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MAS graduate says semester working for Microsoft Research Asia was ‘a little taste of heaven’

July 13, 2012

Joan Savage, who earned a master’s degree in media arts and science in May, spent the spring semester in Beijing, China, working with researcher Darren Edge at Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), in its Human-Computer Interaction group. Savage earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and communications/electronic media, and served in the United States Navy during the Gulf War.

Joan Savage visits the Summer Palace in Beijing.

Born in Harvey, Ill., she grew up in Asia and Venezuela. In her “free time” she is a member of the American Legion Post 438 and was nominated as First Vice Commander. She volunteers with her post, her church and a local VA hospital whenever she can fit it in to her busy schedule. Her work at Microsoft included research and design of ways to improve the experiences of both presenters and audiences for a variety of presentation types. They worked on a range of media and technologies that support every stage of the presentation lifecycle, from brainstorming, composing and styling, to rehearsing, delivering and sharing. The following is a Q&A with Joan, who also blogged about her experiences, upon her return from the internship. (To read her blog, click here:

Q. What were your favorite things about working in Beijing?  

A. Microsoft and all my fellow interns and researchers were the best part of Beijing. MSRA was a place filled with unique people and energy and life. Everybody is trying to be the next big thing and create the next big idea. Just being around them was contagious and extremely motivating! Suddenly, the most complicated tasks and challenging missions seem a reality! I am a better person having been exposed to that environment and those amazing people from all over the world. It was a little taste of heaven and it made Beijing so very worthwhile. 

The office where Joan Savage worked during her internship at Microsoft Research Asia.

Q. What was your least favorite? Beijing is a land where things don’t operate according to my outline on life; an outline that clearly states if a person commits a negative action they should be the main recipient of the negative consequences. Newton’s law – to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. However, in China if a manager makes a mistake or is rude, the innocent receptionist suffers if I dare to complain about it. The poor are penalized for my protests. So I found myself a coward in Beijing. I couldn’t fight the fights of injustice for fear that the blameless receptionist will suffer again for my unhappiness when all liability clearly belongs to the manager. I can’t take a stand when I know the clerk who graciously helped me will be the one to shoulder all responsibility if I am unsatisfied. I have watched over and over again the wrong person suffer for my causes and complaints. Imagine a terribly rude manager who forces a barely involved innocent office worker to apologize to me when she had nothing to do with the rudeness! I hesitated to even complain – even when the complaint was very necessary – for fear someone undeserving would be left with the burden. I dared not get angry at any injustice for fear some kind old man who helped me would be someone else’s scapegoat. I resented that so much. 

Q. Would you recommend an overseas internship like yours to other students? If so, what advice would you give them? 

A. I would completely recommend it. In fact even declare, go after it – with all passion and endurance. If for nothing else than to come into the realization that you are not God’s gift to the world…and that there are no islands in Microsoft. We work as a team – sharing and shouldering burdens, responsibilities and praises. My advice would be to leave the attitude. They have little tolerance for it, and it will be better for all parties involved if you go with that baggage left at home. 

Joan Savage with her new friends and fellow interns (from left) Jun Kato, Ying Sunny Wang, Jessica Cauchard, Savage, Jinjin Ge and Xiaowei Dai. This was during a trip to partake in a favorite Chinese pasttime — karaoke!

Q: Do you hope to continue this type of work, or did this internship help you decide to go in another direction? A: I must admit I have always had a little crush on Microsoft. I mean – come on – they had me at “Halo.” But after this internship or “courtship, as my dad has referred to it, I fell deeply in love with Microsoft. Deeply. Including the field of research. I think I can safely say I am in it for the long haul.

Q: What are your plans now that you’re back at IUPUI? Earning a doctorate? Landing a job? 

A: I am currently pursuing a job at the Roudebush VA Hospital in the research department, and am also waiting to hear if I was accepted into the Human-Computer Informatics Ph.D. program at the School of Informatics and Computing. 

Q: What advice would you give undergraduates who are just starting their college career in an informatics-related field?  

A: Hang tight and be prepared to have your mind blown at what you find you are capable of doing. Technology waits for no one and whether you are ready or not, it keeps moving forward. Blink and you might have missed your chance. 

Q: Anything else you would like to add? 

A: Enjoy your life. I realize sometimes you need to do what you need to do to survive, but life is short. So find ways to enjoy it and you will be surprised how quickly you find yourself – your future – in the midst of your joy.


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Joanne Lovrinic