By Vasiliki Mylonopoulou, ESR6
In the CHESS project we – the PhD student placed in universities – have the opportunity for a secondment: a visit to a company in order to see how the industry in our field works, collect data for our research, and enrich our transferable skills. I was in contact with the company – which was a startup at the time – since the beginning of my PhD. Together with my supervisors (in the university and the industry) were trying to plan my secondment in the best way for my research and the company’s aims. The initial plan changed many times to fit the fast-paced environment of a startup. The secondment had to be moved to the first year of my studies and we had to plan the research so it could cover the needs of my early research stage and the changeable company’s environment. It was a challenging situation, but I like this kind of setting because the knowledge I gain turns up to be richer and more interesting.
Due to the nature of the company and the state of my research, we had to find a method that could follow the changes on both sides. Participant observation was the perfect fit. I was placed in the company as an “employee” (interaction designer) and at the same time I was observing the design process of the applications. It was the first time I applied this method, and all the literature I read, had prepared me for its challenging nature. Apart from the work I had as an “employee”, I had a metacognitive level in which I reflected on my own actions (as interaction designers) and the actions of the team. I was keeping double notes, as part of the team, and as an observer, then I transferred them in a research diary in a cleaner form.
I also came in contact with engineers and practitioners of the medical field and I saw how they perceive the design process. I came to realize that in their field, it is needed to have concrete, defined steps to follow; which is a different philosophy than the discipline I am coming from (HCI: Human – Computer Interaction), in which the design process adjusts to the circumstances and there are no specific steps to follow, but guidelines which order can vary. The practitioners descriptions of the medical field and IT made me realize the different mentalities between the medical informatics and HCI. Their process is slow, structured, and fixed while in HCI we are more flexible, adjustable and we have to move fast, simply because the technology moves fast.
Finally, working in a small company and away from both supervisors (industry and university) gave me two more skills. First, due to the size of the company, it was easy to follow the communication channels, so I understood better how CHESS and other E.U. projects are working, and the role of a startup company in them. Something I am interested in because I would like to be involved in more E.U. projects. Second, my secondment was in a different country than my main placement and the industrial supervisor was also physically absent during my stay. So, I had the opportunity to learn to work independently and at a distance from both my supervisors.
In summary, the secondment was an excellent opportunity to get out of my comfort zone both on research and personal level. Finally, I would like to thank all the people who welcomed me into their projects as part of Salumedia Technologies (the company): Octavio Rivera (Assistant Professor/Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Seville), and Francisco Guerra (PhD student at Salumedia) who let me be involved on the design of a prostate cancer application as part of the CATCH project (http://www.catchitn.eu/); Santiago Hors Fraile (Researcher at University of Seville) who let me be involved in the design of the evaluation and the evaluation analysis of a smoking cessation application as part of the project Smoke Free Brain (www.smokefreebrain.eu); Guido Giunti (PhD student at Salumedia), and Joaquín Chacón Gálvez (developer at Salumedia) who let me be involved in the breast cancer application they develop and for the help they offered me during my stay in Spain.