This year, the ACI 2017 held a fantastic Doctoral Consortium session in which we had the opportunity to open a discussion about challenges and opportunities of being a PhD student in ACI with a panel of experts in the field.
This part of the session started with a summary of the experiences and thoughts of current, former and future PhD students in ACI. Previous to the conference, the students received a short survey to gather their ideas, and the results were presented during the Dcotoral Consortium. Here you can find the presentation with the summary of the students’ answers as well as some of the questions they would like to ask to the panel of experts.
After the summary of the survey results, the panel of experts had time to discuss about several questions raised by the students in the survey. The panel of experts was formed by:
Chair: Oskar Juhlin
The first question that the panel of experts addressed was how have they balanced the interdisciplinary of ACI in your research in a way that is rigorous, innovative and experimental.
Heli and Martin highlighted that as the field comprises a not so large network, it is important to find expertise in other fields you are not an expert in and be open to learn, explore the tools, methods and guidelines available in those fields. An interesting point of view from Fiona French was that trying to tackle some problems involves using your own skills. However, at some point you might have no previous experience in what you are trying to solve, and having no background in the area provides that spark of interest. This open mind to learn and innovate would allow us to come up with brilliant solutions and keep us passionate about our work. Clara reinforced the need to do interdisciplinary work, trying to keep an open mind. As you encounter different kinds of data there will be different ways of working with that data and different ways to approach your problem. Therefore, we need to realize that we should tackle things from different angles and it is important to keep in mind that different ways of working and approaching a problem requires a lot of humility. In addition, Oskar brilliantly reminded us that we should not feel this need for balance in an interdisciplinary field of research as an identity crisis. Instead, this is a RESOURCE we must use to transform ourselves for being outside the box.
The next question had to do with the application of ACI in and beyond academia.
The experts emphasized that we need to think about the impact and contribution of the research in terms of who is it for. It is not just making animals and humans happy, we perhaps need to think more deeply about who is really going to use it, who would we want to buy or apply our system, and who do we want to compel. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that there are yet many applications we do not see at the moment, and ACI has the potential to change current opinion about animals as well. We should not be scared to tackle areas that do not have a complete ethical agreement as there is not always going to be worldwide agreement of what is right and what is wrong and that doesn’t mean we have to hide those issues away. We should highlight what is going on and share it. An interesting point of view would be to consider the interaction as the beginning of sense-making in the world. In Clara’s words, anything to do with thinking about how to design interactions is very important, and we need to live in environments that make sense for us and that we interact with, having a good existence. ACI is about how we attend to the design for a multi-species society in our current ubiquitous environments. ACI has a very real and practical impact almost in every area technology can play a part, and we have to adjust to not compromise the environment/society by adapting technology for animals in the right way. Attending to those stakeholders and the problems they face in time, can be live changing.
A question that concerned many of the participants in our survey was how to move on from a PhD in ACI towards a career in ACI.
It is difficult for PhD students with ACI background to find ACI related positions. A possible promising option at the moment would be to focus on the entrepreneur side, and try to create a profitable start-up or spin-off out of your research. Nevertheless, funding for ACI-related projects are emerging. A successful example about an ACI innovation project is the TURRE project, a Finnish 2-year research project (2017-2018) on dog-related technology and digital services from the joint co-operation of three Finnish universities. A valuable suggestion to get funding for ACI in Computer Science areas/organizations would be to frame the research or project as an innovation project, highlighting the computer-based advances instead of just explaining the benefits it could provide for the animal. Associate your research or project with state of the art challenges and new technologies, putting the animal side on top of it as the ultimate beneficiary, but stress out the outcomes and benefits of the system you propose for the CS community.
As an initiative, the following Google Group has been created so that PhD students can join, share potential opportunities/information/CfP using a mailing list and post topics for debate. Do not hesitate to join it!
Due to the lack of time to answer the rest of the questions, we took our discussions to the coffee break. Overall, it was a very interesting session and we hope that both the attendants to the conference and the readers of this brief summary have enjoyed and found it useful. We would like to thank all the student participants who completed the survey, the panel of experts and the DC Chairs Dr. Javier Jaen and Dr. Oskar Juhlin for their time and dedication. Thanks a lot, and hope to see you all again next year in ACI 2018!