Thursday, 30 June 2016

User Studies....

A huge part of my research from here on involves me conducting several user studies, many of them. There are several frustrations with user studies. Recruiting participants is one that people always complain about. How and where do you find suitable people to take part in your study. If the study isn't targeted to a particular group of people, it's a lot easier. But imagine if you're looking for participants that use say Chrome OS, that might be a lot difficult. How do you make sure the said participants of the survey TRULY use Chrome OS? Where do you find enough people to recruit for such a study?

There are several other heartaches associated with user studies but for me it's the ethics approval required BEFORE the study can start that is my challenge. I totally understand and appreciate that the study has to meet very high ethical standards before one can go ahead. It just seems to take forever to get approved. And to think that I'll have to go through this every time for my (very many) proposed studies is daunting.

Truth be told, there is nothing I can do about the approval process especially if I don't submit my application on time and especially if it's incomplete.  

Note to self; I can help myself by making sure my application is complete and questions are answered in detail in order not to leave any room for questions.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Imposter/Impostor Syndrome

According to Caltech Couselling center, Imposter/Impostor Syndrome is "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and the feelings of intellectual fraudulence". .

In my own words, imposter syndrome is that feeling of being inadequate, less deserving, not as smart as others even though there exists enough evidence to prove otherwise. Take for instance, if one gets the highest grade in a project and feels less deserving of that grade even though s/he knows they worked really hard on the project. This could be termed imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is caused by several reasons. I'm not into psychology or any form of human studies so I'll speak from experience. From the mentoring seminars I've been to recently, one common cause of imposter syndrome is the people/society one lives in. If as a person, your support system, the people around you and your society continually term you a failure or someone less deserving than others, it's easy to think of one's-self as being inadequate despite achievements and rewards that show otherwise.  Imagine telling your friends that you were selected to receive an award and you get a response like "You? What criteria was used to choose you". Or telling friends that your paper was accepted into a top conference in your area with a low acceptance rate of about 17%, and their response is "Really? It's likely there were few submissions this year". Comments like these are likely to trigger imposter syndrome in many people.

How to deal with imposter syndrome?. As stated earlier, there are several causes of imposter syndrome. Identifying the underlying cause (if possible) and dealing with it could help. In the case of negative people/family/friends around us, dealing with imposter syndrome caused by this negativity, will be to build a support system of true supporters; people that always encourage you as a person and praise/celebrate you when the need arises. If one's support system, family and friends keep making negative comments, removing such people from one's life can help. Or not discussing success stories with them could also help. As it stands, I only tell my success stories to people that ALWAYS celebrate me and encourage me.

I've learned from recent seminars and experience with people that many people feel inadequate or have self doubt in one way or the other; I'm talking about people that are experts in their various fields. This gives me some hope that I am not alone in this battle.

Friday, 22 April 2016

2016 Grad Cohort Workshop

This year, I was privileged to attend the 2016 Grad Cohort organized by the women's arm of Computing Research Association (CRA-W). It was an opportunity for me to meet fellow female graduate students, female members of the academia and female professionals in North America. There were several sessions for first year, second year and third year graduate students with speakers from the industry and academia. This year, over 500 students participated.

I learned a lot from the various workshops including, how I can improve my verbal communication skills and how I can produce better quality research papers for publication. I also learned that PhD holders are relevant to the industry and don't necessarily have to work in academia; I now see a PhD as a back door to academia which I can take advantage of later on if I don't find industry jobs interesting enough. Finally, I learned about the importance of building a professional persona online. The sessions were chaired by top experts with several years of experience.

There was a poster session where I got to present my research and get feedback from industry experts, members of the academia and fellow students. I also had the opportunity of hearing from other students about their research.

Of all the activities and sessions, I enjoyed the individual career advising session the most. I got first hand advise and career pointers from my advisor at the session.

It was a very good experience for me and I am already putting to practice all I learned from the workshop.

I am thankful to the sponsors who made it possible for this event to take place. We were lodged in the best hotel in San Diego and were taken care of the whole time. I am also thankful to the organizers and speakers for taking out time to mentor the next generation of female computer scientists.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cialdini's six principles of persuasion, part 1

The way product description (text and image) are presented to a customer on an e-commerce site goes a long way in determining if that client will make a purchase or not. The use of certain words/phrases and strategies have been shown to influence users more than others. Cialdini's  principles [1, 2] are strategies that have been shown to result in a change of users' attitude and behavior.

According to Cialdini, persuasion is governed by principles that can be taught, learned and applied. If these principles are applied effectively, they can lead to higher positive response to persuasion. He came up with 6 principles that influence change in people. These principles are: authority, social proof, scarcity, consistency and commitment, liking, reciprocity. In this write up, I described the first 3.

1) Authority
People tend to be more receptive of people in authority. Recommendations or reviews made by people in authority are more likely to be believed.

According to Cialdini, there are several authority symbols. Title is a common one. Because it takes years of work and achievement to earn a title, people tend to respect and believe people with certain titles like Professor. Cialini buttressed this point in his book, Influence, science and practice, where he described a friend of his who is a professor at a well known eastern university. Because this friend  travels a lot, he finds himself chatting with strangers at bars, airports and restaurants. He usually has interesting conversation with them until they find out he is a professor and these strangers become respectful and accepting. Another authority symbol is clothes. Clothes like police uniform, religious attire and hospital whites can trigger compliance in people. Personally, I'm more inclined to obey/believe a priest in white collar than say a regular guy in jeans and t-shirt.

One way authority can be implemented in e-commerce is in the description of products. Including book reviews from authority figures could persuade people to buy such a book. An example of this is in Amazon is the use of text like "New York Times bestselling author" to describe authors. People that see New York Times as a symbol of authority could be persuaded to buy such a book. An example of this is shown below.

2) Social proof (Consensus)
This principle states that "we determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct". In other words, people follow the lead of similar others. According to Ciadini, "people rely heavily on the people around them for cues on how to think, feel and act". Going by this principle, one is more inclined to do something if others are doing the same thing.

In Amazon, persuasion through social proof is evident in their use of the feature "Customers who bought this item also bought". A customer who bought item A could be persuaded to buy items B and C because other customers who bought item A also bought items B and C. A screen shot from is below.

3) Scarcity
This principle states that "opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available". People are more motivated by the thought of losing something they already have than by gaining something new of the same value. One way of implementing scarcity is by using the limited number tactic. Telling a customer that an item is available in limited number could persuade that customer to buy the product. Another way of implementing scarcity according to Cialdini is by using time limits like deadlines.Creating and publicizing deadlines for product sales could generate interest that may not have existed before.

For items in short supply, Amazon displays the number of items in stock.

While these appear to be valid persuasion tactics, it will be interesting to see how effective real customers think they are. Carrying out a user study where users rate these strategies seems like a valid research direction. 

[Please note that this article was not peer-reviewed and forms my personal opinion. The comments however are not mine and do not describe my opinion.


[1] Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice (Vol. 4). Boston: Pearson Education.

[2] Cialdini, Robert B. "Harnessing the science of persuasion." Harvard Business Review 79.9 (2001): 72-81.