Writing and Presenting a Paper

post by Harriet Cameron (2018 Cohort) 

Hiiii everyone, it’s Harriet here. Hope you’re all doing well and finding ways to support yourselves and the folks around you. I’m going to share a few words about my experience of writing and presenting a paper at the Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference in this, the year of our undoing, 2020. Now I know you are all sick of reading about this so I’m going to get it out of the way early and then only reference it in thinly veiled metaphors where I absolutely have to. Obviously, when we first had our paper accepted into DIS, we weren’t expecting a pandemic to barrel in and seal off the opportunity to hop over to Eindhoven for the week, present our paper in person, and have a good ol’ chin wag with other researchers about our findings. So this blog post might be a little different given that chunks of it will be dedicated to navigating a virtual conference and the changes that have resulted from that.

So first of all, I’ll start you off with an introduction to the paper. I was a co-author on the paper with a number of other amazing and talented folks – Dr Jocelyn Spence (lead), Dr Dimitri Darzentas, Dr Yitong Huang, Eleanor Beestin, and Prof Steve Benford. It was about a project called VRtefacts [4], something I have written about previously[1]. The TL;DR for VRtefacts is that it was a fantastic project which came about as an offshoot of the GIFT project [2] – a series of international projects funded through Horizon 2020 that look at ways of using gifting to enhance cultural heritage experiences. VRtefacts used a combination of physical props and virtual reality to encourage visitors to a museum to donate personal stories inspired by a small selection of artefacts on display. Our paper explores how the manipulations and transitions embedded in VRtefacts can enable personal interpretation and enhance engagement through performative substitutional reality, as demonstrated through storytelling.

I first joined the squad because my background in human geography offers up a different approach to HCI analysis that can draw out themes of place, space, and identity in novel ways. For this research, we conducted thematic analysis on post-experience interviews and videos of participant stories captured in the deployment. I primarily focused on conducting a section of the analysis to examine how space and place were represented and understood throughout participants’ experiences. Through the different passes conducted for the thematic analysis [1], these loose concepts of space and place evolved into how physical distance and scale affected the experience, and how the transitions between different spaces and places – both physically and emotionally – impacted on the storytelling. At the same time as I was working on this, Jocelyn and Yitong were conducting their thematic analyses on the data to explore other concepts that came up like contextualisation of stories, attitudes towards the objects and the museum, and the influence of touch and visuals.

Working together like this was a really interesting experience. I’m familiar with NVivo [3] – the software widely used for this type of qualitative coding – having used it a few times before in my work. However, finding ways to navigate NVivo as a team – exploring how to compare notes, cross-reference emerging codes, and merge/condense/combine the codes that overlapped – offered a whole new challenge. The version of NVivo we had access to did not allow multi-party editing of one database and we were using different operating systems (which each have their own incompatible versions of the software), so we had to get slightly creative in just how we did team working. After some trial and error, we decided to each work on our own dataset and periodically combine them into one master document. Sometimes this meant having to compare the documents and painstakingly comb through them for wayward spaces and capitalisations just so that we could merge our files – a great joy to be sure. But we also regularly got together and went through our codes side-by-side with the other members of the team, deciding on how best to combine our efforts. By doing so, we essentially added a new kind of ‘pass’ per pass that sure, created extra work, but genuinely helped us to better understand and be able to justify not only our own codes but each other’s as well.

This was an approach that we also extended somewhat to the paper writing itself. We each branched off and wrote our own specialised sections, and then came back together to work on the overall flow and content. Across several iterations of the paper, we worked out what the core findings were and how best to present them, ultimately landing on performative substitutional reality as understood through manipulations (of physicality, visuals, and scale) and transitions (between spaces and through storytelling). On a personal note, it was really validating and exciting to see my contribution come to life and become such an integral part of the paper. It was also a brilliant first foray into paper writing – to have such a supportive and generous team to work with took large amounts of the panic away from ‘am I doing this right?’ and ‘how does all of this even smoosh together?!’ If you get the chance to work with others for your first paper-writing experience, I super duper recommend it. Especially for when it gets to the final details: formatting, submission, keywords etc etc etc, where I wouldn’t even have known where to begin without the (very) patient guidance of Jocelyn and Dimitri. For a whole host of reasons beyond the control of anyone, the paper came to its final form just a couple of hours before the submission deadline, with three of us sat on overleaf culling, and prodding, and spellchecking on the night of Brexit. The fireworks erupting in the distance just as we agreed it was done added a special kind of bathetic farcical atmosphere to the completion of my first paper.

The paper was accepted with only minor adjustments and we were off to Eindhoven. Except not really, because of “the event”. Instead, we were asked to put together a 10 minute video presentation which would be broadcast as part of the newly styled virtual DIS 2020. We divided the presentation up into chunks and Jocelyn, Dimitri and myself each took a few slides and narrated over them. Recording over presentations is a skill I haven’t had much reason to use since GCSE ICT, but increasingly it’s been becoming an essential skill, and one I am rapidly reacquainting with. You know. Because of “the issue”. Unfortunately, when the time for the conference itself came about, DIS wasn’t particularly interactive and presentations and papers were simply left online for people to interact with as they came across them. I did engage with the hashtag on Twitter regularly and found some new academics to follow, but aside from that, there isn’t much to say on the reception of the paper. I did, to the bemusement of my housemates, however, go rather overboard in the kitchen to make the most of the situation e.g. breaking into the last of my waffles, lovingly made according to the recipe of my fabulous friend’s Oma, to make the Dutch experience come to me. The ultimate power move.

Being involved in the GIFT project in the ways I have, but particularly from being part of VRtefacts, has completely changed certain paradigms through which I approach my PhD. Not only has it provided a grounded example of how integral donation can be as a framing device to bridge the gap between audiences and galleries, but it also offered me an amazing chance to practise multi-disciplinary writing which spanned both of my subject areas (HCI and human geography). I’ve already had opportunities to be involved in other parts of the GIFT project and we have also submitted an article to the HCI Journal special issue on time, exploring how manipulations of time and time-space contributed to the experience of VRtefacts. I’m looking forward to seeing what other opportunities come my way from being part of these papers and practising my shiny new paper-writing skills in the future.

[1]          V. Braun and V. Clarke, “Using thematic analysis in psychology,” Qualitative Research in Psychology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 77-101, 2006/01/01 2006.

[2]          GIFT Project. (2019). GIFT Project. Available: https://gifting.digital/ (Accessed: 8/5/2019)

[3]          QSR International. (2018). NVivo 12. Available: https://www.qsrinternational.com/nvivo/nvivo-products (Accessed: 01/07/2020)

[4]          VRtefacts. (2020). VRtefacts Homepage. Available: https://vrtefacts.org/ (Accessed: 28/05/2020)


[1] https://cdt.horizon.ac.uk/2019/11/04/the-gift-project-2/

Influence in my Research from my Participation in CHI One Year Later

post by Gustavo Berumen (2017 Cohort) 

This was my first experience at a conference in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). The Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, also known as CHI and pronounced “kai”, is the most prestigious conference on HCI in the area. In 2019, the conference was held in Glasgow. It was quite special for us, the members of the Mixed Reality Lab, because the lab celebrated its 20-year anniversary and had a designated space in the exhibition area. We presented several of the MRL demos, such as the broncomatic and the VR playground. 

Since CHI is a fairly large conference, I will focus on my participation in the two workshops in which I presented a paper, as well as on my attendance at a panel discussion. In addition, I will reflect on the learning outcomes from CHI conference that are still guiding my research today. 

CHInclusion: Working toward a more inclusive HCI community

The objective of this workshop was to reflect on our research practices and how researchers can make HCI a more inclusive space. I collaborated with a short paper of a reflection about my personal experience doing research in an international environment [1]. In the first part of the workshop, we reflected on the effects of “privilege”. We talked about the struggles faced by people who belong to minority and marginalised groups in their professional development due to privilege and related issues. In this workshop, there was a fairly vibrant environment in which people not only did perceive a problem but were also willing to propose solutions and promote changes to reduce the influence of privilege.  

The participants of the workshop were not only young researchers but also academics with a long university career who perceive the need to create a fairer society. We carried out various group activities in which we discussed our personal experiences regarding discrimination. We then presented possible solutions to promote change in our fields of expertise. This conference was quite stimulating and encourages me to think that a fairer academic environment is possible. 

New Directions for the IoT: Automate, Share, Build, and Care 

The objective of this workshop was to talk about cutting-edge topics in the development of ubiquitous technologies, innovative ways of conducting research and designing solutions that serve people. This workshop brought together researchers interested in the IoT area, which is related to my Ph.D. topic. The researchers’ interests were diverse and covered a wide range of areas such as social interactions, the smart home, and cooperative robots, among others. 

The workshop consisted of two parts: The first part, in which each of the attendees gave a talk about their research, and the second, in which we answered questions from the attendees. Here, I presented my workshop paper titled “Finding Design Opportunities for Smartness in Consumer Packaged Goods”[2]. The paper presented analysis methods that I designed to study the use of items in the cooking process, analysing information from an auto-ethnographic study. In this workshop, I received helpful and insightful comments that have helped me further develop my methods in a larger study.  

Finally, we participated in an activity in which we shared our ideas on how to develop IoT technologies that serve people’s needs first and foremost. We were divided into groups and used Post-it Notes to share our thoughts with the rest of the participants.  

Roundtable — Rigor, Relevance, and Impact: The Tensions and Trade-Offs Between Research in the Lab and in the Wild 

CHI is a fairly large conference attended by thousands of attendees. At such a scale, it is inevitable that several of the presentations that one would like to attend occur at the same time. Luckily, the talk can later be found online in the conference YouTube channel and the papers can be found in the conference proceedings.  

I was recommended to attend as many roundtable panel discussions as possible. These panels joined together a diverse group of researchers who engage in discussions that one can be a part of. This kind of experience can hardly be found online.  In these panels, researchers who would not normally interact are integrated in order to share their experiences and enrich the conversation with the discussions they can generate when professionals from different areas get together. Personally, I found this panel inspiring. There were researchers in the area of ​​industry, such as Google’s Shumin Zhai, and academics, such as Enrico Costanza, University College London. They discussed both how to do research that has a greater impact on society and how to take research outside the academic space. Attendees had the opportunity to be part of the conversation in a welcoming, friendly environment. 

Learnings that Continue a Year Later 

My participation in CHI was profoundly fruitful, as it gave me the opportunity to approach cutting-edge research in the area as well as get to know researchers at all levels closely, from renowned professors to young students who were excited to be entering part of this field. The lessons I learned at the conference have emboldened me to carry out my research, and I have been able to apply them to various aspects of my work, such as organizing my own workshop. I certainly think the impact of participating in a conference lasts much longer than the period over which the conference takes place. 

  • Knowledge about research results and methods that I still cite and use on my research. 
  • Techniques I learned in the workshops I have applied in my own workshops. 
  • Motivation to make HCI an environment inspired me to work every day. 

Venue: CHI 2019, Scottish Event Campus, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.  

Links: 

[1] https://chinclusive.glitch.me 

[2] https://arxiv.org/pdf/1909.11754.pdf 

In the pandemic, cities are scrambling to expand cycling infrastructure: Big Data can help

post by Gregor Engelmann (2014 cohort) and Maria Catalina Ochoa

The coronavirus (COVID-19) and lockdown measures have created immense challenges for urban transport. But they also provide an opportunity for cities to rethink the future of mobility. Cycling, in particular, is enjoying renewed attention. This is not surprising, as biking offers many advantages that make it an attractive form of urban transport both during and after the pandemic: bicycles can ease the pressure on public transit systems, allow for easy social distancing, contribute to better public health, and reduce air pollution.

Yet we have a long way to go before cycling can become a mainstream transport option for urban residents. Motorized transport is often the default choice—even to destinations within easy cycling distance—and most observers are concerned that traffic will come right back once the virus subsides.

One major obstacle is infrastructure… or the lack thereof. Even in cities that have actively promoted cycling, such as Rome, Paris, or Bogotá, cycling networks are often fragmented, forcing cyclists to make use of busy and dangerous roads. Over the past decade, Bogotá has constructed 500 km of bike paths, locally known as ciclorrutas. These have contributed to a big increase in daily cycling trips, from 421,000 in 2011 to 635,000 in 2015. Despite this investment, gaps in the network and maintenance issues continue to affect the paths’ usage and residents’ overall mobility. 

If we’re serious about harnessing the full potential of cycling, it’s essential that cities address these issues and connect disjointed bike paths into cohesive, user-friendly networks. But where do you start? With limited fiscal resources, which parts of your city should you focus on to expand biking infrastructure? How can you ensure cycling investments benefit the highest number of people?

To answer these questions, urban planners traditionally rely on online or household surveys. But these are slow and expensive, often taking months or years from initial data collection to the planning stage. Recent advances in digital technology, however, are creating new ways to collect and analyze data. Insights from anonymized mobile phone data are particularly promising.

In our latest research together with the Secretaria de Movilidad de Bogotá and UC Berkeley, we used Bogotá as a case study to show how mobile phone data can improve our understanding of mobility patterns and inform the planning of new infrastructure. We first tapped into data from a local fitness app called Biko to analyze how cyclists move around Colombia’s capital and identify the biggest gaps in the ciclorrutas. We also mined data from cell towers to get a better picture of overall mobility across all modes, including private cars, public transport, and walking. We found that there are 4.1 million short- to medium-length journeys across the city every day that could be completed using a bicycle instead of a car. This clearly demonstrates that potential demand for cycling in the city is much higher than the 635,000 average trips in 2015.

Cyclist in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Secretaria de Movilidad of Bogotá
Photo: Secretaria de Movilidad of Bogotá

Our analysis found a clear link between the presence of bike paths and the number of cycling trips tracked through Biko, while the inclusion of cell tower data highlighted how gaps in the ciclorrutas impacted the volume of potential cycling trips. We also noted that the cycling situation varies significantly from one neighborhood to the next depending on the socioeconomic context: this is particularly evident across low-income areas south of the center, where bike paths are less common and cycling accounts for a smaller proportion of trips vis-a-vis its potential. Hence the paper recommends prioritizing infrastructure investment in the southern area and in a series of specific links throughout the city to address the potential demand, where a lot of short trips are happening that are well-suited for cycling.

Already a cycling champion in its region, Bogotá is now better equipped to design a more comprehensive cycling network that would fit the projected demand and provide citywide connectivity. In an ideal scenario, that means cyclists would be able to complete their journeys safely and seamlessly without having to leave a bike path.

More broadly, our research demonstrates how mobile phone data can help gain insight into mobility trends and anticipate future needs. If used properly, Big Data can lead to better decision-making, improve development outcomes, and help decision-makers respond quickly and effectively to unexpected challenges such as COVID-19. And of course, as more and more people carry phones in their pockets, the approach we piloted in Bogotá can easily be replicated elsewhere.

Whatever the post-COVID reality looks like, it’s safe to say that data-driven planning will become an integral part of our new normal. We are excited to see what Big Data has in store for urban transport, and we stand ready to help cities make the most of it.

–originally posted on World Bank blog

Engaging children with STEM

post by Neeshé Khan (2018 cohort)

Last year I decided to partake in a program that engages primary school children from disadvantaged backgrounds to engage with students from the local university. This provides an opportunity for children to have positive role models or Mentors that can provide support and some sort of a roadmap to whatever they might dream to be when they grow up. I decided to do this to encourage a child to dream about a life in STEM.

As young adults, it is easy and intuitive to explore, experiment, and discover the right choices for your future career. Despite having an aptitude for STEM you might want to explore Arts or Business which is perfectly acceptable. However, when you change your mind STEM doesn’t welcome you back into the fold. There are stringent requirements for the combinations of subjects you must have and the grades you need to be able to start an undergraduate degree. If you have Physics at A-levels (anyone who has done this will tell you that Physics contains more Mathematics than A-Level Mathematics subject) it is required that you must also have Mathematics in A-levels. So if like me, a student also wants to explore economics, business studies, and a language, it means you can no longer enter an Engineering undergraduate degree regardless of your grade in Physics. However, this poses no issues for pursuing a degree in any non-science subjects as all undergraduate degrees will make you relearn the basics, and often lecturers will tell you to forget what you learnt in previous years as it’s mostly inaccurate for truly understanding the subject. Unsurprisingly, I believe that this ‘locking out’ of bright young minds for STEM fields based on ‘desirable combinations’ is in large the main contributor towards the STEM skills crisis that the western world is now facing.

But coming back to the point, I wanted to help a young child strengthen their academic STEM foundations and generate interest where they can see an exciting future in this space. In a few days, I was matched to an 11-year-old (let’s call her “Tara”) who’s interested in STEM and aspires to become a doctor.

While there are several programs available, I really enjoyed this one. It was structured, transparent, had clear expectations and outcomes, and well organised. It offered training and support for the Mentors which meant I would enjoy speaking to Megan (project co-ordinator at the venue) about what my meeting plans were or if I wanted some insights or advice.

I started off the program by providing continuity. I became a staple figure in her life which meant we would meet at a fixed schedule, for the agreed duration, at the agreed time, and follow the agenda that we had agreed in our previous meeting. I always showed up. Much like the gym, showing up (to see this little person waiting for me) meant more than half the effort was already done. We had decided to work on subjects that Tara identified she needed help with, particularly focusing on SATs (Maths, Science, and English). I also allowed Tara to decide what our meetings would look like, empowering her to be in control of our progress. This meant that while she performed very well on tests, we also reflected on what factors contributed to the mistakes and explored tools to overcome them. After a year, Tara ended up achieving one of the top scores in her school and got one of the two scholarships for a private secondary school in the area.

There were also some difficult times. I sometimes struggled to get her attention or interest. Many times this was because she had other things on her mind. Her mom was a qualified nurse from another country who couldn’t practice in the UK without an equivalence which takes time and money, two of the biggest resources for any immigrant. She ended up working two jobs in a profession outside her qualification. Tara discussed her challenges in trying to study in close quarters with her younger siblings. At a young age, she was wise beyond her years and I would often catch myself remembering how little she actually was. We put in the effort to developing skills to overcome the pressure and stress SATs bring to their young lives. We practised exercises to help retain focus in busy environments and relieve stress which included slime making and controlled breathing.

I really enjoyed discovering how the current education system uses new techniques to teach children. For instance, the way we would multiply was completely different! Thankfully our answers almost always matched! When they didn’t, I had to learn her system of understanding and convert my reasoning to fit Tara’s model so it would a) be correct/spot her mistake in her workings and b)make sense to her. I took this as a challenge and found this quite a fun exercise on most days.

Overall, I feel that I made some difference towards Tara achieving her goals and hopefully contributed towards making her STEM career aspirations a real option in her future. I would really encourage everyone to take up this as a rewarding experience to engage the future in any discipline and field you personally care about. Just be consistent and dedicate as much time as you think you can spare. Even a half-hour a week can help contribute to a young life that might need skills you might not know you have.

–originally posted on Neeshé’s blog

Just write it!

Reflection on my first paper writing experience
post by Natalie Leesakul (2018 cohort)

Citation: Urquhart, L., Reedman-Flint, D. and Leesakul, N. (2019), “Responsible domestic robotics: exploring ethical implications of robots in the home”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 246-272. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-12-2018-0096

As I was wrapping up my first study and starting to draft the paper, I thought this might be a good time to write a reflection piece on my first paper writing experience. Writing a paper can feel a bit daunting. There are always so many ideas to cover and it is so easy to get consumed by the findings and the need to make the paper perfect – and that is where I’m usually stuck at. So, I have to often remind myself that writing a paper is a journey on its own and it is going to take several drafts and many revisions before arriving at the final document, but even that is not the end!

When I was in my first year, my supervisor, Dr Lachlan Urquhart, invited me to join in on a paper that he was working with another Horizon student, Dominic Reedman-Flint, for ETHICOMP 2018 conference in Sopot, Poland. The motivation of the paper was to introduce empirical observation and conceptual analysis to present how responsible robotics should be built and what people think of life with robots. As the paper focused on exploring challenges and requirements for designing responsible domestic robots, it was very much aligned with my interest in robotics and the law, so I got on board.  Following the submission to the conference, we were invited to submit the paper to Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, and the paper was accepted and published in May 2019. Although it has been over a year since the conference, I still remember the feeling when I gave a presentation at a conference for the first time and the excitement when we found out that the paper was finally in the pipeline for publishing.

For paper preparation, we were working remotely prior to the conference – Lachlan was the lead on this paper while Dom looked at the exploratory study and my responsibility was to support and fill the gaps in some parts of literature review, data analysis and copy editing. We collaborated via email and used Dropbox to keep track of different paper versions and editing (the raw survey data was not stored on here). Through collaboration, the paper started to develop from a rough outline of the paper format to the final draft ready for submission.  Unfortunately, neither Lachlan nor Dom was able to attend the conference. Although it was quite nerve-racking when I found out I would be going to the conference and presenting the paper, this experience really set a good start for my PhD (I’ll save the details for another storytelling!).

After returning from the conference, we took into consideration the questions that were asked during the presentation and addressed this further in our paper. Some of the questions we received were around the main themes of the survey, how the questions were formed, and the general question on how robots can be used for other purposes such as helping those who are socially isolated. In this case, Dom and I were able to work together in person to revise the paper before submitting to the journal. It was definitely easier to collaborate in person as we needed to make some substantial changes to comply with the journal formatting requirements and criteria, decisions could be made faster this way. It took a few days of in-person meetings but intensive email exchanging between all three of us until we had the final draft.

After the paper was accepted and went through peer review process, we received feedback with a minor revision (adding an appendix that includes the statistical analysis). This part of the process allowed us one last chance to edit the paper before publication. It was a very crucial stage to ensure that the paper was airtight which only meant more revision and more back and forth emailing. As I mentioned from the beginning, having a final draft is still not the end of the journey. The paper can always be made better, but it is important to know when to stop. After reading over the paper several times and everyone double, triple, quadruple checked the paper, we then agreed on the final editing.

What I have learned from this experience is very valuable to my PhD journey. For practical skills, I personally think it is a good practice to maintain a record of each revision. I found the recommendation from Lachlan very useful for collaborative writing – so instead of everyone editing the master document, we created a copy of it to add our content to with track changes on. All the revisions must be uploaded onto a shared folder but then only one person compiles all the content onto the master document as this will prevent confusion and corrupted files. For personal development, although I was new to this process, I found that the key for successful collaboration consisted of being flexible and open to new suggestions, respecting each other’s opinions, being supportive, and having good communication, which both Lachlan and Dom have shown me 😊.  It was certainly a good first paper writing experience and a nice reminder to be patient with the process.

Engaging with the peer-review process

Post by Kate (Green) O’Leary (2016 Cohort) 

Ever since I started my research career at Horizon I knew that I wanted to make contributions throughout the PhD process. I have my name attached to two papers as a result of my previous work in education, however, I wanted to go through the process of writing papers and getting them to peer review and (hopefully) accepted.

Firstly, I have to confess that I wildly underestimated two things. The first being how difficult I would find writing academic research papers; and the second, how lengthy the peer review process is for journals. Although I could have submitted works to conferences (and I did), with my work sitting at the intersection between health psychology and human computer interaction, I was struggling to find conferences where my work on privacy fit.

From my first study, my supervisors and I identified two papers that could be made out of it. To this end, I started to draft these papers in early 2019 (one on privacy and another on social media use by online health communities) whilst looking for potential journals to submit to. The study was qualitative and rich with interview data, so I struggled to write robust papers without including lots of supporting quotes. It ultimately meant that my papers were going to be a bit longer than I would have liked. It also meant that the journals, with a respectable impact factor, were limited.

In May 2019 I had a paper accepted at the Digital Economy Network Conference which encouraged submissions of interdisciplinary works. The feedback was extremely helpful, but unfortunately the conference was cancelled and my paper was consequently not published in the proceedings. I decided that this paper could be re-imagined for a journal. “Towards understanding how individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease use contemporary social media platforms for health-related communications” was submitted to the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior in September 2019. I was ignorant, to say the least, about the submission process and the requirements for a cover letter and other various documents. I did some research on what a cover letter to a journal editor should look like and I shared mine with my supervisors for review before pressing submit.

In April 2020 I received reviewers comments which outlined how the paper needed some adjustments to clarify the purpose of the study. I was relieved with the feedback because I was more concerned that perhaps there would be some more pressing issues with the study and its outcomes. Taking the comments on board I made changes to the paper; I rewrote large sections pertaining to the research focus, as well as defending why qualitative interviews were adopted.

In the next part of the process, I had to make detailed responses to the reviewers’ comments, outlining what I have changed. In all honesty I was not aware that I had to do this until I was reuploading the paper to the system. I have learned that for next time, I should reflect on my changes concurrently with making them so that I can make this process more efficient.

In mid May I returned my revised manuscript and by mid-June I received a notification of acceptance! I am so thrilled to have my first paper accepted at a prestigious journal before submitting my thesis. I now await confirmation of what volume it will be featured in…

Overall I would definitely recommend that PhD researchers try to get their work peer reviewed. Having people review my work was really scary, but necessary to make sure that ‘good’ research is being published. Ultimately I am going to have to face two reviewers face-to-face who will be reviewing and commenting on my entire PhD thesis. Having at least some experience and practice in defending my decisions and accepting constructive criticism I think will really help me, not only to produce a more refined thesis, but also better prepare me for the viva process.

–originally posted on Kate’s blog

Does our psychology impact our perceptions of COVID-19?

post by Vanja Ljevar (2017 cohort)

We all have a mixture of psychological traits, but we also have similarities with other people. This research was conducted to examine how people with specific psychology characteristics react to COVID-19. Who are they, what are they like and — what are they afraid of the most?


2020 has been marked by Coronavirus and by this point in time we all found our ‘methods’ of dealing with the situation. The motivation behind this research was to highlight different perspectives that exist about Coronavirus: we are all worried about something, but we also have different priorities.

511 people were surveyed and K-Means clustering was made based on their psychological traits, demographics and fears related to COVID-19. These people can be best described with 3 groups and to respond to the question from the title, yes, there are some similarities and differences between them. Everybody is worried the most about dying (as a result of getting and spreading the virus). However, our priorities change after that, depending on what kind of personality we have.

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Critical and reserved care about their finances, paying the mortgage and losing their job more than non-critical people. There are also many implications about why taking care of our mental health during this period is equally important as taking care of our physical health. Anxious people worry about the quality of their relationships and their own mental health much more than calm people. This emphasises the effect of mindfulness. This was described in the segment of ‘Mindful Empaths’, who are worried but dealing with the situation by finding their peace and optimism. On another hand, the ‘Realists’ are worried about pretty much every aspect of the virus, but their worry could arguably quickly grow into anxiety.

As a take away for future interventions, it would be worth examining the segment of ‘Relaxed Players’. This segment of young people (who like to exercise a lot) seems to be the least worried about spreading the virus. However, this research is, first and foremost, an invitation for everyone to reflect on their own traits and needs during these trying times. They are, apparently, different for all of us, but taking care of ourselves has never been so crucial. We all need to listen more closely to what we need to do for ourselves— whether it is to go for a run, invite our friend for a socially-distant walk or simply, make a plan for our finances with a warm cup of tea.

So, which group do you relate the most?

–originally posted on Vanja’s blog

Dtree – Digital Global Health

Maddy’s Reflections

Post by Madeleine Ellis (2016 cohort)

Dtree’s Vision
‘Our vision is a world in which every person has access to high quality health care.’

Dtree’s Mission
‘Our mission is to work with partners to leverage digital tools and data to save lives. We will be as focused as you on your health system goals, while working in partnership with you to implement digital solutions to improve program quality and impact.’

Who are Dtree?
Dtree focuses on a number of different projects on digital global health. Current projects include: Sexual and reproductive health (helping women achieve their reproductive goals), maternal and new-born health (working to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality), child health (preventing treatable childhood deaths) and emergency transport (Where no ambulances are available). With field offices in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar Tanzania, as well as Lilongwe and Malawi and management offices in Boston and Washington DC, Dtree’s projects are engaged in countries throughout Africa. To expand projects Dtree have conducted 2 million area visits and are continuing to expand their engagements. The underlying system for Dtree is based on three main philosophies: Innovation, implementation and Impact. They leverage technologies to support and improve program efficiency in the projects. They use high levels of experience to help partners replicate and scale high impact programs. Finally, they work with partners to continually measure impact and increase efficiency. The core that ensures their success is this incredible collaboration between innovative technology and strong relationships with expert partners and local communities. This project structure is responsible for the high levels of impact they already have and continue to achieve. In a nutshell, this is my main take away from the experience and is something I plan to rely on for all my future ambitions within the field.

D-tree offices which are shared with the Department of Health in Zanzibar

What are we at N/Lab working on with Dtree?
I joined a project on maternal and neonatal care responding to healthcare challenges in Zanzibar. D-Tree International has been working with the Zanzibar Ministry of Health to improve the delivery of community based maternal and neonatal care via innovative and award winning Safer Deliveries program. The project will also hopefully be expanding to include child health, looking at issues such as malnutrition. A critical component of the program is the analysis and use of data for decision making to support and design effective interventions. Using machine learning and advance analytical approaches to find higher risk cases of clients information sharing and education can be better targeted for allocation of limited resources.

Maddy presenting to the Tanzania country manager at D-tree.

So, what did I learn from the visit to Dtree in Zanzibar?

Popping the research bubble
The nature of PhD’s require an intense level of focus on one fine-grained topic. Within this process, that particular topic can become all encompassing; it will gradually start to feel bigger and bigger. This can make it easy to lose the context of your topic. This internship helped remind me that my PhD is a tiny dot within the field I am focused on. More than that, the field itself is also just a tiny dot in the grand scheme of things. Internships provide a wonderful opportunity to pop this research bubble, remind ourselves of the context we are working in and get insight into problem sets, methods and opportunities that we might not have even been aware existed before this. This has not only been an incredible thing for my personal growth through life, but also strengthened my PhD by allowing me to address some elements of my work with newly formed perspectives.  Importance of working with communities

Importance of working with communities
Another key take away is that the importance of working with communities and collaborating with related experts cannot be underestimated. I have always taken the importance of community collaboration as an essential for sustainable change in the other charity work I do, this experience with Dtree has taken that further and helped me to understand different levels of this and the application to academic research. Dtree has an iterative process of developing and applying technologies and programs with numerous assessments from collaborators at each stage. Anything you want to build needs to have the end used in mind at every stage and should utilise as much expert advice as possible on the way. While with Dtree we had a meeting with some of the field workers, the purpose of the meeting was for us to understand the context of the work and for them to understand the basic ideas of the applied machine learning. This shared knowledge allowed an extremely productive conversation about the future steps of the project. By understanding each other’s challenges and capacities we were able to reach novel solutions and approaches to the task at hand.There is a difference between the right solution and the ‘best’ solution.

There is a difference between the right solution and the ‘best’ solution.
This take away is linked to the two reflections above. Researchers working on a thesis are bound to have expert knowledge on a topic, combine this with the academic pressure of technical novelty and it is easy to become focused on finding that ‘incredible new publishable method’. In the real world, these complicated impressive methods are not always going to be the most helpful or appropriate. Sometimes the application of a quick simple existing model will provide the most efficient support for an impactful project. This experience has shown me the importance of addressing this conflict as early as possible in a project. What are the goals of each stakeholder, what do I want my impact to be? This has lead me to reflect on my own goals. Am I looking to publish papers and make mathematical advances, which can provide long-term large scaled impacts, or do I want to make simple technological applications to problems with immediate community impact. Actually, I think I sit somewhere in the middle, I want to be a part of increasing the capacity for long term impact and technical novelty but also I want to prioritize appropriate impactful projects at the present moment.

The future is now
Data and technology are advancing rapidly before our eyes, with every step forward technology takes; the availability of the previous steps becomes more and more accessible to problems sets with limited resources to make change. This is beyond a silver lining for development. Take for example the development of face recognition phone passwords. Before this experience, I wouldn’t have thought that holds much relevance to my work at all, but that’s not true. It’s the butterfly affect, the small improvement will move like a wave through the mobile phone industry making all previous models that little bit more accessible and affordable. Increasing access to these technologies opens opportunities, for examples improved data collection which can advance a project. 

Technology isn’t the only thing which is moving at lightning speed, the older I get the faster time seems to move. I found the work Dtree do extremely inspiring and it has cemented some of my future professional goals. This bridge between mathematical technologies and impactful social good developments is where I want to be. Life is moving fast and although it’s great to have these goals, all of these experiences and moments are part of my goals. As cheesy as its sounds, it really is a journey not a destination. My advice to other PhD students taking internships would be to use this as a time to be reflective, make time to think about the things you haven’t thought of yet!

Side note
I used to think networking was a bit of a buzzword… It isn’t… talk to EVERYONE you can. Ask their advice, ask for their thoughts, ask to hear about their journey and ask for their contact information.

Writing PhD thesis in the middle of a Pandemic

Post by Kate (Green) O’Leary (2016 Cohort)

It’s been a long while since I last blogged; seems like an ongoing theme over the past few years. It’s not that I purposefully don’t, I honestly just forget.

Anyway, here we are, in the middle of a pandemic and boy aren’t we feeling it. In a lot of ways life in my household has not changed a great deal. I have worked from home for over three years and my husband is a keyworker so, for the most part, things are relatively ‘normal’.

That doesn’t mean however, that I am finding writing my PhD thesis a walk in the park. It’s been extremely testing to say the least. I am currently about 4 months away from submission and on paper I am more than on track to finish on time; I am also determined to make that a reality. I still have my discussion, introduction, epistemological position, and appendices left to draft and my goal is to have the discussion written by the end of May.

Something that I find particularly difficult is going from the anxiety-filled, but excited and accomplished feeling when sending a section of chapters to supervisors, to a blank document: the next chapter. After having just finished one roller coaster of emotions the thought of starting it all again with another chapter feels painful. So much so that I don’t even want to get started on it.

I know that the best advice is “to just start” and then when I am in the zone, things will fall into place. Right now, it’s not like I have anything really to do that gives me a legitimate excuse not to do it. I am pretty sure that terraforming my island on Animal Crossing isn’t a good enough reason really.

Knowing that the final 9 months leading up to the submission was going to be a difficult one, in January I organised a writing group that met biweekly in Nottingham. It was organised as a relaxed space for people to write/work together and feel that they can have a ‘blah’ moment if they needed it. Going into lockdown, I knew that people transitioning to working from home constantly was going to rattle with their motivation to work, as having that separation between work and home is so valuable. Having all that roll into one gets messy.

The writing group now meets 3 times a week online. We turn our mics and cameras off for the most part, and work together. There is a chat box and we break (randomly) for chats. Knowing that there is someone on the other end of the line trying to work, brings a sense of community and the feeling that we are all in this together.

Without the encouragement of my friends at the CDT, I honestly don’t know how the past few weeks would have shaped up.

Today was a writing group day. I have grown tired of having no motivation and genuinely wanted to make a dent into this next chapter. With the encouragement of others, I’ve broken ground; two discussion points have been completed. Two of many, many more.

I hope that tomorrow I can tackle one more, hopefully more; but I won’t put too much pressure on myself.

Until next time folks.

–originally posted on Kate’s blog

Covid-19 and Cybercrime

Post by Neeshé Khan (2018 Cohort)

After being in self isolation for what feels like an eternity like many others I am also starting to get warped for what time it is. It’s hard for me to remember when things happened or which day we’re on. I’m experiencing a weird fatigue setting in which is the same for many of the people I’ve been speaking to, despite LinkedIn being on steroids. The fatigue also means that I’m finding it hard to find inspiration to write this blog but here we are – it’s Friday and things must get done. So, welcome to another blog post!

In my earlier posts I wrote about remote working and some pitfalls this could bring for your cybersecurity during Covid-19. Unsurprisingly, as more people have shifted to working from home (WFH) cyberthreats have been on a sharp increase. Some of you might be aware of Zoom (group meet up software) vulnerabilities that allowed hackers or unauthorised users to attend closed sessions which quickly became known as Zoom Bombings. Some kids innocently did some Zoom Bombings to prank their teachers while hackers used this to cause disruptions to virtual classrooms in Singapore.

The National Centre for Cyber Security (NCSC) and the National Centre in the US have issued a joint statement this month to announce that cybercriminals are using Covid-19 themed content to lure in users that are then cyberattacked.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. There was an interesting mapping done by one of the US universities that showed how the virus moved across the US after spring breakers partied and went back to their respective homes. In the UK there have been several news stories on the BBC talking about an app by the government which will track Covid-19 infections. Given this context it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what the easiest bait is for a cybercriminal. To me it’s the same as discussing that you’re planning to upgrade your home with new windows in public places (either online or in real life) and then suddenly seeing adverts that talk about a local window company or worse, getting cold calls from them. Plus, with a pandemic that’s sucker punched economies, had impacts that were unforeseen or unknown and where you have authorities proactively conceal the number of infections, it’s not surprising that Covid-19 becomes an interesting concept to explore, track and be ‘in the know’ for.

So, what can you do to stay safe online. I would suggest reading the news once or twice a day from a trusted source, ideally in static text (such as articles as opposed to interactive graphs), avoid disclosing your location to check the number of cases in your local area and always be wary of clicking links that are from people you don’t know. Even if the links are from people you might frequently speak with, be alert and notice if something ‘doesn’t feel right’ because their account could’ve been hacked. Trust your instincts with content online, listen to that small voice in your head that’s usually right and try to supress (if not temporarily extinguish) your curiosity for the time being. While you’re focusing on suppressing your curiosity, practice some mindfulness or Netflix binge watch the Tiger King.

Stay safe and my best wishes your way. Until next time!

–originally posted on Neeshé’s blog