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!


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!


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.


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.

Ludology, Ph.D. Adventures!

The AISL, Sickness, Arches, Campfire, and a Corn Maze! (Ph.D. Year 1, Fall Weeks 6-8)


AISL grant proposal won in the University of Utah competition. WAHOO!! Celebrate! Now we (Rogelio the PI and myself) need to write the full proposal. Need to complete my Hertz application, finalize my keywords for my systematic review, and lots of homework and an exam all need to be completed (or taken) all in the next eight days. Should be fun. 😉

Despite being sick, kept up with school work (at least the minimum required), and had a good fall break with camping and fires, Arches National Park, and a corn maze!

The Full Story:

An exam review, two weeks of sickness, and fall break made me miss the last couple updates. Here is my three-week catch-up.


I wrote up a draft for the AISL grant proposal for the University of Utah competition. Because we found out about it close to the deadline, my illness, and Rogelio’s own busy schedule, he took my draft and finalized it for submission (he is the PI on the grant as it is anyway). If you compare the two you can see my content throughout, just elevated, by a large margin. I’m excited to be working with someone who is such a good writer so I can learn from him. Oh yeah, our proposal was accepted! Now we write the full proposal. 😉 More on that later…

I did preliminary searches and read a previous literature review on educational game design and have found that no one has addressed my specific research question about educational game design, so I am moving forward with my research topic. It also fits very nicely into our AISL grant proposal.

I got sick but somehow managed to keep up with the MVP for my classes. My professors are all really kind and understanding. Hopefully, I will be nice professor one day.

Over fall break I specifically did not do anything school-related. I thought I might get bored, and I did start to, but then my husband decided we should go on an adventure after all, called his work and received the time off, and we headed down to Arches National Park for two nights! That meant we got to build two campfires! That was fun.

On Saturday we took the kids and their uncle Zeke, my younger brother, to a corn maze in Lehi, Utah. My husband’s favorite part was seeing how fast he could throw a baseball, my favorite part was seeing how good my soccer skills still are when kicking a ball at various targets, Mikey’s favorite was the zipline (despite hitting his head on the rope at the end), Uncle Zeke’s was lifting a 400 lb haystack (all by himself), and Chelsea’s favorite part was the corn maze. Gotta take time to have fun!

What’s next

In order of priority (for the next 1.5 weeks): finalize keywords for systematic review, finish Hertz application, keep up with classes (I’ve got a lit review, group project announcement, two-week homework assignment, multiple reading writeups, and an exam), and the AISL full proposal.

Also, try to get the rest of the way better. 


I’m still recouping from my two-week illness, still feeling sick, and having side effects from being sick so long and from all the medication. I’m back on herbal and essential oil remedies so the side effects should start subsiding. 

I really do not enjoy one of my classes — it is not related to my area of study and the class is mostly busywork. The professor himself even told me that last part before classes started– and it takes a very long time to do the homework assignments, so motivation is low.

Game Dev Adventures!

Down to Brass Tacks (Ph.D. Year 1, Week 4)


This week I got down to brass tacks (which idiom no one knows the origin of): I began an application for outside funding, and started a list of research questions to use for a systematic review. I further refined my research interests which is almost ready to be shared on the QED lab page.

The Full Story:


I officially changed my name! I am now Nancy N. Blackburn. Hooray!

I have a list of several systematic review questions.

I started a dreaded application for outside funding. (They are a lot of work!)

What’s next

Do a search in the current literature to see what literary reviews have already been compiled and use that data to select a research question to move forward on.

Continue to fill out my applications for grants.

Finish my QED bio and get it published.


Feeling discouraged about my applications for outside funding. The competition is stiff and while I feel that I am deserving I am definitely wondering how I “prove” my value. 

Game Dev Adventures!, Ludology

The Plan and Burnout (Ph.D. Year 1, Week 2 & 3)


Finished semester plan. Main two research goals are to apply for outside funding and  write a systematic review.

This week I’ll create a set of research questions for a systematic review and begin applying for outside funding.

The Full Story:


I have been reading meta papers and looking at different ways to read and write different kinds of research papers. I have decided this semester to focus on writing a systematic review in the educational games/intelligent tutoring systems area.

I also shared several of the games I made in 24-48 hours with my lab and discussed the design ideas and purpose behind each. It was a good review to me. My chosen area in games is for pedagogical reasons, however games have purpose far beyond just entertainment and education.

It’s one of the other things I did this past week was defending the rigor of games research. I have come across several researchers who use game terminology without actually understanding the field of games. It is particularly important to note that what many researchers have called “game design theory” is actually gamification. Without proper understanding of the difference of game design and gamification, the application of these principles can actually backfire and undermine the overall purpose of the application as a whole. 

Two books I am enjoying delving into are Dan Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, and Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers. Part of what I want to do as part of my Ph.D. is to define and further develop design principles for learning games.

Something I realized 2.5 weeks in is that if I don’t take time between research and coursework projects to work on personal & family goals then I don’t make progress my personal or family goals. The thing is research and school is that those things can balloon and take up all your time. It’s important to set appropriate boundaries for everything and not allow those things to consume your life unknowingly. With this in mind I was able to start making progress on personal and family goals as well which has made me feel better about my life overall since I am not ignoring important aspects of myself.

Finally, I finished my semester plan and have a clearly defined path to accomplish my goals this semester.

What’s next

Create a set of research questions for a systematic review.

Begin applying for outside funding.


Adhering to my scheduled time blocks to accomplish different tasks. Issues here are: under/over estimating (mostly under) time it takes to accomplish tasks, unplanned activities (such as having to spend an extra hour getting somewhere, forgetting lunch, etc.), and burnout. The burnout bit is an issue for me when I’m working against a deadline and I’m sick of doing the task in front of me.

I think I have a solution, by switching up tasks, going for walks, taking time to eat, relaxing about perfectionism (which has been a big thing for me), but when you have to get something done and you need all the time you have been given to accomplish it burnout sets in…

This semester has also been a lot heavier on the reading/analysis then expected and not so much on math and programming. I have done little programming and not in any way that I truly enjoy, and I don’t have time to make games, which makes me sad. So yeah, burn out is an issue.