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.

Cool Stuff!, Ph.D. Adventures!

So Far So Good! (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 7)

TLDR:

I stuck with my research time and was able to make an outline for my literary review and recoded some of the articles within my literary review. I’ve also set out a timeline for the rest of the semester for the simulation educational research I’m doing with Dr. Wiese. And I went to Nevada for the weekend to visit a family friend. I also now have a 38 out of 40 charms in Hollow Knight.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I listed my accomplishments in the TL DR. One thing I didn’t mention is that I started doing Hackerrank challenges in C++. I’m doing one challenge a day pretty much. It’s been a lot of fun; once I finish a challenge I ask myself if I can do it better, if I can do it in place, if I can use a different structure, etc., and I think through those things since that’s usually how my technical interviews have gone. It’s also fun just to see if there is an improvement that can be made.

What’s next

  • I need to create a 3-week plan for Dr. Wiese on for what we’re going to do for the next three weeks.
  • I need to look into creating an IRB for my researcher with Dr. Wiese.
  • There is an article I need to read called fostering the intelligent novice.
  • Figure out how to do citations in latex.
  • The stick with my research times and keep plugging away at my literary review.
  • As always, coursework.
  • Personal goals.

Roadblocks

  • Figure out how to do citations in Latex

 

Ph.D. Adventures!

Meeting with Myself (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 6)

I’m using text-to-speech to write this week’s blog. Please forgive anything that I missed correcting.

TLDR:

This week I got scheduled. I scheduled a time to do my research. I also got a mentor to hold me accountable for my research times. It’s actually opened up my schedule to have these times set. I survived my heavy course load and even with that I still held my meetings with myself and read through six articles related to my literature review and educational game design research.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I spoke with Rogelio last week and chose two times to be held accountable to do my research. During those times At the beginning, I tell him what I would like to focus on and/or accomplish, and at the end of that time, I tell him what I accomplished. I could make it better by sharing what I will focus on for next time. Having this time set aside has really helped me to focus on my research and put it first over other school and Ph.D. related activities. These times are meetings with myself. So if anyone tries to reschedule during those times, I just tell them that I have a meeting. 

Despite my heavy course load being able to keep to my research was a very big accomplishment for me, and I was also able to complete all of my coursework and last week was my heaviest coursework load of the semester. This shows me that this is something that I can stick to you even in the future. The two times. They chose our short periods of time 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours and yet even with just two of those times. I am much further along than I would have been if I hadn’t set that time aside. I use this in other areas of my life to schedule other things that I have been deprioritizing. Even just giving them half an hour to one or two hours, then they don’t fall by the wayside and never get any attention.

What’s next

  • Make an outline for my literary review. 
  • Make a mapping function between usability heuristics and instructional design.
  • Coursework 
  • Personal goals

Roadblocks

Patience. Getting better. Taking time for self-care. Taking time to enjoy life.

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.

Ph.D. Adventures!

A Minority (A Personal Rant and My Hope for the Future!)

As a female in games and an engineer to boot, I am in an extreme minority. I rarely see and interact with women in my field. This is a travesty! Women gamers now make up 40% of the market. Where are the female developers? I think part of the problem is in not encouraging women into the games field, and also not fully supporting women in their many roles, especially when they enter this extremely male-dominated field. An example of the latter is not providing maternity leave for Ph.D. students. I believe that women have every right and should have all the support to pursue both career and family goals. If you don’t support women in both areas, you’re not supporting her! I hope as a woman determined to pursue both family and career desires, to be a model that other women can see and find encouragement through: that it can be done! You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other! I hope to find this true! I hope that schools will reform their leave policies to provide pay for female students on maternity leave, especially in STEM fields! I am a firm believer: if there is a will there is a way! And I believe that being a woman in games should not be a hard, lonely experience. (Shout out to all the men and women who have supported me in my role, especially my mom who role-modeled to me that a woman can do anything!)

Ph.D. Adventures!

Understanding Literature Reviews, Game Genre Trends, Psychotherapy Games (Ph.D. Year 1, Fall Week 14-15)

TLDR:

I computed the literature review cycle and have begun to code and exclude papers based on their abstracts. My Data Vis course team finished a visualization for game genre trends (check it out!), and my HCI group finished up an MTurk survey and created a poster based on our academic results from our literature review, interviews, and the survey. Three final projects down, two exams, a lit review draft, a scholarship to apply for, and one last final project to go: and that’s just the next 7 days!

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Lit Review

I have learned a lot about Zotero, scientific paper databases, and literature reviews these past two weeks. I understand now why there aren’t very many literature reviews. I pulled al the papers that I want (just over 100), and now I need to code (i.e. categorize) them and exclude several because in order to pull relevant papers from certain databases I had to be more lenient with my search terms (e.g. I removed a “forced” term to include more papers) and as a bi-product I now also have more papers that are not relevant to my research question. Rogelio gave me great feedback last week and suggested I aim for a first-pass read through draft by end of the semester which I feel is doable.

To give you an idea, even with the limiting search parameters I have ended up with just over 100 papers. Let’s say it’s 100 for now. If each paper is on average 10 pages long and I exclude 15% of the papers, that is 850 pages of technical writing I need to read to write the paper. 

IEEE TOG Journal is having a special issue on serious games for health and I am wondering if they would be interested in a literature review… so at this point, I might pivot my research question to answer the special issue topic. It will be a tight deadline to hit.

Exploring Game Genre Trends

This last week my team for Data Visualization finished our project on exploring game genre trends. It was very interesting being able to go through and examine all the data with our completed visualization. I worked on the infobox, interactive (and animated) wordle, did nearly all the styling, and some supportive code structure. As a team, we designed all the visualizations and interactions together. I rather like how it turned out. You can check it out on Keith’s webpage (To launch the visualization scroll to the bottom of the page).

Psychotherapy Games

For HCI class I had the good fortune of having a team that was happy to pursue my interest in psychotherapy games. After reading over 20 articles related to the area we decided to explore, academically (not in a research capacity) the attitudes people have about games and how that may, or may not, influence their attitudes towards psychotherapy games. We conducted interviews and an MTurk questionnaire. As it wasn’t officially research I can’t share the results of our investigation (as human research has ethical standards to project participants, we would have needed to get approval of our IRB in order to share our results), but it did get me more excited about the idea of using games in psychotherapy and there is certainly plenty of room for interesting research in this area.

What’s next

Got to do these things:

  • Submit my application for Google’s Women Techmakers scholarship (Due this Friday 12/6)
  • Write up a first pass draft for my lit review (This includes completing the coding of the papers I pulled based on their abstracts) OR pivot and write a literature review for the IEEE TOG special issue
  • Survive the end of the semester: two exams and one more final project to go!
  • Finish registering for Spring 2020
  • Read the many papers that have been sent to me to read from my advisor, Julian Togelius, and my peers.

Roadblocks

Still unsure what to fill up my spring semester with. Lots to do, not a lot of time and I am sick again — lost my voice. Should be a fun week.

 

Ph.D. Adventures!

Star Struck! Meeting Julian Togelius (Ph.D. Year 1, Fall Weeks 11-13)

Oops, life got away from me, but that’s okay! Here’s a three-week update!

TLDR:

I had a minor procedure done (all went well), I updated my website with an about me, I completed and got rejected for the HERTZ, we didn’t have time to complete the AISL, and I got great feedback and direction from Tallie the librarian for my literature review! OH, and I met Julian Togelius the editor in chief for the IEEE Transactions on Games Journal! What?!?!? 

For the Interested Reader:

Star Struck!

I should preface: I don’t usually get star struck! But when I met Julian Togelius, I definitely felt the struckness!

Julian Togelius visited our university and I had the opportunity to attend the grad luncheon. He politely, and with good humor and an upbeat spirit, listened to and engaged with us and our research areas and ideas. It was a great experience. Afterward, he emailed me personally with two papers he had written on psychotherapy games (a core interest of mine), and I got to talk to him for a bit after his talk also. I was def star-struck. It was great!

Taking Time for Me

In my last post, I talked about being a woman pursuing both career and family goals: in that pursuit, I had to take some time away from school and I fell a little behind. I am all caught up now, if not with the all-star A’s I had before, I am feeling I need to push through so as to let other women know you can do both, and it’s okay to shift from one to the other. As a doctoral student being a 4.0 isn’t as important as it used to be, though I love getting my A’s, it’s okay to let perfection in the pursuit of better, more impactful things!

Accomplishments

I got rejected from the HERTZ!

We’ll be applying to the AISL (or another related grant) next year.

I took time for my personal and family goals.

The Marriot Library has FREE research consultations for students and employees. At the suggestion of my advisor I did one, not really expecting much. Boy was a blown away! I got SUPAH great guidance feedback from Tallie the librarian on my literature review. She definitely helped me frame my research question, get to my target databases, how to save my work, emphasized the Prisma (which I think will be a fun visual to include in my paper), and was in general fun to talk to and very supportive.

What’s next

Got to do these things:

  • Start the meat of the literature review: downloading, reading, and writing
  • Survive the end of the semester
  • Register for Spring 2020
  • Read the many papers that have been sent to me to read from my advisor, Julian Togelius, and my peers.

Roadblocks

I’m burnt out from the semester. My classes are only slightly related to my area of research and I’m getting really tired of reading and doing writeups on papers that aren’t even remotely related to my core area of interest. There’s a reason I didn’t go into writing, as much as I loved being an editor and journalist, I get really bored when writing and reading is all I do all day. This semester has been one very long reading-writing session. I’m all burnt out.

I need to work with Rogelio on what my schedule is going to look like next semester and how my work this semester can be carried into my lab rotation with Eliane next semester: I’m excited to see what we can possibly collaborate on.

Ph.D. Adventures!

Being Mom (Ph.D. Year 1, Fall Week 10)

TLDR:

Being Mom and doctoral student last week was a success! Refined my search terms for my systematic review. Worked on the HERTZ. Got my schoolwork done. Did well on my exam.

The Full Story:

If I thought last week was busy… well, I knew this week would be worse.

Accomplishments

Being step bonus mom while doing my Ph.D. last week was successful! I think the kids would have preferred to play with me more, but it’s good for them to see my work ethics too. My advisor and group members for projects were all very supportive of my need to be with the kids, and since I also accomplished my tasks at hand, and even went the extra mile, no one was complaining. Of course, going the extra mile isn’t always feasible, but I always get my work done and I always make time for my family. This last week was a busy one, and being able to juggle family and school life, a first for me, showed to me that we can do it and there is no reason why not.

Research / School-related accomplishments

  • Refined my list of search terms for systematic review.
  • Got my four recommenders for the HERTZ
    • Note to self: ask for recommendations WA-AY sooner!
  • Getting better at the academic paper reading, finding, reviewing, analyzing. 

I almost quit my application for the HERTZ when I realized last week I hadn’t asked for letters of recommendation and they are due this week. Rogelio my advisor encouraged another member of our lab to got for a grant. She decided to drop it, but I knew he’d say the same things to me (to go for it!), so I took that as encouragement, swallowed my pride, and prepared to need to profusely apologize to the people I was asking so late, which I did. It was a lesson that I need to be more on top of next time. It could have very negatively impacted my relationship with these people. Thankfully they were willing to forgive and were very supportive.

What’s next

Got to do these things:

  • HERTZ due this week
  • Schoolwork, projects, and exams
  • Begin testing systematic keywords in various databases. 
    • Meet with a librarian to see if I’m missing anything
  • AISL grant proposal due Nov 6th!
  • Meet Julian Togelius at his talk this Friday! (I’m super excited!)

Roadblocks

Just buys and tired. Not sure if a certain large homework assignment is going to be completed because everything else is more pressing, more important, and I do not like the class… should still be able to pull off a B though… ??

Being a Mom while Completing a Ph.D.

I got a taste of what it will be like to have kids while doing a Ph.D. and I believe it is completely doable. There is no reason why you can’t pursue a degree and be a mom. You just have to remember your priorities: faith and family first, then career. Of course, you still need to meet your work responsibilities, but family ones are just as important, so I made sure to schedule in playtime this past week with the kids while we had them despite a heavy workload. So glad I did!

Between my husband’s work schedule and my school/work schedule, we were able to watch the kids without calling in for reinforcements. It helps that we have a live-in uncle, but he was sick so mostly I had the kids check on him, not the other way around. Ha ha. 

 

Since we had the kids we did some pumpkin carving (forgot to take photos since the hubby did that), and lots of Halloween crafts and decorating. We spent most of last weekend doing the big adventures since last week I knew I’d be in school. Glad we did it. I didn’t get to play with the kids as much as would have liked, but while I worked on homework and research my daughter was on the bed next to me playing games. 

Looking Back, Missing My Mom

This past Friday, October 18, 2019, marked the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death. She died during my last year of my Master’s. So we bought some fall flowers and went to her grave. She always supported me in my education and work. It’s hard to not have her as my cheerleader anymore. I think she would be proud.

When we were at the cemetery we decided to also see my little brother Ben (who died as a baby and is buried in the same cemetery as my mother). On the way over we saw a very decorated grave, all out! It looked beautiful. It was for a baby who died recently. That day was the baby’s birthday. Birthdays and Death Anniversaries are important days. It was bittersweet. It’s good to remember and celebrate lives, and take time to live your own.