getting it funded

23:16 The challenges doing crisis informatics work and self care

27:07 Eventually getting tenure, the challenges getting there, and juggling family, physical movement, and home/work, getting a full-time position in 2007 but still not tenured, eventually went for associate without tenure, then later with tenure. And then in a short time to full professor.

35:06 Being noticed by the campus for the impact she was having, the multi-disciplinary group, graduating 7 PhD students all women. Setting up a new department of information science. The opportunity to think about the nature of disciplines, what an ischool in 2015 could be like, and re-thinking education.

42:34 Learning to be a leader, no training pathways for leadership or role models for setting up a new department, and defining discipline vs department.

52:21 Final reflections and working with a 50 year view.

56:51 End

Related Links

Department of Information Science - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/infoscience

Palen & Anderson, 2016, Crisis Informatics – New data for extraordinary times, Science. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6296/224

Ed Hutchins - http://pages.ucsd.edu/~ehutchins/

Aaron Cicourel - https://sociology.ucsd.edu/people/faculty/emeritus/aaron-cicourel.html

Don Norman - https://jnd.org

Amy Voida - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/information-science/amy-voida

Ricarose Roque - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/information-science/ricarose-roque

Brian Keegan - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/information-science/brian-c-keegan

Lone Malmborg on academic performance measures, benchmarking and strategies

Lone Malmborg is an Associate Professor and heads the Interaction Design Research Group and the People and Computational Things Section at the IT University of Copenhagen in Denmark. She talks about what is happening in Denmark and ITU around performance measures for academics. She reflects on the impacts of what gets counted and how counts get benchmarked and what this means for things like publication strategies and stress levels. She also shares strategies that she has tried out in her own section to turn individual counts into cooperative activities, as well as her personal strategies.

[On performance measures:] “We know that big ideas take a lot of failing but we can’t afford failing. If we’re stuck with performance measures, we have to get the foundation of the model right or fair so we’re not measuring ourselves against something completely impossible. What is giving people stress is not having given tasks, but always having tasks you can never fulfil.”

She talks about (times approximate) … 

01:30 Her early studies, then working, and making a decision to pursue a PhD opportunity that was offered to her; PhD on limitations of formalisations

06:35 What drives her now in her research – wanting to do things that makes a difference to people, working with seniors, having agendas with a political and social part around technologies

10:00 Getting funding resources for these sorts of societal challenges being easier than for basic research; Challenges with different value systems between funding agendas with expectations vs seeing seniors as resourceful people and quality of life – a fight to get this agenda on board

12:37 Not being able to get the big funding for these areas in the same way as other areas of science

13:48 What’s going on in Denmark now re benchmarking all research and measures at IT University (all faculty ‘have to’ spend 1 million DKK (Correction: should be 878,000 DKK) each year) but being difficult when you don’t need to spend money on expensive equipment

15:34 Impacts of benchmarking of funding on culture in the university; Measurements being about efficiency, and not trusting people to do their best – introduced in all sectors; and what makes an ‘efficient academic’

18:00 Started counting teaching, ‘student production’ and various bonuses eg if students graduate on time, and how this can lead to lower requirements at exams

19:30 Now counting publication - all publication channels grouped into levels and credits/points for publication channels, and numbers of authors; Measuring how much people teach, publish, how much external funding they attract.

21:23 Long process set up by Ministry of Science and Education; being a member of one of the groups setting up the publication channels/levels; implications for new publication venues; and difficulties arguing for HCI conferences.

24:44 Creates all kinds of strange publication strategies – rather than picking exactly the right journal in terms of the topic, you pick the publication venue that gives you the highest credit; Universities then having very different ways of handling this – ITU ‘harvest’ twice a year to see points for publications, but no points or visibility for publications rejected or proposals rejected – how much work that is not recognized

27:10 Very unhealthy in terms of allowing yourself to fail, risky to try out new ideas, and supports research strategy where you never fail, but good research requires a lot of failing – see the consequences of this is boring research

28:35 Strategies for helping people in her section to deal with the stress – moving to a collective model to give people the feeling of helping each other out; Series of workshops with all section faculty once/year to discuss funding strategies and having access to an external company that helps write the applications; value for junior faculty to learn the process

32:00 Retreat idea first invented as a paper writing retreat around a conference deadline – structured writing activities – coming with an idea and leaving with a draft paper; taking shared responsibility; value of support of external companies

35:44 strategies for helping people manage stress

39:40 Her strategies as head of section – writing retreat, creating new relationships between people as side benefit, changing the way people work together

41:37 Personal strategies for dealing with this – having something very tangible as an output that satisfies her in another way e.g., cooking, eating together, something you can see the immediate result of

43:50 Being quite seriously ill giving her a new perspective, to focus on what is important; liking her job, her colleagues, but work being never ending and able to work for 12hrs/day easily; so buying a country house after illness and being immersed in picking up the weeds or painting the house that keep her attention on other activities

48:30 Going into a new managerial position and trying to make some decisions about how to be a good manager and not put stress on her colleagues; one example is avoiding sending emails to people in the evenings, also leaving office at 4:30 then people shouldn’t feel bad if they leave at 4:30; People shouldn’t work for free but can’t see how performance measures can be done in 37 hr work week

51:08 Finding arguments for other ways of benchmarking our research, not against national average but other departments in our area; a way of compromising that if we have to have benchmarks, they need to be more realistic; No other area with this amount of quality control that we have – acceptance rates of conferences as a form of quality control so why do we need another one

53:33 “Everybody is doing it the best they can. We are so longing for the honour of being a good researcher. It’s what drives us, we want to be the best.”

54:07 We have so many ways of making sure that people are doing good work. We are just creating stress that prevents people from doing deep thoughts; We know that big ideas take a lot of failing but we can’t afford failing

55:00 If we’re stuck with performance measures, we have to get the foundation of the model right or fair so we’re not measuring ourselves against something completely impossible. “What is giving people stress is not having given tasks, but always having tasks you can never fulfil. … We have to take this feeling away one way or another. … It’s so unhealthy.”

57:29 End

Related Links

Lone's blog https://lonemalmborg.wordpress.com/

Give&Take Project http://givetake.eu

Tom Rodden on doing good work, metrics, failure, funding, and family

Tom Rodden is a Professor of Interactive Computing and Director of Research for the Faculty of Science at the University of Nottingham. He has led the Mixed Reality Laboratory and founded and co-directed the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute. He is currently Deputy CEO of the UK research funding council, EPSRC. In this podcast we cover lots of issues from personal career choices, what drives his research and dealing with insecurities and rejections, to bigger issues around funding models and metrics and what universities are about. He also discusses being part of a two-academic family and their strategies for managing this.

“There’s always another, whatever it is, there’s always another […] and it’s only a job”

“Research is never perfect, it never pans out perfectly and actually remembering the things you’ve done and the successes you’ve had is important.”

"I am not an income source, I am a researcher!"

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:20 Early days of the EU COMIC project

05:30 Worrying about whether the system now allows the same space and risk taking and the impact of metrication of research

07:00 His role as Deputy CEO of UK funding council, EPSRC and journey to this current secondment

08:50 Understanding his skills as a researcher – energy and enthusiasm, making connections and focusing on doing interesting things rather than thinking strategically

12:10 The difference between drive and ambition and targets, and where achievements become the incidental things along the way

13:50 The tendency to focus on the things that are failing than celebrating successes

16:20 Managing rejections, taking a while to not personalize the failure, and taking solace in the statistics and that you don’t always get ideas right the first time

20:20 Advice from his grand supervisor - Do good work and everything else works itself out.

21:30 Unpacking metrication and the responsibility to interpret metrics – that citations don’t equal impact and influence; and that metrics aren’t the issue, it’s the pressure that the institutions puts on individuals

26:40 The path of a new idea and taking a while to be socialized and understood; and the dilemma of needing to think of your career over 30 years vs the next 3 years

29:00 Understanding the rhythm of a university and that they are complex and slow to change; and having informal mentors and people you can talk with

31:00 Creating the space to do good work, and thinking of your work as the resources to build a good narrative, then figure out how to match it the funder’s expectations – the craft of doing projects

33:25 Talking about different funding models - remembering that the income is only the means to deliver the research and remembering there’s good and bad funding, thinking about whether the type of research you do matches the funding model

37:40 Building a research identity – moving between fields vs being focused, enjoying opening up new questions but also beating himself up about not having a deeper focus

40:00 Always being able to find people that you feel are doing a much better job than you, and this is at every level. “Still the case for me. I still get nervous about things.” But having a better armory of coping tactics now.

 42:30 Strategies for when both partners are academics and having a family – changing tactics, throwing selection not time to problems, understanding each other’s pressures and job dynamics,

47:38 Compartmentalizing, being tactical, planning in rewards and the Achilles heel of marking procrastination

50:45 Remembering ‘there’s always another’ and ‘it’s only a job’!

Reflecting on the incredible freedom and flexibility and opportunities in this job

55:20 Every yes is a no, but also being careful not to give up the bits of the job you love too quickly - the mid career challenge or ‘the problem of demonstrating competency’

58:40 Final reflections

59:34 The ‘go home’ announcement!

1:00:45 End

Related Links:

EPSRC - https://www.epsrc.ac.uk

REF Research Excellence Framework - http://www.ref.ac.uk

Steve Benford – https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/computerscience/people/steve.benford 

Boriana Koleva - https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/computerscience/people/b.koleva  

Roger Needham - https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/archive/ksj21/RogerNeedham.html