Lora Oehlberg

PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS

Which department should I apply to?
If you are interested in interface or interaction design, I strongly recommend applying to the department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary — not only is the department one of the best in Canada, the internationally-reknowned Interactions Lab (iLab) is among the top Human-Computer Interaction research groups in Canada. We are a diverse and well-connected group of research faculty, and a fantastic set of smart, curious, proactive, and social graduate students.

If you feel as though you transcend disciplinary boundaries because your work touches computation and creative practice (e.g., Architecture, Art, or Music), then you should consider applying to the Computational Media Design (CMD) program as a master's or Ph.D. student. CMD students are expected to perform interdisciplinary work and have multiple supervisors in both computer science as well as art, architecture, or music.

Can I do research with your group? Will you be my research advisor?
The best way to approach me is to email me with a subject header that includes "Prospective Student:" and your name. Write an introduction to yourself that includes:

  • your CV
  • a limerick (to indicate that you have actually read and are following these instructions)
  • specific information about the project you would like to work on (either something I'm already working on, or something you would like to propose), and why you are interested in working on it.
  • a sample of your writing—final documentation for an individual class project, a conference paper you have written, etc.

I will not review anything that does not include all items.

I am a prospective CMD student, and I think you may be a good fit as my supervisor! Can we talk?
It's good to have a clear sense of the role that your Computer Science supervisor will have on your thesis. Ultimately I'm interested in helping you find a supervisor that is the best fit for your thesis—both in your thesis' subject matter as well as the supervisor's working style.

Feel free to ask me about being your CMD advisor. In addition to the materials listed under the "Will you be my research advisor?" question, please also include:

  • A summary of your current thinking on your thesis topic, including what you hope to do or produce during your thesis. If you are still exploring, what type of research approach are you thinking of using to learn about the world and build knowledge?
  • why you're interested in CMD (and why not stay within Computer Science, Achitecture, Art, or Music)
  • what perspective, skills, or insights you're hoping to gain from the Computer Science supervisor on your thesis/committee.

Can I discuss my application with you?
No. (So that I can spend my time with current students, teaching, and research). As a general advice to applicants: be specific in your statement of purpose and offer concrete evidence of your abilities, interests, and capabilities.


CURRENT STUDENTS

I am a CPSC student interested in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)! What classes should I take?
Human-Computer Interaction is a very broad area within computer science that involves understanding people, designing interfaces, and building technological systems. It applies to many types of systems (from mobile apps to physical computing and embedded systems to desktop software to large surfaces and environments) and many types of people (from professional experts to everyday users to technology novices to people in emerging markets). At the University of Calgary, HCI primarily exists in the Computer Science (CPSC) department—something to consider if you're an undergraduate deciding on a major.

If you're an undergraduate student, the obvious courses to take are 481 (third-year) and 581 (fourth-year). If you're committed to having HCI show up on your transcript in a more official capacity, I recommend the CPSC concentration in Human-Computer Interaction—it includes additional courses within and beyond CPSC that will strengthen your skills in HCI and Design.

If you are a graduate student, 681 or any other 680-series course should fit the bill. This includes more specific areas within Human-Computer Interaction like Information Visualization or Human-Robot Interaction.

That said, many elements of Human-Computer Interaction fit under an even broader umbrella of Human-Centered Design— the design and development of software, products, services, and systems that are inspired by the human experience and focus on supporting users' needs. Look around in other deparmtments—you may be surprised to find relevant courses beyond computing!

I'm an undergraduate who discovered that I love Human-Computer Interaction and Human-Centered Design, but I'm not in CPSC. What should I do?
Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take undergraduate HCI courses in CPSC—this will give you a few additional interaction design projects that you can highlight in your portfolio.
  • Take programming classes—even if you view your role as a designer or a user researcher, you are more empowered when you have the ability to implement your own designs and understand technical constraints.
  • Do HCI research—look at various projects happening on the iLab, and see if any interest you and have openings for undergraduate researchers with non-computing backgrounds. When you approach a professor about the research project, be clear about the skills that you have to contribute and the skills that you'd like to develop.
  • Apply to an HCI master's program—a master's degree is exactly for obtaining a depth of knowledge in a particular area.

Will you write me a recommendation letter?
If you would like me to write a recommendation letter, you need to give me at least 3 weeks of notice before the due date. I cannot produce good recommendation letters on short notice. Please provide me with the following materials:

  • Your CV
  • The job posting(s), graduate program(s), or scholarship(s) that you are applying for, and why you are excited about each one—the more specific you can be on this last point, the better.
  • Why you think I would be a good person to recommend you—particularly any specific course or research projects I should mention, or aspects about our relationship that I should emphasize (design vision, leadership skills, ability to work with other disciplines, etc.).
  • A clear statement of when the letter is due, how it needs to be submitted, and any other logistical requirements (e.g., specific documents that needs to be completed, page limit, etc.)

Do not get me a present or thank you gift—the greatest reward from writing recommendation letters is that you go out into the world, do good work, and let me know about it.