ASIS&T Diane Sonnenwald Information Science as a Career

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American Society for Information Science & Technology Board of Directors President Diane H. Sonnenwald presents "Reflections on the Journey " at European Chapter’s Celebration of ASIS&T’s 75th Anniversary. With examples from her own career, she speaks to how a career in the discipline of Information Science can be shaped.

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  • Recently at the ASIS&T European Chapter’s Celebration of ASIS&T’s 75 th Anniversary I was asked to talk about my career, to provide an example to our younger colleagues of how a career in our discipline can be shaped. I thought it might be useful to share this talk with you as part of the usual President’s Page feature of the ASIS&T Bulletin.
  • At first I wasn ’ t quite sure at which time in my career I should begin…
  • I decided to begin at the point I completed my Bachelor ’ s degree. At that time, the country I was living in (the USA) was in a recession. I remember seeing a job ad for an intelligent, energetic, and sensitive individual with a bachelor ’ s degree to work in a pickle factory. Fortunately I had one other option – to work for the Prudential Insurance Company in their computer programming division. At the time Prudential had the largest computer installation in the northeast USA. This provided me with many opportunities to learn about computer hardware and software.
  • I next joined Bell Laboratories and its spin-off company, Bell Communications Research. There I had opportunities: to focus on technology transfer, shepherding concepts from research to products; to develop new programs to support education at historically minority universities; and to do long-range strategic planning for the telecommunications companies that owned Bell Communications Research. Two valuable lessons I learned from these activities were how to collaborate with many different disciplines and with different hierarchical levels in organizations.
  • Along the way I decided to pursue a doctorate degree. At first I studied in the computer science department at Rutgers University. However I was continually fascinated by the interplay of people and technology, and this was not a topic of interest to the computer science faculty at that time. Fortunately one of the professors knew ‘ a guy ’ in another department who was interested in the type of topics I was interested in. This ‘ guy ’ turned out to be Nick Belkin, and to my good fortune Nick asked me to join what is now the School of Communication and Information (SCI), and study with him. Bell Communications Research funded my doctoral dissertation, and Nick and other faculty at SCI, including Carol Kuhlthau, Leah Lievrouw and Tefko Saracevic helped me learn new ways of conceptualizing problems and human behaviour. I also had the extreme good fortune to have a cohort of excellent doctoral students at Rutgers who are still my good friends today. After completing my Ph.D. I received postdoctoral fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NSF-NATO. This enabled me to spend two years at Risø, the Danish National Research Lab, collaborating with Annelise Mark Pejtersen. During this period I honed my research skills, such as conducting qualitative interviews in different countries.
  • I next took up an assistant professor post at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2000 I was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor there. In 2003 I became a professor at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, which was then a joint school at the University of Gothenburg and University of Borås. In 2009 I became the Chair of Information and Library studies (and Head of School) at UCD, the University College Dublin.
  • The research approach I ’ve adopted over the years is called use-inspired research, a term coined by Stokes (1997). Use-inspired research builds on exisiting understanding and existing practice and technology. It combines a quest for understanding with consideration of use and contribution to society. Its goal is to inform both understanding and practice. Stokes, D.E. (1997). Pasteur's Quadrant – Basic Science and Technological Innovation . NY: Brookings Institution Press.
  • This slide highlights major projects I ’ ve had the good fortune to work on. With support from the Army Research Lab, I investigated collaborative information behaviour in dynamic contexts, specifically that of command and control. With colleagues in computer science and physics we designed and evaluated a collaborative version of the nanoManipulator that provided a haptic and 3D visualization interface to an atomic force microscope. With colleagues in biology and information science, we developed an eMentoring program that connected students at universities in lower socio-economic areas with corporate scientists. In conjunction with this project, I developed the theory of information horizons. For about 8 years I worked with a National Science Foundation Science & Technology Center, helping them establish and maintain scientific collaborations across 5 universities. More recently I ’ ve investigated the potential of 3D telepresence technology in emergency healthcare with colleagues in medicine and computer science. This work was funded by the National Library of Medicine. I ’ m currently investigating factors that impact the adoption and use of future mobile technology in police work. This is funded by the Motorola Foundation. Collaboration and technology to facilitate collaboration is a major theme in each of these projects. I ’ d like to focus on the last two projects in a bit more detail.
  • The slide shows the traditional research and development cycle. Computer science (CS) research produces prototypes, some of which are furthered developed into products by software developers and usabilty enginers, often in collaboration with other stakeholders. After products are deployed soico-technical studies investigating the use and non-use of the products are sometimes conducted. These studies are also referred to as social informatic studies or social studies of technology. The goal of these studies is to help inform CS research. I draw the line connecting these studies to CS research as a dotted line because too often the studies don ’t actually inform CS research for several reasons. Computer scientists may not be aware of the studies; or they may not see the relevance of the studies to the research they are currently doing. This is because the studies typically focus on software they prototyped 5, 10 or even 15 years earlier.
  • To address this I ’ ve been developing a different approach, which I refer to as a visioning study. Visioning studies are conducted as soon as possible in the research and development cycle, even before prototypes are developed or while prototypes are being developed by CS researchers. Visioning studies investigate the potential of a future technology with the goal of informing computer science research as early as posible. I use a socio-technical approach while conducting these studies, examining both technical and social aspects of the proposed technology.
  • The goals of visioning studies include: validating proposed benefits of the technology; indentifying unintended consequences and unintended benefits; indentifying deployment challenges and solutions; providing insights with respect to technology features and capabilities; and to help inform funding decisions. Visioning studies can investigate future task performance, comparing task performance today with task performance using a surrogate of the proposed technology. They can also investigate implications of the technology in the targeted domain context. Will the technology be compatible with existing ways of working and social structures? To date our visioning studies have focused on complex and dynamic domains, where life and death decisions must sometimes be made quickly, and technology can play a role in those decisions.
  • I was taught to always be conducting projects in different stages. Have one project that is being completed; one that is ongoing; and one that is being planned. Potential future projects include conducting visioning studies regarding physical virtual avatars in collaboration with Greg Welch, a computer scientist.
  • In conclusion may I offer our students and junior colleagues some advice? I have always found it beneficial to be helpful to others. We often receive more help than we provide. Collaborate well with others. They say successful marriages require each partner to give 150%. The same can be said for successful collaboration. And sometimes when we think we ’ re giving 150%, we may not be. When deciding whether to work on a project or take ownership of a task, ask yourself is it the right thing to do. Let the answer to that question guide your decision. As you may know, life happens. Challenges, both personal and professional, emerge. It ’ s quite alright if challenges slow you down, but don ’ t let them stop you. Keep going! It is well worth the effort.
  • ASIS&T Diane Sonnenwald Information Science as a Career

    1. 1. Recently at the ASIS&T European Chapter’s Celebration ofASIS&T’s 75th Anniversary I was asked to talk about mycareer, to provide an example to our younger colleagues ofhow a career in our discipline can be shaped.
    2. 2. At first I wasn’t quite sure at which time in my career I shouldbegin…
    3. 3. I decided to begin at the point I completed my Bachelor’sdegree. At that time, the country I was living in (the USA)was in a recession. I remember seeing a job ad for anintelligent, energetic, and sensitive individual with abachelor’s degree to work in a pickle factory. Fortunately Ihad one other option – to work for the Prudential InsuranceCompany in their computer programming division. At the timePrudential had the largest computer installation in thenortheast USA. This provided me with many opportunities tolearn about computer hardware and software.
    4. 4. I next joined Bell Laboratories and its spin-off company, BellCommunications Research. There I had opportunities: tofocus on technology transfer, shepherding concepts fromresearch to products; to develop new programs to supporteducation at historically minority universities; and to do long-range strategic planning for the telecommunicationscompanies that owned Bell Communications Research. Twovaluable lessons I learned from these activities were how tocollaborate with many different disciplines and with differenthierarchical levels in organizations.
    5. 5. Along the way I decided to pursue a doctorate degree. Atfirst I studied in the computer science department at RutgersUniversity. However I was continually fascinated by theinterplay of people and technology, and this was not a topicof interest to the computer science faculty at that time.Fortunately one of the professors knew ‘a guy’ in anotherdepartment who was interested in the type of topics I wasinterested in. This ‘guy’ turned out to be Nick Belkin, and tomy good fortune Nick asked me to join what is now theSchool of Communication and Information (SCI), and studywith him. Bell Communications Research funded my doctoraldissertation, and Nick and other faculty at SCI, includingCarol Kuhlthau, Leah Lievrouw and Tefko Saracevic helpedme learn new ways of conceptualizing problems and humanbehaviour. I also had the extreme good fortune to have acohort of excellent doctoral students at Rutgers who are stillmy good friends today. After completing my Ph.D. I receivedpostdoctoral fellowships from the National ScienceFoundation (NSF) and NSF-NATO. This enabled me tospend two years at Risø, the Danish National Research Lab,
    6. 6. I next took up an assistant professor post at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2000 I was granted tenureand promoted to Associate Professor there. In 2003 Ibecame a professor at the Swedish School of Library andInformation Science, which was then a joint school at theUniversity of Gothenburg and University of Borås. In 2009 Ibecame the Chair of Information and Library studies (andHead of School) at UCD, the University College Dublin.
    7. 7. The research approach I’ve adopted over the years is calleduse-inspired research, a term coined by Stokes (1997). Use-inspired research builds on exisiting understanding andexisting practice and technology. It combines a quest forunderstanding with consideration of use and contribution tosociety. Its goal is to inform both understanding and practice.Stokes, D.E. (1997). Pasteurs Quadrant – Basic Scienceand Technological Innovation. NY: Brookings InstitutionPress.
    8. 8. This slide highlights major projects I’ve had the good fortune to workon. With support from the Army Research Lab, I investigatedcollaborative information behaviour in dynamic contexts, specificallythat of command and control. With colleagues in computer scienceand physics we designed and evaluated a collaborative version of thenanoManipulator that provided a haptic and 3D visualization interfaceto an atomic force microscope. With colleagues in biology andinformation science, we developed an eMentoring program thatconnected students at universities in lower socio-economic areas withcorporate scientists. In conjunction with this project, I developed thetheory of information horizons. For about 8 years I worked with aNational Science Foundation Science & Technology Center, helpingthem establish and maintain scientific collaborations across 5universities. More recently I’ve investigated the potential of 3Dtelepresence technology in emergency healthcare with colleagues inmedicine and computer science. This work was funded by theNational Library of Medicine. I’m currently investigating factors thatimpact the adoption and use of future mobile technology in policework. This is funded by the Motorola Foundation. Collaboration andtechnology to facilitate collaboration is a major theme in each of theseprojects. I’d like to focus on the last two projects in a bit more detail.
    9. 9. The slide shows the traditional research and developmentcycle. Computer science (CS) research produces prototypes,some of which are furthered developed into products bysoftware developers and usabilty enginers, often incollaboration with other stakeholders. After products aredeployed soico-technical studies investigating the use andnon-use of the products are sometimes conducted. Thesestudies are also referred to as social informatic studies orsocial studies of technology. The goal of these studies is tohelp inform CS research. I draw the line connecting thesestudies to CS research as a dotted line because too oftenthe studies don’t actually inform CS research for severalreasons. Computer scientists may not be aware of thestudies, or they may not see the relevance of the studies tothe research they are currently doing. This is because thestudies typically focus on software they prototyped 5, 10 oreven 15 years earlier.
    10. 10. To address this I’ve been developing a different approach,which I refer to as a visioning study. Visioning studies areconducted as soon as possible in the research anddevelopment cycle, even before prototypes are developed orwhile prototypes are being developed by CS researchers.Visioning studies investigate the potential of a futuretechnology with the goal of informing computer scienceresearch as early as posible. I use a socio-technicalapproach while conducting these studies, examining bothtechnical and social aspects of the proposed technology.
    11. 11. The goals of visioning studies include: validating proposedbenefits of the technology; indentifying unintendedconsequences and unintended benefits; indentifyingdeployment challenges and solutions; providing insightswith respect to technology features and capabilities; and tohelp inform funding decisions. Visioning studies caninvestigate future task performance, comparing taskperformance today with task performance using a surrogateof the proposed technology. They can also investigateimplications of the technology in the targeted domaincontext. Will the technology be compatible with existingways of working and social structures? To date ourvisioning studies have focused on complex and dynamicdomains, where life and death decisions must sometimesbe made quickly, and technology can play a role in those
    12. 12. In conclusion may I offer our students and junior colleaguessome advice? I have always found it beneficial to be helpfulto others. We often receive more help than we provide.Collaborate well with others. They say successful marriagesrequire each partner to give 150%. The same can be said forsuccessful collaboration. And sometimes when we thinkwe’re giving 150%, we may not be. When deciding whetherto work on a project or take ownership of a task, ask yourselfis it the right thing to do. Let the answer to that questionguide your decision. As you may know, life happens.Challenges, both personal and professional, emerge. It’squite alright if challenges slow you down, but don’t let themstop you. Keep going! It is well worth the effort.
    13. 13. My sincere thanks to my mentors, collaborators, studentsand study participants and their organizations who haveshared much with me over the years. My thanks also to thefunding agencies who have supported my research.

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