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


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


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

Jon Whittle on the digital brain switch, drama and dance

Jon Whittle is a full Professor in the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University, England, and also a Chair of Software Engineering and Head of Department. He covers lots of themes including making career shifts, changing strategies when proposals get rejected, making multi disciplinary work work, creating balance, and leading by example. He lives work-life balance, describing himself as an artist and a scientist.

“You have to give yourself a break” ... “you can do very simple things” that make a difference.

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:15 His varied career path between Scotland, US, India and England

05:40 Changing fields and how to move into a new community/field

12:40 Experience in the US tenure system, difficulties getting grants, and changing strategies

15:20 Working in multi-disciplinary projects, lessons learnt and how to bootstrap multi-disciplinary team work

19:40 Work life balance (WLB) – living it as an artist and a scientist, researching it in the Digital Brain Switch Project

26:00 Being Head of Department, leading by example, structuring time, setting expectations, handling email, giving yourself a break

33:32 Three things to maintain a healthy balance – delegate, learn how to say no, be organised

End 36:40

Final notes:

Digital Brain Switch’ project

EPSRC Sandpits