Game Dev Adventures!

Ph.D. Year 1, Week 1 – Starting a Journey, GBA Workshop

TLDR:

I survived my first week of my phd, read lots of papers, attended the first ever GBA workshop at which I met lots of interesting academics, industry professionals, and peers with similar research interests, and then slept a lot (#TravelWipesMeOut).

This week I will be writing up my Ph.D. overall goals and coming up with a semester research plan. (Plus of course my coursework, but that is implied.)

A roadblock would be the need for some read/want-to-read research paper organization system suggestions, and just waiting on research papers from my advisor and contact information for people at the GBA workshop.

The Full Story:

This past week, starting 2019-08-19, I began my long journey to doctorate at the University of Utah in the School of Computing. My Ph.D. is in Computing on the HCC, Human Centered Computing, track, with a research emphasis in educational games. I started the week by attending my courses and ended the week by attending the first of its kind, GBA conference at the University of Minnesota, which made for a great start to my professional academic career, and made me a little behind in my coursework. Aw, the life of a Ph.D. Student.

As first weeks go, it was very exciting, both on the new and exciting, and scary and near panic inducing ends. For instance, because of funding and for personal reasons I am taking a more course-heavy load than typical: in all I have five courses, with one being for my research and one a required seminar for all fellowship Ph.D.s in the school of computing. As a gameplay programmer enrolled in four cs courses I was a bit taken aback that only 1.5 of my courses will be requiring programming! For the most part I will be reading and analyzing research papers in my and related fields, studying from textbooks, a little bit of math, a little bit of programming, and adjusting as best I can to Ph.D. student life.

So far so good.

I have been warned repeatedly of the cycle of a Ph.D. journey, with all its highs and lows, and I believe I have gone through the cycle multiple times this week ending on a bit of a high note.

So far so good… 😉

GBA Workshop

The GBA Workshop was very well organized, especially considering it was the first one ever. There was research presented by people in academia (from the graduate to tenured professor positions) and industry, from different disciplines (from I/O psychology to cs), and different countries (mostly U.S. and European). It was great to mingle with people from so many different backgrounds.

My favorite presentation was by a Ph.D. student at Northeastern University, Chaima Jemmali, entitled “Insights on Debugging Processes of Beginner Programmers in an Educational Puzzle Game.” Her presentation was the only one that directly correlated to the kind of research and work I want to do with my background and degrees. Specifically, she designed and programmed the game by herself and then tested it, analyzed the results, refined her project, and presented her results: a validation for using games to teach programming. I spoke with her briefly after the conference (she didn’t speak until near the end) and I hope to get to speak with her more in the future.

Accomplishments

I didn’t give up! As an industry professional turned academic I didn’t believe my experience was valued in academia, but advise from my advisor was that I should wear my experience as a badge of honor, which I did. I found that at the workshop I attended my industry experience was highly valued. I had important experience to share that all could learn and benefit from.

My main goal at the GBA workshop was to network with my peers in multiple disciplines. The conference was very interdisciplinary. I met people from I/O psychology, game design, educational games, and the social sciences, as well as people from multiple different countries (majority representation from the U.S. and Europe from my limited sample pool). There were also industry and academic professionals as well as other graduate students, both MS and Ph.D.s. Again following the advice of my advisor, I never shied away from a conversation from my fellow students (my career-stage peers), nor from beginning or experienced career and academic professionals. It was a very good first experience networking in as an academic. I’d say I killed it. Perhaps in the future I’ll share some networking tips (both that I received and that I used from experience networking professionally).

I managed to stay afloat in course-work by waking up early in my second week to do catch-up.

I have read and listened to several research papers in my broader field of research interest.

What’s next

The major two goals I have this week are:

  • Write down my Ph.D. Goal – I can revisit/revise this idea each semester
  • Write down my semester plan.

The rest of these will be part of my semester plan, some to be accomplished this week

  • Create a list of 5-7 academic/professional conferences and workshops that are related to my field. Plan to attend 1-3 of them in the coming year.
  • Start organizing/recording the papers I have been reading so I can keep track of the important things I have read and ideas for future.
  • Discuss paper ideas with my advisor. Pick one of the paper ideas and begin background and supporting paper research.
  • Start preliminary process of applying for two grants that I qualify for.
  • Start reading papers directly related to my research interests.

Roadblocks

I have been directed to two different research paper managers – I would like some guidance on organization strategies so I can track important papers.

I am also waiting on some research papers from my adviser to begin reading research related to my areas of interest.

I am awaiting contact information for people at the GBA workshop. I brought my business cards, but some of the people I spoke with didn’t have one of their own and promised to contact me. I’ll follow up once I have their contact information from the workshop organizer.