Michael Muller on principled engagements, value tensions, liking people & giving back

Michael_Muller.jpg

Michael Muller is a researcher at IBM Research in Cambridge MA. We cover a lot in this conversation, Michael reflects on his long PhD process in cognitive science, long in part because of chronic diseases that he still deals with. He talks about the decision to move to industry and his experiences working in various industry positions since then, including interpreting participatory design methods for a North American industry context, finding out he wasn’t suited to management, and loving the work he is doing now. A theme across many of the stories is the tension arising from navigating organisational demands and his own deeply held values, and throughout you can hear his deep care for people.

Work in any organisation involves some kind compromise of principle at one time or another.”  

“I’m a white American boy, got all this honour and privilege, let’s do something constructive with it.”

“Mentoring very quickly becomes two ways.”

“I like the work I’m doing, I love the people I’m working with. And it’s work I can hold my head up about. It’s work that I’m thinking is making good kinds of changes. That’s a good life.”

“That’s the core spiritual practice… Take care of people… be in relationships in which we are exchanging affection and support.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:30 Introducing his cognitive psychology background and now working in a research organisation in industry (IBM), scored like academics, managed by objective and the processes in trying to get criteria for preferred publication venues changed; cushioning of researchers in the organisation

07:30 Discussing reasons for his 9 year PhD – two chronic diseases, costs money, working part-time, and moving across parts of Psychology Dept at Rutgers

09:15 Going to work in an industry organisation straight after, seeing academic psychologists not very happy, story of his role model Mark Altan (?) who was dedicated to teaching, received a teaching award which he was told was a ‘kiss of death’, told not going to get tenure, and went to work at Bell Labs. Michael lost his role model. A shearing between surface and deep values – “Didn’t fancy being in an academic environment in which each time I wanted to do something kind or considerate or useful for students I would be jeopardising myself”. Advisor told him “Michael you will have to learn to be a mediocre instructor like the rest of us” because he was being too dedicated to students. So he went into industry, thinking industry jobs were relatively stable compared to not getting tenure.

13:55 After finishing degree with 4 hours to spare, finished winter at uni as a research assistant then took his first job at IBM in Charlotte NC but was not the place then as it is now. Within months, the choice was stark, he could stay at IBM or stay married – he chose love and found some way to get them out. Spouse depressed at isolation. Then went to Bellcore for 8 years.

16:13 Sometime was in Seattle for a CHI conference, went to Participatory Design Conference nearby, first one in North America and “got religion”! A year later he began to think with two colleagues about how to adapt participatory design (PD) to the American context (though says Susanne Bodker still doesn’t think it was Scandinavian PD); became the existence proof this could work in industry. Industry attention span is brief so they shortened PD methods down to less than 60 mins and conducted a series of conversion experiments. Glory days. They were revelations to people. Showed it was fun, information rich. Local management in Bellcore got it. But then baby Bellcores started taking each other over.

20:30 He was doing something pioneering in North American industry context, had thought they were following the Scandinavian model, but with modifications for industry attention span and culturally had to make changes, mostly by intuition, mostly got it right. Said ‘workplace democracy’ over and over again but sometimes got push back and this probably delayed their promotions.

22:55 Eventually made the mistake of trying to get a promotion when at Microsoft and within 10 months Microsoft and manager explained what a bad mistake that was! He was given a performance improvement plan – could see it was designed to be non-survivable and the criteria for success were not well spelt out so he could be fired at any time without protections. Accepted that judgement and went away.

24:30 Had moved from New Jersey because of spouse at the time found her spiritual life in nature, and a job came up in US West Advanced Technologies in Boulder Colorado – called Terry Roberts (manager) about it, moved there. A different kind of job, interviewing telephone operators to help them lose their job but was also able to show they were doing important knowledge work. CHI 1995 presentation explaining this (link). But he was deemed by management to have helped the wrong side.

27:10 He talks of observing operators’ work in a bunch of places, their work being monitored by management, the tension of having sympathies with the workers but reporting to management. He reflects on having just listened to Mark Ackermann talk at ECSCW17 about the far right organising on the internet. He was helping management use technology to displace labour. Principles in a grey area. Lost sleep over it. “I’d say work in any organisation involves some kind compromise of principle at one time or another.” Making it an explicit topic of conversation.

30:55 Eventually his work supported using technology to reduce operators so not a clean story. “A politically pure person would have walked away from that job.” Tells Arnie Lund’s story when he worked in a ‘doomed organisation’ and was made to lay people off then lay himself off -because they knew he would hate it and knew he would do it with care for the people. That was their gift to the employees. “So I tried to do things with care […] but at the same time I was hopelessly compromised. That’s the life in an organisation.” Thinks it also happens in academia. “If we work in organisations, organisations have their own logic and it’s a little bit more reptilian, cold blooded, than the logic that most of us bring to each other.”

33:50 Continuing to work in industry contexts, for family reasons. Discusses options for moving to academia. Currently has an unpaid academic role at Wellesley College. Paying back white male privilege. If could find a way to increase work in academia without letting people down (the only social scientist now in his group) he would do it. Mentors students in internships.

37:45 Doing mentoring, “I’m a white American boy, got all this honour and privilege, let’s do something constructive with it.”, can open doors, and ongoing relationship with students/mentees. Has roughly same job title as started with 1984 because he tried the ‘manager thing’ at Microsoft and it didn’t work. Managing not his skill set but can mentor, also has friends who are female, LGBTQ, native American, etc, and can understand he has had a blessed life so helping to open doors for others. An ongoing mentoring relationship but also responsibility of person to walk through the door. But opening the door an important first step.

40:40 Discusses doctoral consortium and career development workshop mentoring experiences. “Our own failures are an important part of what we bring to those.” Some about careers. And it’s thinking together. “Mentoring very quickly becomes two ways.”. Gives example of Shion Guha. Reflects on internship mentoring and transitioning to peers/colleagues.

45:55 What is keeping him excited at work? Asked by IBM to work on employee engagement. Doing engagement surveys, find out if there are issues, do an intervention in Jan, but can be too late in next Nov to find out if it worked. So trying to use data from IBM’s thriving social media ecosystems (Bernard Geyers, David Millen’s work) but first attempts didn’t work; now fixed and can get monthly reports. So can describe, predict and now into fixing it by gathering ideas to increase engagement. Making the experience of work a better experience, and helps the organisation. It’s fulfilling.

52:56 Other part of job is to help IBM think about leadership position in AI and ethics. Collaboration with Vera Lia0, bringing qualitative methods. Returning to some participatory themes and design fictions and value sensitive design to explore.

54:56 Navigating long working hours. “Our work could expand to cover every waking moment that we have and then cause us to have more waking moments. We all have to work out work family balance.” Talks about current partner and “supporting each other as they both over work” and her passion for justice, where both are “trying to make positive change in the world, make up for the good stuff we’ve got”. And the work content is extremely interesting. “I like the work I’m doing, I love the people I’m working with. And it’s work I can hold my head up about. It’s work that I’m thinking is making good kinds of changes. That’s a good life.”

59:00 How he maintains his health and wellbeing? “I love people that’s a very healthy thing to do.” “That’s the core spiritual practice… Take care of people… It is to be in relationships in which we are exchanging affection and support.”

1:01:03 End

Related Links:

Michael Muller - http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-michael_muller

Wendy Kellogg - http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-wkellogg

Scott Robertson podcast - https://changingacademiclife.com/blog/2017/7/27/scott-robertson

Susanne Bødker - http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/persons/id(87d4fbb6-b38c-449e-b87d-59f693b7d6f0).html

Terry Roberts - http://terroberts.home.mindspring.com/IntDesUAPortfolio/index.html

Mark Ackermann - https://www.si.umich.edu/people/mark-ackerman

Arnie Lund - https://www.linkedin.com/in/arnielund

Shion Guha – https://www.shionguha.net

David Millen - http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-david_r_millen

Matt Davis - http://researcher.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-davismat

Vera Liao - http://qveraliao.com

Wellesley College - http://cs.wellesley.edu/~oshaer/index.html

CHI conference - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference_on_Human_Factors_in_Computing_Systems

Participatory Design Conference - https://pdc2018.org/about-pdc/

Usability Professionals Association - https://uxpa.org

CHI95 paper: Telephone operators as knowledge workers: consultants who meet customer needs - https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=223904.223921

Human Computer Interaction Consortium - https://hcic.org/hcic2018/index.phtml

Value Sensitive Design - http://www.vsdesign.org

Cliff Lampe on the joy of academic service, faculty meetings & peer networks

Cliff Lampe is an associate professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He also plays numerous key service roles in the HCI and CSCW peer communities. He talks about faculty meetings and peer service being joyful, the importance of social capital and relationships, how he decides what to say yes/no to, how he manages his work. He also talks about concerns around the production of busyness, the push for quantity not quality, and the increasing community burden of peer review. He challenges to think about new models and to play our role in making academia work. If nothing else, he will change the way you think about faculty meetings and peer service.

“Academia runs on social networks and relationship development is something we spend not enough time training PhD students to do”

“Academia requires a rich heterogeneous set of people to make it work and we can all play different roles”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:45 On being a Michigan boy… building a career in Michigan

04:44 On being willing to work hard and having 80 different jobs

06:38 On work being its own reward… being joyful … and loving faculty meetings

09:51 Being a better participant in meetings by attending to what is being talked about

11:00 Experiences in coming back to Michigan as a faculty member after having been a student there

15:00 Being a bad grad student by only having one paper published but being good at knowing what makes an interesting research problem

18:00 His first faculty job, what was challenging eg re-establishing work-life-balance in a different way, and what clicked eg building relationships

21:34 Social capital building and reciprocity in academia

23:20 Taking network building out of the shadows – Phil Agre’s paper ‘Networking the network’

24:42 Mentors, Judy Olson, and the generosity of senior researchers

27:10 Paying it forward with his research group, advisees

28:38 Various peer service roles

30:10 Always being dedicated to service – “if you can do something you should do it”, loving the service work

33:00 How he decides what to say yes to – and saying no to things that he thinks he won’t particularly add to or if someone else can do a better job or if he’s just not interested – working to his strengths

35:32 How he fits it all in, being unwilling to rob time from his wife and son, and his practical strategies

38:02 High commitment to teaching as well, doing client-based classes, and his service learning perspective – the intersection of teaching and research and service being compelling

40:38 Practical strategies for managing the work, differentiating between managerial work and creative work, setting up bundles of like work in the same day, delegating and letting go

44:08 The importance of humour, not taking anything too seriously, having a strong capacity to let things go – “if you project positivity everything becomes more positive; we can choose how we react to things”

48:12 The problem of the “production of busyness” and the “cult of being overwhelmed”, and wanting us to slow down - artisanal craft research - where we take our time, and appreciate the heterogeneity of different types of research, the willingness to listen to each other

51:38 Also concerned about the burden of review and service load for volunteers; the continuous amping up of expectations re numbers of publications that is going to break the community or degrade its quality -  thinking through options to make this more sustainable

54:40 Over the next 5 years we need to fundamentally re-think how we disseminate our work

55:44 What a good academic life will be, what sort of senior professor he wants to be

58:02 Encouraging everyone to get involved in service and to choose how we think about service – academia requires a rich heterogeneous set of people to make it work and we can all play different roles

1:00:27 End

Related Links

Why I love academic service: https://medium.com/@clifflampe/why-i-love-academic-service-8c7e4da19092#.dmayhcwty

Phil Agre’s article on Networking the Network: http://www.cv.nrao.edu/~ksheth/astr8500/networking_the_network.pdf

Cliff and others serving SIGCHI: http://www.sigchi.org/people/officers

Cliff's article on Citizen Interaction Design: https://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/november-december-2016/citizen-interaction-design

 

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

Saul Greenberg on supervising, building a lab, creating good work life balance

Saul Greenberg is an Emeritus Professor and Faculty Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary in Canada, where he led the GroupLab, doing research in the area of HCI/CSCW/Ubicomp. He discusses his experiences picking and supervising students, strategically building a research lab and community, taking control of our own work-life balance, publication strategies, remote working, and moving into retirement. 

"Work will never end and it’s up to me to balance my life. [...]  The question I would ask myself is: if I said yes, which I really want to do, what should I stop doing?”

He talks about (times approximate) ...

02:43 Being a supervisor, how you pick good students (or not) and still learning right to the end

07:05 Students finding their own topics or working on yours, growing a lab, nurturing promising students

12:50 The strategic things to think about when designing/creating a lab, creating a community and a culture, and what wasn’t so successful in setting up the lab

20:50 Choosing where he wanted to live to do the outdoor activities he loved, then choosing the job

23:00 Tele-commuting, partitioning work, walking the talk with remote working and lessons learnt

29:00 Realising work will never end, making choices, and his strategy for deciding whether to say yes or not

36:00 Sharing teaching materials as a by product of making teaching easier – “you can be both selfish and give things away”

38:00 How academic life has changed, increasing pressure to publish, and making hiring decisions

43:20 Making the decision to retire and move into emeritus status

45:30 Final tips (lots of pearls!) – no easy solutions, being strategic, scheduling time, not being driven by the next conference deadline, don’t let your work take over, don’t get into the vortex of more intense colleagues, and it’s a great job, we’re our own worst enemies

48:50 End

Related links:

Saul’s Grad Tips: http://saul.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/pmwiki.php/GradTips/GradTips

GroupLab: http://grouplab.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/