Why did you choose UC Irvine for your Ph.D. studies?
If you’ve heard that selecting a Ph.D. program is all about fit, it’s true. The research projects I saw at UCI were exciting, and the program was top-notch, of course. But the interactions I had with both faculty and current students as I was making my final decision really helped me see what life would be like at UCI and how this program would help me grow. I chose UCI because it just felt “right.”
Which faculty member(s) do you work with and on what projects?
My dissertation research engages social network sites to understand how death challenges fundamental assumptions around mortality in the design of our technology. Gillian Hayes is my advisor, but I also work closely with Geof Bowker, Melissa Mazmanian and Paul Dourish.
What is the most enjoyable part of doing research?
When I first got involved with research as an undergrad, I loved how it provided me tools to discover and learn about the people and world around me. While I still love that aspect of research (of course), I am also excited by the ability and responsibility we are given to shape that world through the social theory and technical systems we build.
Have you done an internship? If so, where and in what role?
Internships have been an important and priceless part of my Ph.D. program. I’m lucky enough to have done three internships with Microsoft Research. Internships with MSR are about 12 weeks long, during which point you take the lead in conducting a research project with support from your mentor(s). While at Redmond, I conducted a qualitative study comparing video communication in professional and personal settings under the mentorship of Gina Venolia and John Tang. At the Social Media Collective in Cambridge, Mass., I worked under Kate Crawford and Mike Ananny studying “technological departures” from Grindr, a dating/hookup app targeting gay men. Finally, with Cathy Marshall and John Tang at Microsoft Research’s Silicon Valley Campus, I conducted a study on the adoption and use of cloud-based storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive.
What are you most proud of so far?
The best feeling for me is when my research is able to improve the lives of the research participants who made my work possible in the first place. So I am proud that my research is improving how companies like Facebook and Google approach the deaths of their users and the communities affected.
What has been the best part of your experience?
The community. People talk about Ph.D.’s as lonely affairs, so I was surprised at how engaged and supportive everyone is here. Every day I am surrounded by faculty and colleagues who are available, involved and inspiring — and interested in making me the most successful scholar I can be.
What are your aspirations, that is, what do you want to do/be in the future?
I hope that my research will a) improve the lives of people around me and b) expand the boundaries of how we understand those lives and the technology that is a part of them. We’re lucky to be in a field where we can make an impact in both academia and industry. We’ll have to wait and see where I end up, but I will make that decision in large part based on where I will be able to have the most impact.
What would be your advice to incoming Ph.D. students in your program?
Be curious and humble. There is a strong tendency for students to feel like they are supposed to be experts in everything. You will be part of endless conversations where a colleague is yammering on about clustering algorithm X or social theory Y while you are suppressing a bubbling terror at the realization that you have no idea what they are talking about. This is OK. This is normal. You didn’t sleep through class. Everyone has their own expertise. Some of my most important learning experiences have come when I have been humble enough to admit that I have no clue what a friend is saying, and then asking them to share what they know.