Practitioner Talk in an Academic Setting

“Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything. You’ve never been in the private sector. They expect results.”
Ray in “Ghostbusters”

Today we had a guest speaker at the institute who did an applied career, working in applied contexts and in companies, mostly on user experience. It was an interesting talk, showing, among others:

  • that Academia is not the only choice after a PhD
  • that you can still use your scientific training and skills outside Academia in an applied job
  • that you cannot really plan your career — which might be a good thing
  • the importance of doing what you are good at and what interests you, no matter how good the money for other things is or what the expectations are
  • the importance of being open to opportunities that present themselves
  • the importance to chill out (a little)
  • and much more.

There was even some interesting information about the content this person worked with — user experience (reminding me a lot of the Coursera courses HCI and Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society (and a couple of other more creativity related courses). It sounds trivial when you hear it, but it was interesting to see how users compensate and how something that should make the activity safer can lead them to take greater risks (because they (think they) are “safe”). And thinking about it — sure, if you use an electronic guidance system for cars, it can turn driving, i.e., something you do actively and stay awake and focused, into your own private chemical processing plant or nuclear reactor which you “just” have to monitor. And remembering what I’ve heard about these jobs and how difficult it is to keep ones attention focused on the task when all you do is monitoring, that is exactly what you do not want when you are traveling a hundred miles in a metal casing. And in contrast to plane autopilots, you don’t have someone suddenly appearing from the right, not unless you believe in Superman or Santa Claus.

There was also the issue of translating between engineers on the one hand and users/usability testing/psychological research on the other. Hmm, transactional competence sure seems interesting — and there are some interesting ways to communicate findings.

So, it was an interesting if untypical talk in an Academic context. I hope there are more of them. Academia has the problem that there are way too many PhDs and PostDocs for the professorships that are available — and any information on how to do well outside Academia is really helpful.

And it surely got me thinking …