Advice for Prospective Students

I’m actively seeking undergraduate and graduate students to work with me on research. However, not every student is a good fit. The advice on this page will give you a sense what I’m looking for, so please read this entire page before asking about a position. There are several parts:

Also please have a look at the webpage for my former lab, which will give you an idea of the kinds of research projects I work on.

Contacting me

Like most professors, I have many more demands on my time than I have time. This is especially true for email. Therefore, I have some specific requests for students who want to contact me:

  1. Make it clear that you have read this webpage in its entirety.
  2. Please don’t find me in my office. If I’m in my office, I’m concentrating on something, and I will ask you to email me instead.
  3. Be clear about what you want me to do in response to your email.
  4. If you want to meet me about something, visit my calendar and propose a 30-minute block that shows me as available. I strongly prefer to cluster meetings, so please pick a time adjacent to something else.
  5. Be persistent. If I don’t respond to your email, and you followed these requests, most likely your email got lost. Wait several days and try again.

For all potential students

Interest in Research Required

I’m looking for students who are interested in being part of ongoing and new research projects related to the goals of the lab. That means if you’re looking to flesh out your CV/résumé or to get some additional software development experience, this is probably not for you. Also, research efforts take time, so if you only have a couple of months to devote to a project, it might be difficult to benefit from the experience. Software and hardware we build is meant to test out new ideas/techniques and to answer open research questions (i.e., it might be buggy, incomplete, etc)—we are not focusing on building commercial grade software. If that’s your interest, pursuing an industry internship may be more up your alley.

If on the other hand, you’re truly interested in getting involved in research—creating new user experiences and exploring unanswered questions, you may be in the right place. For undergrads this could also be an interest in trying out research to help you consider graduate school options.

One of the best ways for me to judge whether you’d be a good fit for the lab is for you to take a class with me first. That will give you a sense for how I work with students and, depending on the course, the kinds of research I do. It also gives me an opportunity to see you and your skills in action.

Motivation and Independence Required

Two key characteristics necessary to succeed in my lab are motivation and independence. Doing research requires an excitement about solving problems and a willingness to independently learn how other people have solved similar problem and to acquire the skills necessary. I provide a lot of guidance to students in attacking problems, but the projects we work on are not usually easily broken down into simple “do this, then do that” kinds of tasks.

Skills I Look For

The research I do involves a variety of technical skills, and the needs of particular projects vary. If you’re a graduate student you should already be comfortable with a variety of these skills, beyond a single class worth of learning. Undergraduates should be adept with one or more and have a willingness to learn quickly about others.

  • Making and building: almost all of my research takes place at the intersection between software and hardware. Do you have experience with Arduino or other electronics? Have you built robots, furniture, go-karts, a 3D printer, or made art?
  • Machine learning and pattern recognition: much of my work involves teaching the computer about the user’s activities or physical properties of objects and then acting on that information. I use techniques like dynamic time warping and support vector machines to accomplish these projects.
  • Computer graphics: many of my projects involve manipulating models for 3D printing. Do you know algorithms for working with 3D graphics? Do you have experience with computational geometry? Does the phrase “pinhole camera model” mean anything to you?
  • Computer vision: to create 3D models that work with objects in the real world, we need to understand the real world. Have you worked with depth cameras, object segmentation, or tracking?
  • HCI: the basis of everything I do is a desire to improve people’s experiences with technology. Can you design and conduct a user study, write and administer questionnaire, or interview people about their experiences? Are you majoring in sociology or anthropology? Can you work in grounded theory or ethnography?
  • Software development: most, but not all, of my projects involve software development. Currently, our work involves some or all of Android, Arduino, iOS, Javascript, OpenGL, and Windows programming.

Contacting Me

When you get ready to contact me, it will be very helpful for you to do several things:

First, I’ll want to know why you want to work with me in particular rather than any of the other fine faculty at KU. You can help by including this information in your email to me. The more details the better! Rather than simply, “I like that you do HCI,” look through my research and publications and see what work that I’ve done is particularly appealing to you.

Another useful piece of information you can include when you contact me is what kind of work you’d like to do—if you know; if you don’t, that’s okay. For example, telling me that you are passionate about programming, that you love interacting with people, or that you enjoy nothing more than soldering can really help me to think about how you might fit into the projects I have going.

Finally, if you have a resume, portfolio, or other examples of work or experience, please go ahead and send them along. I strongly prefer PDF format over Word.

Potential PhD Students

Are you a current PhD student, or you’d like to be? Read the advice above for all students, then keep reading here.

If you’re a current PhD student and you are thinking about switching advisors, send me an email. Include the things above, but please also give me some context about why you’re interested in switching.

If you’re thinking about applying to a PhD position posted at KU, great! Please go ahead and contact me; it’s incredibly important to include as much context as you can, as outlined above: why you want to work with me, what kind of work you’d like to do, your previous experience and portfolio, and so on. Also I’d like to know why you want to get a PhD, what you hope to get out of the process itself, and any other information specific to the process.