Ph.D. Adventures!

Lest I forget again… (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Weeks 7-9)

TLDR:

Most importantly I got one step closer for my research paper by writing up an abstract and locating appropriate references to use in the paper. I also read the comments made by Rogelio who reviewed it. The rest of the time was filled with lots of TM/TA responsibilities, dealing with more fun home ownership issues, and an impromptu fall break. And lest I forget again, several weeks back, I made some of my own very simple game art which also resolved a programming issue! Hooray!

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Dang, three weeks went by quick!

Lest I forget again… again, nearly a month ago I made my own game art, a rounded corners square, to not only make a highly casual game I’ve been making look more polished, but it also had the wonderful side effect (after a few iterations) of solving a programming problem. I have never made my own 2D art to put in a game, so yeah me! Second, I did it using GIMP, so it’s all free to use. Third, I don’t know what I’m doing! Fourth, the first iteration of the rounded square improved the look of not only the gameplay quadrants, but the buttons as well. When I played the game I was thinking I might have to replace rounded squares in the middle of the game with regular squares except on “corners” (of which I would need to each iteration of gameplay discover whether or not a square was a “corner”), but I conjectured that if I made the art just right, when I scaled to just above 1.0, to say 1.1, then I wouldn’t need to swap or turn off any images. It took me a few iterations but it did work. I was not only correct, but I also didn’t have to spend a lot of extra time on programming. (I realize that this description may not make sense, but this is for a game I plan on publishing, my goal is by end of year, so no screenshots… yet!)

Lesson: if you can solve a programming issue with some intelligent art decisions, do it! I’d already learned this lesson at Waterford Institute when the technical artists beautiful artwork caused a load time of mere seconds to expand to 45! By making an intelligent switch, without actually changing the look of the scene, I got it to load faster than the original scene! So, smart art choices => faster load times.

For my research I looked into a potential publishing venue my advisor sent my way, we were originally targeting ACM’s CHI conference, but this new journal, which we hadn’t even been on our radar, is doing a special issue on educational games. It looks very promising but has a much sooner deadline (Feb 2021, instead of Sep 2021 for CHI), so I’m going to need to get writing!

Rogelio directed me to write up an abstract as 1) A guide to where we want to take the paper, and 2), and more importantly, to use as a potential submission to feel out the waters for a journal we are aiming to submit to. It was really useful to think through what it is we are trying to create with this new theory and where we believe it will go.

I did a lot for my TA/TM responsibilities: grading, setting up the lab computer with a new account (for me) and the Oculus for VR grading, more grading, etc. I let the professors guide when I would complete the grading as one professor got ill and fell a little behind, but that led to having to grade five assignments within a week of which I haven’t quite completed yet.

My house heater broke. So I got to deal with the fun-ness of home ownership and meeting with HVAC technicians in the middle of class! LOL!

Finally, let’s talk about fall break: I know, I know, the University of Utah didn’t have an official Fall Break this year, but my advisor gave me a week off and I took full advantage and went to one of my favorite places with my family: California. We visited my in-laws, who are wonderful people, and my brother (whom I lived with when I worked at EA). So lots of good old memories and new memories. My brother and sister-in-law have eight wonderful kids and all the cousins were excited to go swimming together on what my brother said was probably the last feasible day of the year to do so as their pool is not heated. So a years worth of telling my kids to pack their swimsuits “just in case” finally paid off!

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Read game design theory paper my advisor sent me
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Read through a school “research” paper I wrote last semester to gleen the theory I want to create from and to also highlight the papers I want to cite in my new paper.
    • Write, write, WRITE!
  • Do grading for TA
  • Continue dailies

Roadblocks

Make sure I’m honoring the time I’ve set aside for research. I’ve had a lot of “emergencies” happen, that were legit from my or my kids perspective, but hopefully those things have subsided now so I can focus on completing my paper. However, I think if I miss my designated research times that I need to make sure I am pushing them to other days and not just skipping them entirely.

Ph.D. Adventures!

COVID-19 Craziness (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 10-13)

TLDR:

Crazy couple weeks! I went from a laid back lovely spring break and celebrating my wedding anniversary early because we didn’t have the kids that weekend (week 10) to the craziness that is the COVID-19 pandemic. online courses, increased workload, locked indoors, homeschooling my stepchildren, trying to keep up with research (which we’ve had to redesign due to the pandemic), and major depressive episodes (week 13). Man, I’m tired. 

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Eliane and I are in the middle of redesigning our research project and updating our IRB application in light of the pandemic, school closures, and recent stay at home orders. We can no longer perform our field observations as schools are shut down. I am continuing to work on the PhET simulation redesign based on our HCI and educational design theory to test in a lab study most likely as an A/B test.

Homeschooling two kids as a Ph.D. student is no joke. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish despite losing half of my days, and I didn’t quit any of my classes, However, there has been a marked decrease in performance in my most time-consuming class. I simply don’t have time for it. I have been in conversations with my professor and he has given me some lee-way, but not as much as I really need. He was really nice though and told me he thought I was doing well in his class especially considering my extra constraints since the pandemic. I am most likely switching that course to CR/NC to relieve some of the stress I’ve been feeling, which is in alignment with the advice I received from my doctorate mentor.

Eliane and Rogelio both independently sent me an email about the same fellowship which is meant to serve as an augmentation to other funding. I’m going to start working with them to apply for that.

What’s next

  • Finish up work on the IRB application. We only have a few sections left now.
  • Continue making updates to PhET
  • Apply for the SigHPC fellowship
  • Survive the rest of the semester
  • Reach out to my therapist

Roadblocks

Not enough time in the day/week to accomplish all the extra tasks that have been put on my plate since the pandemic hit the U.S.

COVID-19 Craziness, and LIfe

Homeschooling my kids has thrown a huge hurdle in my path. I spend mornings and early afternoons with them, basically not accomplishing anything of my own (though I do attempt it), and then spend the rest of the day trying to fit my stuff in, including some self-care,  and trying to get enough sleep. It’s not really working for me, but we don’t have any alternatives.

I’ve been struggling with a depressive episode triggered by the fallout of the pandemic (the pandemic itself hasn’t worried me, it’s been all the repercussions in my life and the lives of people I love that has caused it). So to look on the bright side, it’s a great time and opportunity to work on some old issues that resurfaced and to reflect on how far I’ve come! Depression isn’t a norm in my life anymore and I know that this will pass. In the meantime, I recognize it would be wise to get some professional support so I can stay safe and be the best mom/wife/sister/friend possible. I can’t do that if I don’t take care of myself.

I told Eliane I really want to focus more on games research and so I’m going to be working with Rogelio as my advisor, and that I want her on my committee. She was super supportive and I’m looking forward to having her on my committee as all my interactions with her have been extremely positive and she knows a lot about educational technologies which will be great insights to have. She was going to fund me over the summer before that conversation, but she has other students she’s working with that she may throw that funding behind now (which I completely understand and support), so I most likely won’t have a job this summer. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad, but it’s definitely an added stress. My husband is an essential worker, but if he gets sick… well, I’m praying he stays well! 

Right as the pandemic started to spread in the U.S. I (made my kids) play the board game Pandemic. As a mathematics undergraduate, I learned about the basic SIR (Susceptible, Infected, Recovered) models used to study infectious disease. I wanted my kids to understand how infectious diseases spread and that there are things that people, public health specialists, medical professionals, as well as scientists and innovators can do to help when a pandemic happens. It wasn’t much of a success the first time, however, I played again with my daughter a few days later and I am proud to say that we beat every outbreak quite handily.

In times of crisis, it’s important to focus on things that bring you hope and joy, and to find gratitude in the little moments. I love that playing games was recommended by health organizations as a way to cope with this crisis! #GamesForChange

The earthquakes that hit Utah really shook our home and did some damage. as well as really upsetting a member of my family. I feel like part of my job as wife/mom is calming down all the anxiety and stir craziness that’s happening. So to anyone who is struggling, remember the good things, be grateful for the small things, and be hopeful for the future of things, and remember it’s okay to have a bad day.

“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end!” -Unknown

 

Cool Stuff!, Ph.D. Adventures!

Jump on Those Spikes! (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 9)

TLDR:

We went to the classroom this week and did an initial observation just to get a feel for what it is like in the classroom, and to get an idea of what it will be like when we’re in their gathering data. Lots of course work and some personal goals that I’ve been working towards that are taking up a lot of time. I have now collected all 40 charms in Hallow Knight and have received a blessing that gives me soul when I sit on a bench. Right now I’m sitting on the bench outside the last boss.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I listed all of my accomplishments above and so I’ll just go into a little more detail about Hollow Knight. The White Palace, which one must complete in order to receive all of the charms, is a platforming challenge nightmare. For fun I read a walk-through of the White Palace and instead of directions like go here, do this, move left, jump right, etc., the walk-through (besides suggesting different charm combinations which was useful) literally said that the White Palace is a very difficult platforming challenge and you will find yourself very irritated unless you have a lot of patience.

So I got to practice my patience. Ha ha. I want to emulate the kind of calmness while going through tough challenges like the White Palace that I want my children to have. So if I found myself getting too upset I walked away from the game.

Some of what makes the White Palace difficult is, in performing platforming challenges, you never know in Hollow Knight where an implicit checkpoint will be. If you fall back to a previous point you start back from there. And implicit points only occur where the knight can stand still out of danger. There are very few points for the knight to do this in the White Palace with long difficult challenges everywhere between. However, I did feel that tree designers did a good job of placing these implicit checkpoints.

While I was playing the White Palace on Sunday with my brother and husband watching I tried to stay alive while they tried to figure out a good strategy for me to proceed. It worked! An it made the challenges a little more fun as my brother and husband also pointed me to strategies that led to certain death: jump into those spikes! Which I did.

What’s next

  • Mid-semester update to Dr. Eliane Wiese
  • Create some redesigns for the polarity simulation
  • Course work
  • Personal goals

Roadblocks

I know my course work is suffering because of personal goals that have come up. I’m lacking the motivation to work on my course work because of these new personal and professional goals.

Ph.D. Adventures!

More Here, Less There (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 5)

TLDR:

Last week I began examining the relationship between usability heuristics and educational technologies design. Celebrated my husband’s birthday with a fun trip out of town. I caught up on my homework that was due at the end of the week, and now need to do all the coursework that is due this week. It’s shaping up to be a very busy week. I finally beat The Collector boss on Hollow Knight (he killed me a lot).

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Are we missing simple usability considerations in the design of technology? Given the task to examine educational technologies design I decided the best place to start would be the simplest: to examine the relationship between usability heuristics and educational technologies. 

Celebrated my husband’s birthday with a fun trip out of town. I didn’t take any pictures, but we had tons of fun with the kiddos.

I still feel like I’m recovering from last semester. Though the more we progress in this semester the less angry I feel about courses. I’m not feeling my assignments.

What’s next

  • Make notes and hypotheses about how simple usability heuristics can be molded for educational technologies.
  • Coursework (two big projects, daily homework, and an exam)
  • Personal goals

Roadblocks

I’m an all-in kind of gal, and so I’m having a hard time putting more focus on my research (for which you receive zero feedback on “grades” during the semester, you just get one at the end), and not doing all I can in my classes (for which you get told how “good” you are constantly, which I feel is really more of a reflection on how well the teacher is teaching/how interested the students are despite the teacher, than how “good” a student really is.). So I find myself doing less all around rather than more here and less there.

Ph.D. Adventures!

Starting Spring, in the winter… (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 4)

TLDR:

I started working with Dr. Eliane Wiese on designing and now jumping into a research project for the semester on how to improve educational technologies’ design. Rogelio helped me craft an awesome HPC-enabled long-term research project and apply for the DOE CSGF. I applied for an EPIC internship, I would like to apply for more local opportunities. I also moved my semester plan to Asana: making my weekly tasks and semester-length goals all visible in one place. 

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Winter break was really fun, despite being ill for the entire month of December. I am feeling well again. Probably it was a side effect of being burnt out at the end of the last semester.

Eliane has been great to work with. She has taken into account the work I started with Rogelio last semester (the lit review) and has encouraged me to continue onward with that. We both discussed research goals for the semester and were able to create a research plan that satisfies both of our research goals and interests.

I was helping my little brother apply for full-time jobs and came across an internship opportunity for myself and so applied. I would like to get a local summer internship if possible or get research funding for the summer.

I applied for the DOE CSGF! It was a race to the finish line and there is no way I could have done it with my advisor’s, Rogelio’s, help, who is a CSGF alumni. I haven’t met anyone else, maybe Julian Togelius?, who has the combined expertise of game design, AI, and HPC knowledge to have helped me craft the research project that is HPC-enabled for the CSGF fellowship. Since I majored in math Rogelio let me choose my math courses for the plan of study. I wasn’t sure what would be best (having already studied probability and numerical analysis) so I gave my brother Elijah a call who got his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Turns out… Elijah is also a CSGF alumni! WHAT?! My mind is freaking blown!!

My semester plan is now digital. Last semester I had tasks and goals in at least three places digital and handwritten. It got hard, and a bit tedious to keep track of some things. I just did it last week. So far so good

I am really glad I decided to only take two classes this semester. Between being in two labs, course work, and important personal goals, I don’t have a lot of spare time. I had to tone down and reprioritize my goals for this semester, and with a maintenance goal of taking time each day to enjoy life (playing games, doing self-care), I am enjoying this semester much more than last. I have found that since I am so burnt out from last semester that taking time to play games has been very important. So I typically play games right when I wake up and have found I am waking up earlier because when I wake up I get to start my day with fun, and then I have time to do important tasks for the rest of the day. When I wake up and don’t let myself play I end up sleeping in instead, being unproductive, or worse, being grumpy. I also take a break when I get home, relax as much as possible between projects, and watch shows or read before falling asleep. It’s been working fairly well. 

What’s next

  • I have five readings from Eliane (one of them is from my lit review) that I need to glean design “theory” from (mostly hypothesis at the moment) this week
  • Course work
  • Celebrating my husband’s birthday
  • Update my website domain
  • Update my website portfolio
  • Apply more summer internships (looking local only for now)
  • Do some c++ prep since I haven’t been programming in c++ for a while
  • Maintenance goal: self-care and fun

Roadblocks

Still recouping from burn out from last semester. Not sure how long that’ll take to recover from.

Not sure where to find local internships of interest for the summer.