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CHI career stories: From academia to industry

The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) covers the gamut of human-computer interaction research in topic areas such as community health, civic engagement, ads, social good, privacy, and AR/VR, among others. Although CHI has been canceled this year, we decided to reflect on the value that the conference brings to academic and industry researchers in the area of human-computer interaction.

To do this, we sat down with Haley MacLeod (UX Research) and Raz Schwartz (AR/VR) to learn more about them and explore how they’ve been involved in CHI over the years, starting with a career in academia. In this Q&A, MacLeod and Schwartz talk about their favorite CHI memories, how they first got involved with CHI, advice for those looking to get more involved, and more.

Creating lasting connections

MacLeod is a mixed-methods UX Researcher on the Identity team, where her research is focused on self-expression, self-representation, and how people browse other people’s profiles online.

Her day-to-day involves doing research, which “could be anything from surveys to international fieldwork to lab studies locally to remote interviews,” she tells us. A lot of her time also involves supporting her team by sharing research insights and giving feedback to make sure the team is designing and building in a way that reflects people’s needs and experiences.

Q: How and when did you first get involved with CHI?

HM: My first time at CHI was as an undergrad back in 2013, when CHI was in Paris. It was my first time at a conference like this and I was totally overwhelmed and nervous, but I was lucky to join the student volunteer program, which was full of other nervous, overwhelmed people — so we became friends quickly! I’m still friends with many of those people today.

Q: How else have you been involved with CHI over the years?

HM: After my first CHI, I participated in CHI as a student volunteer every year until I graduated and was the co-chair of the student volunteer program for CHI 2018 and 2019. I’ve been an associate chair for CHI on the health subcommittee a couple of times (2019 and 2020) and will be co-chairing the case studies program in 2021. I’ve also published a number of papers, workshop papers, and case studies at CHI. And of course, I enjoy attending the sessions and networking events, where I can meet other people in my community and learn about their research.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories or experiences from CHI?

HM: A lot of my favorite memories are the really unusual tasks or curveballs thrown at the student volunteers. One year, we had to set up a sculpture out of Coke bottles for an interactivity exhibit. Another year, we had to chaperone the telepresence robots to make sure they didn’t fall down the stairs. The next year, all the accessible bathrooms kept locking (with no one in them), so we had to run around every hour and unlock them again.

Q: How has CHI influenced your career?

HM: CHI is actually the reason I ended up working at Facebook! I was presenting a poster about my dissertation research as part of the doctoral consortium in 2016 and met a researcher from Facebook who got me started in the interview process for an internship.

Q: What do you look forward to each year at CHI?

HM: Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people through the CHI community, and I only ever get to see them once a year, at the conference. One of the things I look forward to the most is reconnecting with these conference buddies and catching up on what everyone’s been working on and up to throughout the year. Bonus points if it’s over an amazing meal of the host city’s local cuisine.

Engaging the academic community

Schwartz is a Research Manager on the Facebook AR/VR team. His team focuses on studying social interactions in AR/VR environments by applying qualitative and quantitative methods and especially looking into the topic of remote collaboration.

His day-to-day work focuses on managing a team of talented researchers and making sure their research generates real product impact. In addition to building research programs to support Facebook’s product team, he works closely with other leaders to put together the vision and shape of future AR/VR software.

Q: How and when did you first get involved with CHI?

RS: I first got involved with CHI as a grad student in 2007, and I have been engaged with the community since then.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories or experiences from CHI?

RS: Probably one of my favorite experiences was attending Bruno Latour’s CHI 2013 closing plenary. It was great to hear from one of my academic heroes and see how the CHI community is engaged in the discussion.

Q: What do you look forward to each year at CHI?

RS: The surprises. Every time I attend the conference, I find fascinating research and talented new researchers in sessions I didn’t plan to attend or in coffee breaks. I love the serendipity that this event facilitates.

Q: Do you have any advice for researchers in academia or industry who are looking to get involved with CHI in a similar way?

RS: CHI is a great venue to create community, and I would encourage people to do more of that. Either in formal or informal ways, there are many opportunities to find other researchers to learn from and collaborate with.

To learn more about Facebook research that was to be presented at CHI as well as other opportunities, visit our CHI 2020 page.

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