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Human-Computer Interaction Ph.D. student interns at Microsoft Research Cambridge to design novel experiences for nearby devices

November 17, 2015

A Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction program at the School of Informatics and Computing spent her summer as a research intern at Microsoft Research’s Human Experience and Design Laboratory at Cambridge in the UK. Working with MSR researchers, Debaleena Chattopadhyay (pictured third from the left) designed an application to facilitate audience interactivity with presentations using an ad-hoc aggregation of co-proximate devices (such as laptops or smartphones).

HCI Student Debaleena Chattopadhyay at Microsoft Research

Debaleena worked with her MSR mentor Kenton O’Hara on the Social Devices project that looks into ways to designing experiences for nearby device ecosystems. “To increase audience engagement in presentations, I designed a PowerPoint plugin and a companion smartphone app that enabled audience members’ qualified, interactive access to slides from their mobile devices. This application shifts the static one-to- many paradigms of slideware to an inclusive experience—and is expected to foster more audience engagement,” Debaleena explained. Microsoft Human Experience Design LabIn a research study conducted at MSR, she observed many emergent behaviors of the designed application, such as easy hand-over to co-presenters and increased spatial mobility within the social roles of presenter and attendees. “The crux of this research project was to design a user experience spanning multiple proximate devices that significantly increases the devices’ cumulative value—but without increasing the cumulative complexity of the interaction experience,” Debaleena said. An article reporting the preliminary findings of her project is currently under review for publication.

Debaleena is excited to continue her internship project at IUPUI with her advisor, Davide Bolchini, Associate Professor of Human-Computer Interaction in the Human-Centered Computing Department at SoIC, in collaboration with MSR researchers. “We plan to study the use of this novel interactive application in the broad variety of unique presentation settings available in academia (and not necessarily available in industry contexts). Given the diversity of student population that IUPUI attracts due to its urban setting and a wide range of curriculum, we have an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the future of collaborative slideware and the opportunities for such next-generation tools to increase student engagement. ”

Before joining the Human-Computer Interaction Ph.D. program at the School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI, Debaleena received a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In SoIC, she works on designing touchless interactions for wall-sized displays. Her research interest lies in studying novel interaction experiences and input technologies.

Debaleena has previously served as the chair of the ACM-W chapter at IUPUI and the graduate vice-president of Women in Technology student organization. Some of her awards include the 2012 IUPUI Fellowship, the 2015 IUPUI Premiere 10 Award, and the 2015 Best Graduate Student in SoIC Award. She has published her peer-reviewed work in Interacting with Computers, Cognition, and the Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces; and invited to present her dissertation research at multiple venues.

“I was able to pick up the right set of skills to pursue Human-Computer Interaction research at IUPUI,” explained Debaleena. “The HCI Ph.D. program at SoIC focusses on fundamental methods to conceptualize innovative ideas and to define user requirements that make designs a right fit into the fabric of our everyday life. This crucial understanding of the multifaceted, human-centered factors that are essential to building the next-generation of interactive experiences played a key role in successfully completing my internship at Microsoft Research.”

Microsoft Research“Suddenly, ‘the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas’ was no more a classroom cliché. Quick iterations, repeated critiques, and learning to avoid common pitfalls were crucial in making steady progress,” Debaleena said.
Collaboration with researchers also played an important role. Although she was working at MSR Cambridge, she often collaborated with researchers from other MSR offices, such as China and Redmond.

“I also got to learn new research skills from my MSR mentor that will help me immensely as I continue to pursue a career in research,” Debaleena said.

Overall, the internship was a great learning experience—albeit challenging but profoundly rewarding. “I think my experience in working on diverse research projects—an opportunity that I got in SoIC—helped me the most. But to be a researcher, one has to be willing to learn new skills right up one’s sleeve.” Well, Debaleena learned to develop Microsoft Office tools and Windows mobile applications during her internship to prototype her project.

She was especially impressed by the freedom she had in shaping her project at MSR—in spite of being an intern. “I was given the choice to pitch ideas related to the lab’s research agenda and steer one of them through the design, prototyping, and evaluation phase.”

Although it was often unnerving to sit at the same table with the expert researchers that Debaleena had only known through their keynotes, journal articles, and news stories, and revered, she described the lab as a very tight-knit community. “Researchers—either in my field or not—were unbelievably approachable; and if I needed any help, all I had to do was to write an email or drop by their office.”

During her internship, Debaleena also had the opportunity to meet other interns, who share her passion for computing. “When you work with a group of talented and passionate researchers— who will always go the extra mile, your drive is only amplified,” she said. “We took equal joy in punting down the Cam on a Saturday afternoon as in getting the right design on a Monday project review meeting.”

When asked why she chose to pursue a Ph.D. in HCI, Debaleena said: “As computing sweeps into every aspect of our lives—from home to work to travel and beyond—designing appropriate user-friendly technologies has emerged to be the next frontier of computing. Skills in applying HCI principles toward developing future technologies is thus at a demand higher than ever before. I believe that a Ph.D. training in HCI can prepare me to envision new interactive technologies that are human-centered and thus to ‘invent the future’ of computing products.”

About Microsoft Research

Founded in 1991, Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. More than 1,000 brilliant scientists and engineers focus on more than 55 areas of computing and openly collaborate with leading academic, government, and industry researchers to advance the state of the art of computing, help fuel the long-term growth of Microsoft and its products, and solve some of the world’s toughest problems through technological innovation. Microsoft Research has expanded over the years to seven countries worldwide and brings together the best minds in computer science to advance a research agenda based on an array of unique talents and interests. Visit the Microsoft Research Human Experience & Design Laboratory to learn more.

For more information about the MS and PhD programs in Human-Computer Interaction, visit the Department of Human-Centered Computing.

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