The InterView: our new monthly Researcher Spotlight

The InterView is a new series in which we interview our colleagues at Swansea University, to find out a little more about them, their field of research, and its application within industry and non-academic settings.

Our new series kicks off with our first interviewee, Bob Laramee, Associate Professor of Computer Science. Bob, who hails from Boston in the US, started working at Swansea University in 2006. His main research interests are in Data Visualization, including scientific and information visualization and visual analytics.

Picture Bob
Bob Laramee, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Swansea University

Here Bob talks to Jay Doyle, Research Engagement Officer at the CHERISH Digital Economy Centre.

So Bob, how would you explain Data Visualization to a lay audience?
The way I usually explain it is that Data Visualization is the non-fiction version of computer graphics. Computational graphics is normally used for entertainment – movies, games, that kind of thing. Data Visualization is using computer graphics technology to depict and reflect reality.

This involves generating images of complicated data sets. An example would be the weather report; this is data that has been collected by hundreds of weather stations, and then assembled into images. My job is to innovate and come up with new visualization designs and images.

Can you give an example of how your work has been applied outside of academia, say, in industry?
We have developed software that is sold in commercial products. We have developed visualization solutions for a company called AVL, who optimize automotive engine components. Another collaboration that we’re currently working on is with a company called QPC, to visualize call centre data. We have also worked with a local company called We Predict, to visualize automotive warranty data. From this they are able to make recommendations to inform how long an automobile component lasts. This is highly valuable for insurers and manufacturers to indicate when parts are going to fail.

Basically, every company is collecting masses of complicated data, and they are always looking for ways to understand it better and to get the best insight and value from it.

Research culture is often viewed as being rather inward looking. What do you say to that?
I think I agree with that. I think there is a gap between research culture and, let’s say, the private sector. But I would add that I think this is true for all of Higher Education, not just research.

Societal and economic impact are now important measures of academic impact, beyond publications and citations. Do you think we’ve got the balance right?
That’s a real challenge. I don’t think we have the balance quite right. However, to achieve a more balanced real-world impact versus, say, academic impact, we would need more resources because academics are already stretched. So in order to achieve the balance, or more of a balance, some extra help would be needed.

What’s the motivation for you in working with industry, and what are the biggest gains for each side?
A few things come to mind. I like to meet new people and whenever I do, I learn new things. So for me those collaborations are a learning experience. I also enjoy working on things that I know have direct relevance in the world, and real impact in the private sector.

Academics are good at innovation, and industries are always looking for innovation to stay competitive; part of what it means to be competitive is to innovate, so companies may gain by discovering that innovation can come from working with academics. It also adds academic competence to the company – skills which are not readily found in industry.

And what do you think are the biggest challenges to collaborating with industry?
I would say that one of the challenges is matching complimentary interests and skillsets. Industries are looking for certain skillsets and so are the academics, and to get them to align is certainly a challenge. Time management is certainly a challenge too. Each collaboration carries costs in term of time, effort and communication. This can be a barrier. Funding is also a challenge; collaborations require investment, and securing the appropriate level of funding can be a real issue.

From your own experience, what do you think are the most effective ways for researchers to achieve wider impact from their work, outside of academia?
I think one possibility is to publish findings in popular news outlets. Any outlet that has a wider audience beyond the academic community is very beneficial. I think that social media can also be used. YouTube, for example, is quite powerful. I think videos include a lot of useful information that is not available in traditional printed or text based media. At the end of the day, people want to communicate with other people, not necessarily machines, and YouTube brings you a little closer to the person.

Are there any desirable industry sectors to which you have yet to see your work applied?
Yes. I have not yet established collaborative links with the Computational Fluid Dynamics industry in the UK. I see a lot of mutual benefit in aligning our interests.

What impact do you think the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will have on your research?
Well, I can tell you that three of my PhD students are funded by EU money, so it’s going to have a very real impact on my students. There’s a program called KESS, which is jointly funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the EU. They finance a number of MRes and PhD students until 2020. Such a great program will likely be impossible if the UK withdraws from the EU. There will also be a drop in the number of EU students generally, and that has consequences in terms of the number of publications we can produce. The average level of education for students in Higher Education may drop, especially at the MRes and PhD levels.

What are your hobbies?
Exercise, healthy eating, meditation and Latin dance.

What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this?
I think I would probably start my own business creating digital products for pedagogic and research application. For example, an online Data Visualization class that anyone can pay for and download.

You can find out more about Bob Laramee and his research by visiting his web page at http://www.cs.swan.ac.uk/~csbob/

You can also email Bob directly at r.s.laramee@swansea.ac.uk

Bob’s areas of expertise
Data visualization
Flow visualization
Information visualization
Visual analytics
Big data visualization

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UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017 Participants Announced

By Tashi Gyaltsen

leadership

Following a successful campaign and a competitive selection process, CHERISH Digital Economy Research Centre is delighted to welcome the following Early Career Researchers to UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017: (list updated: 27/04/2017)

  • Adeline Paiement, Medical Image Analysis (CS), Swansea University
  • Alvin Orbaek White, Engineering, Swansea University
  • Amy Jenkins, Neuropsychology, Swansea University
  • Angela Dy, Entrepreneurship, Loughborough University London
  • Caitlin Cottrill, Geography & Environment, Aberdeen University
  • Chiara Bernardi, Digital Media, University of Stirling
  • Dafnne Morgado Ramirez, Biomedical Engineering/HCI, UCL
  • Edina Harbinja, Law, University of Hertfordshire
  • Enrico Andreoli, Engineering, Swansea University
  • Ewa Luger, HCI, University of Edinburgh
  • Federico Cerutti, Artificial Intelligence, Cardiff University
  • Gemma Webster, Computer Science, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Hendrik Baier, Artificial Intelligence, University of York
  • John Stevens, Design, Royal College Arts
  • Kellie Morrissey, Applied Psychology/HCI, Newcastle University
  • Larissa Pschetz, Design, University of Edinburgh
  • Marwan Fayed, Computer Science, University of Stirling
  • Mercedes Torres Torres, HCI, University of Nottingham
  • Pedro Telles, Law, Swansea University
  • Phil Bartie, Geospatial Technologies, University of Stirling
  • Phil Heslop, HCI, Newcastle University
  • Phil James, Verification/Computer Science, Swansea University
  • Ramine Tinati, Computer Science, University of Southampton
  • Riza Batista-Navarro, Natural Language Processing (CS), University of Manchester
  • Sandy Brownlee, Computer Science, University of Stirling
  • Sarah Clinch, Computing Architectures, University of Manchester
  • Sean Walton, Engineering/Computer Science, Swansea University
  • Simon Rowberry, Digital Media & Publishing, University of Stirling
  • Steve Snow, Social Science/HCI, University of Southampton
  • Yvonne McDermott Rees, Law, Bangor University

We will publish more about them later in the month.

UK Digital Economy Crucible is a UK-wide, multi-disciplinary leadership programme developed by Swansea University. We are passionate about developing the future leaders of digital economy, who will bring their diverse expertise in addressing common human challenges, and become change agents in shaping future products, services and policies. The participants can look forward to the following exciting programme at the skills labs and gathering:

  • Swansea skills lab (18-19 May) will focus on Insight. It will provide an in-depth understanding of digital economy and leadership, and offer an exclusive platform to interact with crucial actors of digital economy, such as media (BBC, Channel 4, The Conversation, and possibly the Guardian), funding councils (EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC, and possibly Wellcome Trust) and general public who are at the heart of our digital innovations.
  • Edinburgh skills lab (22 and 23 June) will emphasise on Collaboration where the participants will start to work together and interact with household industry names (Microsoft, NHS, DVLA, BBC, and possibly Google) to address common challenges, engage in an intensive proposal writing workshop and hear about how to put together a winning proposal through teamwork.
  • The last skills lab in London (27-28 July) will work on achieving Impact. The participants will interact with digital entrepreneur and social digital activist, learn how to feed into policy making at government level, get practical insight into achieving real impact through proven inter-disciplinary work from highly successful senior academics, build resilience as an ECR, and finally participate in a Dragon’s Den-style pitching.
  • At the Alumni gathering (3 Nov), which is a crucial part of the leadership programme, we’ll have a catch-up in a much more relaxed environment. We’ll discuss what the participants have been up to since the last skills lab – their achievements and challenges, discuss emerging opportunities and further collaborations, undertake a team bonding outing and foster a sense of common goal within the Digital Economy Researcher community.

We are truly delighted to have attracted such a rich combination of outstanding Early Careers Researchers from across the UK, and look forward to going on a journey with them to develop, collaborate, innovate and change the world!

Reflecting on those other Clouds

By Thomas Reitmaier

cloudcollage

Today is world meteorological day and the world meteorological organization is celebrating by releasing a database of cloud images.  You can even submit your own. Looking over this stunning collection of images I’m reminded of the breath-taking world of wind and weather we inhabit. But as a computer scientist with an interest in mobile architectures those images look familiar in another sense and remind me of those other Clouds. For I often encounter such images in presentations, as splash images on landing pages of the next great app, and as icons on user interfaces and in technical diagrams.

cloudicons
Source: thenounproject.com

Good design, as the eccentric design theorist Vilém Flusser (1999) reminds us, is to some extent deception.  The metaphor of the computer file exemplifies this quite well.  It only takes a moments reflection to realize that the file you store on your Desktop, beautifully represented by an icon, isn’t the bounded physical entity it pretends to be.  Especially if the file is larger it might be fragmented across your hard drive (rapidly rotating disk coated with magnetic material) or SSD (complex integrated circuit assemblies).  What makes the File metaphor so cunning is that at the moment of user interaction the system’s view of the file and the users point of view – e.g. that document I’m working on –  converge (on this point, see Harper et al 2013).  That is, the user can get on with what she wants to do, because Operating System, Filesystem, and User Interface are working together in consistent harmony.

The metaphor of the Cloud, however, works differently from that of the File.  Its goal is not to bind together systems and user perspectives, but to render invisible and immaterial massive digital infrastructures – data centres, undersea cables, etc – as well as the software services that run on top of these and that we depend on every day.  In the Cloud such services are opaque, and we can never really be sure if they are thoughtfully and robustly engineered with craft and care, form a tightly-coupled monolith that could buckle on load, or are something that is just cobbled together.  When developing services in the Cloud, we seldom talk about user awareness and control but are well versed in discussions on how our system scales or how we can leverage and monetize user data often to the detriment of user control.

As we celebrate world meteorological day and marvel at the weather world we inhabit, we would do well to pause for a moment and think about those other Clouds that configure, constrain, and mediate so much in our lives. Perhaps a better metaphor is needed than an image of a beautiful meadow, blue skies, and fluffy clouds.

cloudymeadow

References

Flusser, Vilém. The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. Edited by Anthony Mathews. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.

Harper, Richard, Eno Thereska, Sian E. Lindley, Richard Banks, Phil Gosset, William Odom, Gavin Smyth, and Eryn Whitworth. “What Is a File?” In Proceedings of the 2013 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 1125–1136. CSCW ’13. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2441776.2441903.

CHERISH Escalator Projects Announced

We’re very happy to announce that the following projects proposed by Swansea University academics have been awarded funding from the second round of CHERISH Escalator funding.

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In no particular order…

  • Online Grooming Communication: Translating Research Evidence into Effective Prevention Materials, £8,668.00
    • PI: Prof Nuria Lorenzo Dus, Arts and Humanities
  • Transparency in AI through ‘muttering’ robots, £2340
    • PI: Dr Vivienne Rogers, Arts and Humanities
  • Helping form NHS IT Strategy, £5318
    • PI: Prof Harold Thimbleby, College of Science
  • Migrant Digitalities:  Mapping the Dispersal of Refugees Evicted from Calais, £8940
    • PI: Dr Martina Tazzioli, College of Science
  • Enhancing Witness Account Capture Through Digital Technology, £3140
    • PI : Dr Ruth Horry, College of Human and Health Sciences
  • Developing and Validating the Digital ‘Distance Affect Regulation Mapping (DARM), £3157
    • PI: Dr Laura Wilkinson, College of Human and Health Sciences
  • Developing Interdisciplinary and Industry Collaboration to Tackle Far-Right Extremist Use of Social Media for Propaganda and Recruitment, £4549
    • PI: Dr Lella Nouri, College of Law
  • Making with Meaning Workshops, £4700
    • PI: Dr Stephen Lindsay, College of Science
  • Hippocampal And Prefrontal Plasticity Inducement Application (HAPPIA), £3601
    • PI: Dr Tom Owen, College of Science
  • Creating a mind-set for health with digital health solutions II, £12,316
    • PI: Dr Menna Price, College of Human and Health Sciences

Congratulations!

UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017 is coming near you…

By Tashi Gyaltsen, CHERISH-DE Project Officer

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On the road…

I am thrilled we are launching the campaign for UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017. We are starting our promotional event at Newcastle University on 14th November followed by University of Stirling on 24th November, University of Nottingham on 8th December, and UCL on 20th Jan 2017. We are currently looking at other venues, including The Alan Turing Institute, Southampton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Ulster in the coming months. We will update the locations and dates on our blog and on Twitter when they are confirmed.

Looking at 2017…

This is our second year, and we are passionate about making UK Digital Economy Crucible bigger and better. We are looking for enthusiastic and ambitious researchers/lecturers (1-7 years since completing PhD) from diverse backgrounds from all UK universities. We will kick-off the residential skills lab in our hometown Swansea on 18th and 19th of May 2017, followed by Edinburgh on 22nd and 23th of June, and complete the programme in London on 27th and 28th July. We will build on the many positives and learn from our challenges from 2016 to ensure UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017 is even more immersive and collaborative. To reinforce our community of dedicated digital researchers, we will also be holding an Alumni gathering on  November 3rd, 2017 where the Crucible participants can catch up, discuss further collaborations and emerging opportunities, and pitch for seedcorn research funding available to them.

UK Digital Economy Crucible is for all disciplines…

Digital Economy is essentially an economy that is powered by interactions and transactions that is done on digital computing technologies. It is all around us and embedded in almost everything we do these days. Contrary to common belief, the development of digital economy does not entirely fall on computer science. Far from it, and more importantly, it needs the research, expertise and collaboration from diverse disciplines, including engineering, social and human sciences, media, arts & humanities, law and criminology, business management, maths and biology. The ultimate aim of the CHERISH-DE is to make a real difference to people’s lives, and we can only achieve it through interdisciplinary effort that captures many aspects of our lives. This is where the UK Digital Economy Crucible comes in and offers that unique platform for researchers/lecturers to get together in a series of skills labs, acquire leadership skills in their careers, and collaborate on innovative research ideas. The programme also provides exclusive opportunity to interact with distinguished speakers in the field of digital economy and other crucial actors such as media, industry, general public, funding councils and Parliament.

And some tips…

It will be highly competitive to get a place on the programme this year. And I hope some tips may help you put in a strong application. First of all, write your application in plain language as our review panel will consist of people from different backgrounds. Stick to the criteria as marking on each question will be based on them, and bear in mind that the purpose of the Crucible programme and CHERISH-DE is to work together to enrich people’s lives through practical innovation of technology. So be clear about how your research can help and its potential of achieving greater impact through collaboration and use of technology. And finally, it is highly recommended that you read up on Digital Economy from sources such as EPSRC, UK Parliament, UK Government and CHERISH-DE website before starting your application. If you have any questions or concerns about eligibility, process or application, please do not hesitate to get in touch (tashi.gyaltsen@swansea.ac.uk).

Good luck and hope to see you soon!

10 Tips for a Successful CHERISH Digital Economy Escalator Fund Proposal

As the 31st October deadline draws near, the consensus at CHERISH Heights was that you may appreciate some pointers on what makes a successful Escalator application. Sitting on the Escalator panel earlier this year, proposals were marked down for a handful of repeated and easily avoidable reasons.

#1 Mind your language

thing-explainerTrue to its multi-disciplinary, applied research roots, CHERISH peer review and research panels are made up of people from different backgrounds, academic and non-academic. A non-specialist audience will decide whether or not you are successful – so use language that someone who does not work in your area will understand. Someone recently recommended a book called the Thing Explainer by Randall Moore as a good place to start for this kind of thing.

#2 List clear outputs

Applications with clear outputs fare a lot better than those without. Even if the proposed research is quite, quite brilliant – we need to know what you are going to do with it once complete. No matter how modest, well defined outcomes will help your bid . CHERISH is about taking research out into the world, so think about how you can easily achieve this…

  • Can you present a workshop at the end of the research?
  • Are you going to do a talk in your department or your supporting organisation?
  • Will you publish any papers or talk at conferences?
  • Will it allow you to apply for further larger funding pots ?
  • Is it on a theme that may be of interest to The Conversation ?
  • Does it lend itself to public engagement (a big part of CHERISH) at Oriel Science?

#3 Double check staff costs

We will notice if the staff costs you give are incorrect. Miscalculating overheads or salaries basically invalidates your proposal at the panel stage. Talk to your research hub, double-check and give yourself the best chance of success.

#4 Use the CHERISH RA to support your researchwin_20160817_08_55_10_pro

This is Thomas, the RA on the CHERISH project. You can bid on his time and you  don’t have to budget for that cost in your application as it will be covered by the CHERISH project.  But be mindful that CHERISH RAs are not there to *drive* your project.  Rather they can provide focused assistance and expertise to help with *aspects* of your project.  Please be specific about *how* and *when* you plan on making use of RA time.

#5 Don’t round-up costs

Be as accurate as you can in listing any costs. Applications with mysteriously ‘perfect’ costs (e.g. £1000 for a flight, £500 for accommodation) look slapdash. Take the time to include accurate costs that reference the date and source of the figure.

#6 Wherever you can involve Early Career Researchers

There is a huge emphasis within CHERISH on helping ECRs develop their careers. One of our key objectives is ‘creating a next generation of digital economy researchers’, so be creative and make sure ECRs are prominent within your application.

Perhaps you are a senior academic, with a track record of successful large research bids; consider whether a less experienced departmental colleague may relish their first PI experience and suggest they lead the project or join you as a Co-I.

#7 No cutting and pasting

This sounds so obvious, but is surprisingly common. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve been tempted to cut and paste a paragraph from a different document, rather than re-interpret or re-write a section to anwer a specific question.

The problem is, if you do this it stands out like a sore thumb. Even really ingenious ideas can’t be funded if they don’t answer the questions on the application form. Cutting and pasting from an earlier proposal and hoping for the best just doesn’t work. Some members of the panel may not be an expert in your field, but they are still able to spot a case of ‘proposalese’ when they see one.

#8 Be clear about what we can and cannot fund.

We cannot fund you if you are 100% employed at Swansea University, but we can fund the cost of an RA. We can fund travel and subsistence for academics from outside Swansea University, for example if they are Co-Is, but not their time. We cannot fund any external partners, the idea being that they are supporting the collaborative research process.

#9 Don’t put another university as your external partner 

CHERISH wants research to be taken outside of the academic world and encourages collaborative research with non-academic partners. However, academics from other universities can be Co-Is on a project (see #8).

#10 Consider the other CHERISH funding opportunities

If your bid involves travel for research collaborators based abroad – either for them to visit you or vice versa – why not go for the more straightforward International Mobility Fellowship? It is constantly open for applications and decisions are made without the aid of a formal panel.

Similarly, if you are thinking of spending time at a (non-academic) UK based organisation as part of your bid, you may be better served applying for a more light-touch (and funded) CHERISH Secondment.

If you need clarification on any points – just drop us an email cherish-de@swansea.ac.uk

Good luck!

Understanding Digital Economy Careers & Practices @ TwitchCon

As part of Mark and Jamie’s Crucible funded research, they attended TwitchCon conference in San Diego. TwitchCon is an international conference to bring together leaders in gaming and streaming to discuss cutting-edge research and collaborations. Mark and Jamie attended TwitchCon to understand the careers and practices of Twitch’s streamers, by interviewing a large number of leading professional streamers from all around the world. Here are some thoughts from Mark and Jamie on the trip:
We interviewed over 60 people, ranging from short one-or-two-minute interviews exploring what they liked about Twitch and why they came to TwitchCon, to longer interviews lasting up to 30 minutes with professional streamers which examined their lives and backgrounds, how they first heard about Twitch, how and why they started broadcasting on the platform, when they became a “partnered” streamer (someone who works with Twitch to build their channel), and how they view the future of the platform and the future of their careers. The data in particular from these longer interviews yielded fascinating data about Twitch has been transforming the lives of its users, how streamers navigate tensions of a precarious career and the balance between work and play when broadcasting gameplay, and what kinds of future career plans they were developing. These streamers ranged from the world-famous to the newly professional, and were generally very willing to offer us their time for the research.
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