October 2008

there was a workshop which was crying out to be organized. And it looks like it’ll happen! Provided I get my act together and write an actual proposal, that is. Project3Leader is willing to cooperate and organize. It’s not entirely his field, but at least he’s willing to throw his weight in. Partially this is because he also wants Company to gain more recognition in the research field, partially because he also wants to gain more knowledge.

One of the requirements of the conference organization is that the proposed workshop organizing committee cannot all work at the same institution. There was one interested person to help organizing a methods and techniques oriented workshop, but he’s more into designing for accessability so I’m not entirely sure that we can maintain the same focus. So this weekend I should read up on the course I’m giving next semester, write a workshop proposal and visit my parents and several friends.

People tell me I have good organizing skills, but maybe some extra practice shouldn’t go amiss. Especially since, after talking to Project3Leader, it is pretty clear that he really needs somebody to work on the user-system interaction, interaction design, field-tests and let’s not forget about the businness models either, please. Neither of those tasks can be executed by me, but supervising students doing this should be an option. Next question: am I ready to juggle 3 students, my Phd, teaching load, some semblance of social life and stay somewhat sane and patient? Sounds like a cliffhanger to me…


This week I was away for a conference – strictly speaking I’m still away, since I only fly back home on sunday. The conference itself was full of relevant presentations, and for once there were nearly no boring presenters either so it’s been very enjoyable. My presentation also went quite well (although I forgot half of the things I wanted to tell, but that was probably a good thing since I only had 10 minutes), and I got interesting questions.

Everything I heard though, on the first day, started me thinking about organizing a workshop. I’ve been thinking about the topic and the possibility to organize a workshop since the previous conference I visited, but hadn’t found the right venue.

A topic that’s very dear to me is research methods. Which research methods to use when, how to make sure they’re valid and reliable, and how can you incorporate research methods from other fields? It’s definitely a topic that lives, but might not be equally interesting for everybody. There’s a European project that’s looking into this as well. It also includes the possibility for industrial people to have more and easier guidance of their research choices through a framework generated by researchers with a more academic background. And all this without compromising reliability and any kind of validity, of course.

So what better way to discuss this than in a workshop? Preferably one where people have at least some experience, so we could just do one kind of overview presentation on the papers everybody sent in (although I don’t exactly know yet what kind of papers to ask for) and then dive straight into the discussion.

One of the upcoming conferences has their workshop deadline coming up, and it would be thrilling if I could submit something there. I’ve talked to the conference chair, and the workshop chair, and they are interested in the topic. After asking around the community a bit it seems more people would be interested so a small-scale workshop would be very do-able. But what kind of output to predict? A poster might not be the right format. Another person suggested short video clips, which does sound rather exciting because you could run that on a television throughout the rest of the conference and easily post it online as part of the wrap-up.

However, after putting my feet back on earth, the best thing to do would be to check my CompanySupervisor to see what she thinks (especially given the situation with CompanyManager). But it would be so exciting if I could actually pull this off!

When I started working on my PhD at Company, my work was embedded in Project1. After about 1,5 years, Project1 finished and I started transferring my work to another related Project2. Still good, no problem. Until, about half a year ago, Project2 was finished too and no other projects in that direction were going on. So far, it was all a treat. I’ve attended 3 big international overseas conferences, because the Company’s directions are that if you have a presentation (or a poster) somewhere, you’re allowed to attend. There weren’t any big money issues, and if there were snatches and problems in the PhD, it was all content-related (okay, I confess, there were plenty and the biggest one was to decide on the final direction!).

Unfortunately, the finishing of Project2 coordinated with the reorganization of where the money for PhDs is supposed to come from within Company. And the new rule is: you have to belong to a project and actively collaborate! (A.k.a.: you’ve been tricked!). This isn’t a problem as long as there’s a subject that pertains to your PhD. Not so for me… there’s one project (henceforth known as Project3) which is sideways related, and through various tricks we could combine some stuff.

Problem nr. 1: my manager thinks I’m acting unCompany a lot, so I have to change this impression gradually

Problem nr. 2: Project3leader had the impression that I could take over everything related to user/fieldtests.

Problem nr. 2 is relatively easy solved. CompanySupervisor and Project3leader and I had fruitful discussion, and it has now been decided that I will set up researchquestions in coordination with Project3leader. This should lead to the hiring of several master students who then will do design / user / field studies. Overall, it’s not a bad things. The topic is interesting, and it shouldn’t prevent me from finishing my PhD within the given time. However, problem nr.1 remains and that is making me feel somewhat tricked. Especially since he didn’t come talk to me, it came out in a rant to CompanySupervisor.

The jury is still out whether the idea of doing a PhD in both Company and Univerisity was a treat or a trick, but right now it’s feeling a lot more like the latter.

I heard through my ComnpanySupervisor that CompanyManager apparently has a rather skewed image of me, which seems to be largely non-Company, which doesn’t bode so well really for our future relations. The problem is that he has never really shown any of this to me, so I couldn’t really try to rectify this through actions (since that would probably be best). So, how now to proceed?

Part of the problem is the financing of PhDs within the Company: they’ve hit on a new scheme (again) and that always makes it harder to place the longer-busy PhDs somewhere appropriate. In terms of “So, to which project can I give a valuable contribution?” especially, since that’s certainly expected. The biggest problems arise when the project you started working in is all of a sudden quit – but your PhD isn’t finished yet, or you’re still doing a more fundamental part and at the moment can’t show anything concrete? Apart from publications in peer-reviewed conferences, obviously.

Part of the problem is that CompanyManager and I have a very different background and that means that things can get messy in complicated in the translation. According to him, I should have more peer-reviewed journal articles by now, but I have at least 6 peer-reviewed conference articles, in highly-regarded conferences. I guess I really need an impact factor for conferences also, maybe. Also, I probably was a bit more vocal when he couldn’t use it, and/or took some things I wanted to discuss more personal than I intended them. Meaning he might now see me as more of a jammer than a valuable employee… All of this is obviously conjecture on my side, since although CompanySupervisor told me some of what he said, I can hardly go and ask CompanyManager since he would probably deny most of it.

The end-result at the moment is that I’ll have to spend more time at the Company rather than the University (4:1), and show as much goodwill as possible while remaining myself. Also, refrain from making comments during meetings, even if I am really rather puzzled by the hows and the whys of the management-goingson at the moment. Meh.