UCI Grad Student Receives Prestigious NSF Research Fellowship

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

05.10.05 – A Calit2-affiliated graduate student’s future research plans got a big boost this month. Amanda Williams, a first-year doctoral student in information and computer science who is also a Calit2 graduate researcher, is one of 1,020 graduate students nationwide to receive a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Amanda Williams
Amanda Williams

The fellowship provides 36 months of support for graduate study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree. Williams, whose graduate advisor is Calit2 Associate Director Paul Dourish, will receive tuition payments and a stipend of $30,000 per year.   The fellowship will facilitate her ongoing research in the field of ubiquitous computing, urban computing and human-computer interaction.

Williams proposed to the NSF a research project that would investigate the technology infrastructure of Bangkok , Thailand , and its citizens’ personal computing habits. By nature, urban computing requires a concentrated infrastructure most often found in large cities, she explains, and because most urban computing studies have targeted American cities like New York and San Francisco , Williams thinks the NSF was intrigued by her proposal. “Bangkok is a huge city with burgeoning technology and is very different in character from U.S. cities,” she explains.

Williams plans to spend approximately six months in Bangkok , examining the technology, interviewing citizens and observing their use of cell phones, PDAs and other computer-based technology. She is interested in the urban relationships that can result from human-computer interaction. “This fellowship is both a huge opportunity and a big relief, because I would have had a hard time asking (UCI) to fund six months of my research when I wouldn’t even be here,” she says.

She hopes to complete her doctorate in approximately four years. “This grant could cover my whole Ph.D. if I hurry,” she laughs. “I’m hoping to get my degree without having huge student loans to repay.”

Williams is currently working with another Calit2 graduate student, Johanna Brewer, on a project that will advance group interaction in an office setting. Project.ambient seeks to explore information in public spaces, specifically information pertaining to communication, connectivity and awareness. The two women are designing and building ambient awareness toys with input and output “motes” and a wireless network to allow remote interaction between them. Each employee in the Calit2 directors’ suite will have one of the toys in his/her work space. The toys, which will be able to communicate with each other, will enable the employees to know whether their coworkers are in the office; in addition, they will encourage play and discovery among their users, allowing them to see the effects of their actions on others’ perceptions and providing them with a subtle awareness of each other.

The ambient toys will take Williams and Brewer to a couple of exotic locales next fall. Project.ambient has recently been accepted as a demo to the European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, scheduled next September in Paris . And the pair is most likely going to submit the project – as a poster and a demo – to UbiComp 2005, the Seventh International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, also in September, in Tokyo .

Then, if all goes according to plan, Williams will begin her Bangkok research in fall 2006. After she receives her doctorate, she plans a career in academic or industrial research.