Day in the Lab

XX.6 November + December 2013
Page: 84
Digital Citation

UCLIC


Authors:
Daniel Harrison, Yvonne Rogers

www.ucl.ac.uk/uclic

How do you describe your lab to visitors? The University College London Interaction Centre (UCLIC, pronounced “you-click”) is an interdisciplinary research and teaching institute situated in the heart of London in Bloomsbury. University College London (UCL) was founded in 1826 and is home to some 10,000 staff and almost 25,000 students, and was recently ranked fourth in the QS world university rankings. UCLIC sits between the Department of Computer Science and the Psychology and Language Sciences Division. Our main space is located on the top floor of the computer science building, where we are treated to beautiful views over London. Additionally, we have an interaction research lab/studio and usability labs.

We also run an internationally renowned master’s course in human-computer interaction and ergonomics, where students from a wide variety of backgrounds and from all over the world come together to learn about HCI, user experience and design, ergonomics, and cognitive science.

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What is a unique feature of your lab? We have been in existence for a very long time, beginning more than 35 years ago in the form of the Ergonomics Unit, and now as a growing, internationally renowned HCI center. We have a strong tradition in cognitive psychology, ergonomics, and computer science, but recently, with the arrival of Yvonne Rogers as director, together with Paul Marshall and Nic Marquardt, we have moved increasingly into design, social aspects of HCI, and physical computing. We have strong collaborative links across UCL and other universities, with local hospitals and other partners in industry (e.g., Microsoft, Google, Intel, Cisco). We also share a new space where 80 researchers from UCL and the BBC are collaborating on various future technology and UX projects. In addition, we are part of the new Intel Collaborative Research Institute (ICRI) for Sustainable and Connected Cities (www.cities.io). We have been moving our research more into the wild and have been using our building as a test bed. Our projects and installations in the building change frequently, so visitors coming to our lab can always expect to see something different. We also have access to the new Institute of Making that is a cross-disciplinary research club for those interested in “the made world: from makers of molecules to makers of buildings, synthetic skin to spacecraft, soup to diamonds, socks to cities.”

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How many people are in the lab, and what is the mix of backgrounds and roles? There are more than 40 people in our lab, and it is continuing to grow—11 faculty, 12 post-doc and research associates/fellows, and around 20 Ph.D. research students. People in our lab come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including psychology, computer science, design, social sciences, engineering, ergonomics, media, and industry. Each year, UCLIC also houses about 50 master’s students.

Briefly describe a day in the life of your lab. Every day is different. Some days we are very loud and busy, with everybody working toward a deadline (the recent CHI papers submission saw a record number of us frantically submitting papers just before the 1 a.m. deadline, local time); other days are considerably quieter. Being in the heart of London, we get many visitors passing through our lab, which is fantastic for networking at work and afterward. Right now we have visiting researchers from Korea, Mexico, and Europe. We also get visitors from North America, Japan, Australia, and Europe who drop in on their way to conferences in other parts of the world. We try to give them an opportunity to present their work and be subjected to UCLIC’s special style of feedback and audience participation.

What is the one feature of your lab you would not do without? The heart of our lab is the “fishbowl.” It is a social space located in our main open-plan office, surrounded by glass, enabling people to see both in and out. It is a hive of activity, and where all the gossip, lab photos, etc. can be found. Members of the lab, staff and students alike, congregate for lunch, brown-bag meetings, and other discussions. We also have a tradition of bringing cakes in for birthdays and sweets/candy from our trips abroad. As the lab grows, we’re eating a lot more cake, and more unusual and exotic sweets are appearing every week!

What is the one feature of your lab that you want and don’t have? While we make the most of our limited space and the facilities at hand, we would love to have more space in which to spread out—for example, a design studio, more labs to run studies in, and more social spaces to hang out in. But who doesn’t want more space?

Describe how people interact in your lab. One great thing about UCLIC is that we talk to each other a lot and regularly socialize as a group. Throughout the year you will see Ph.D. students, postdocs, and professors eating lunch together in the fishbowl and going out after work to have a drink or a bite to eat in one of the many local pubs, restaurants, or bars. Our main office is open plan, so we see a lot of each other throughout the day and share a fair amount of banter. This can sometimes feel too noisy when writing, concentrating on analysis of data, or finding that last bug in a piece of code, but the buzz and vibe are viewed as a positive thing that helps foster the very friendly atmosphere in our lab.

What is the one thing you see as most important about what you do here? Our interdisciplinary research is core to who we are. We have lots of collaborations with researchers in other UCL departments, U.K. and worldwide universities, and industry. Our research feeds directly into our teaching. We are also very proud of our strong links with industry. It is not surprising that our M.Sc. graduates are very much in demand, as increasingly local, national, and international companies understand the importance of UX for their businesses.

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