Posted by: clare on: May 3, 2012
I’ve been at Culture Lab for almost four months: this seems like a good juncture to reflect upon life in the lab.
I did my doctorate in ECS at Southampton, and then a postdoc at the Industrial Design department of TU Eindhoven. Culture Lab is totally unlike either of those places: it’s very youthful. There’re only 5 members of faculty (three of whom were appointed quite recently), and yet there’s oodles of postdocs and PhD students (check the people page!). I was one of only two postdocs in my research group at TU/e, so it’s a real contrast. This youthfulness shines through — there’s an intensely focused atmosphere in the lab, but a real vigour and playfulness as well.
Culture Lab is not only young, it’s also growing fast — a bunch of people have started since I began, and we’re advertising 11 PhD positions starting in September. We’re in an open plan area with fewer and fewer free desks.
The open plan thing is absolutely key to the Culture Lab atmosphere, which involves a lot of collaboration between folks — the community is really close-knit. My first major task in this job was to spend half an hour one-to-one with everyone in the lab, learning what they do and why (and answering the same questions myself). Everyone new does this, and that — in conjunction with the open plan layout and everyone being mixed up together — works a treat for fostering that close, collaborative atmosphere. It pays off: everyone dips in and helps out with everyone else’s work, which is to the greater benefit of all (and leads to papers with massive author lists!).
The lab hosts a very diverse range of disciplines, well illustrated by the bay I sit in: besides myself (from computer science), the people sitting immediately around me hail from speech therapy, fine art, psychology, and medical anthropology. That broad diversity of backgrounds is a stark contrast to the narrow, focused vision shared in the lab. We target very specific venues, primarily CHI, Ubicomp, Pervasive and DIS (two of which we’re hosting this year! That’s DIS and Pervasive).
On a final, CHI-related note: I’m still amazed that we have 13 papers accepted into this year’s CHI conference (the main venue for HCI research). For context, that’s the third highest number of papers after CMU and Washington Uni (which each have over 30 faculty) — so it’s not a huge stretch to describe Culture Lab as the leading HCI lab outside the US! We’ve put together a booklet to strut our stuff at this year’s CHI — it’s an amazing selection of work, using technology in innovative ways to support education, healthcare, wellbeing, community engagement, a huge wealth of stuff — I felt really inspired when I saw it. Take a look!
I’m heading out to CHI now (my first CHI!), so expect fewer updates while I’m immersed in the conference… see you on the other side.