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CHI 2019: UIowaCS Debrief

CHI 2019 Logo and Pictures

Professors Juan Pablo Hourcade and Kyle Rector travelled to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the "premier international conference of Human-Computer Interaction" with UI PhD student Luiza Pantoja. Joining them was Spring '18 MCS alumnus and research collaborator Ryan Wedoff, now Software Engineer at Microsoft. Some of their thoughts, looking back, follow:

  1. Had you been to CHI before?

Hourcade: Yes, my first time was in 1999!

Pantoja: No, this was my first CHI.

Rector: Yes, my first CHI was in 2011.

Wedoff: No, I have never been to CHI before. I got a nice badge ribbon saying, “My First CHI”!

  1. In what capacity did you attend this year?

Hourcade: My main responsibility was to run a special interest group meeting, discussing potential technologies to help child refugees. I am now collaborating with colleagues on an article to be published in interactions magazine, summarizing the meeting. I was also co-author on a paper and a poster that colleagues presented.

Pantoja: I was an author of a Late-Breaking Work and I presented a poster about it [Entitled "Explorations of Voice User Interfaces for 3 to 4 Year Old Children"].

Rector: I was an author on two Iowa-based papers, where Ryan Wedoff presented one and I presented the other. I was also preparing for my duties as Accessibility Co-chair for CHI 2020. As a background, the Accessibility Chair duties is to ensure people with accommodation requests have a positive time at the conference.

Wedoff: I was an author and a presenter for Virtual Showdown: An Accessible Virtual Reality Game with Scaffolds for Youth with Visual Impairments. I collaborated with Iowa’s Kyle Rector, Wendy Khoo, and others from across the country.

  1. What or who has left a lasting impression as you look back on the event?

Hourcade: I most enjoyed the special interest group meetings where I got to have deep conversations about important topics with researchers from around the world. These opportunities are otherwise hard to come by. I always find it fascinating to meet people from other countries with very different backgrounds who share my passion for certain research topics.

Pantoja: I really enjoyed meeting lots of people in the field and developing stronger bonds with others I already knew but did not have the chance to spend much time connecting before. Overall, I had a great experience that made me feel more confident in my work as I exchanged ideas and received feedback from people with different backgrounds. I also bonded with my poster neighbors, who were both very kind. One of them took funny pictures of me presenting my poster (without me asking for it!), which I am attaching to this e-mail.

Rector: I really enjoyed catching up with so many people that I have worked with and met over the years. I think the last impression comes from the new or young connections with students and scholars who went out of their way to come speak with me. I felt honored and humbled.Kyle Rector’s advisor Julie Kientz with Eun Kyoung Choe, Matthew Kay, et Calvin Liang.

Also, I was able to celebrate my advisor Julie Kientz’s promotion to Full Professor! She is a Rockstar who accomplished this feat in just 11 years.

Wedoff: There wasn’t one person that left a lasting impression on me, but the accumulation of all the people I met at the conference. I didn’t know what to expect at an event like this, but I quickly found out that it was one giant networking event. I had lunch with Oxford professors, dinner with Brazilian researchers, and socialized with PhDs from the University of Bath.

  1. Have you positively connected with anyone in particular (e.g. a fellow student/researcher)?

Hourcade: I did connect with a research group at the University of Edinburgh that invited me to visit them later this summer so we can collaborate on a new data visualization project.

Pantoja: Yes, I spoke with a potential future mentor that I admire and I also made some new friends (mostly PhD students).

Rector: Yes, I spoke with another researcher about our interests in art and accessibility with people with visual impairments!

Wedoff: At the beginning of CHI I was a little reserved and I wasn’t really sure what to do. I quickly found out that it is okay to just go up to random people and say, “Hi, what’s your research? I worked on…” At the end, I was able to bond closer to our fellow Hawkeye researchers and their connections at the conference. At the end of the event, we [Luiza and I] had a group that we were making plans with to hang out after the conference. If not future collaboration, I certainly socially grew closer to these people.

  1. Could you share a few “lessons learned” with our readers?

Hourcade: The lesson I keep learning is that there are a wide variety of methods and approaches that may be used to address a specific challenge and that it is important to work in interdisciplinary teams in order to have a wider perspective and to keep an open mind.

Pantoja: I find that conferences are a good opportunity to bond with people you know and they can connect you to other people they know. Also, in large conferences like CHI, if you are a part of a research or cultural subset, or even a particular paper category (e.g. child-computer interaction, latinos, poster presenters, first timers at CHI, etc), take advantage of that and connect with people who share something in common with you. It makes networking easier and it might create a chain effect of connections. Another piece of advice is sharing your contact information with connections you make and might want to meet later for lunch because it is really hard to find people during the conference.

Rector: One tidbit I found exciting and fascinating during the conference is that the two largest search terms for CHI 2019 were Virtual Reality and Accessibility – which was the topic of one of our papers. It is important to connect with researchers from around the world to continue being excited and inspired to pursue your research. Finally, if you get the opportunity to attend your first large conference (CHI was 3,700 people this year), then attend a workshop first. It makes networking a lot less scary after that.

Wedoff: Human Computer Interaction is quite a diverse research conference and being able to reap the benefits of understanding each type of research and how it all connects is extremely interesting. Even though I consider myself an Augmented Reality (formerly Accessible Virtual Reality) Developer, I was able to learn from many people; from touch-screen-interaction research to accessible-toilet researchers.

  1. What would you say were the biggest advantages of attending?

Hourcade: I think the irreplaceable part is having those deep conversations with people with very relevant insights into your research who live halfway around the world. We are not yet at the point where those exchanges, in particular with people you had not met before, can happen with the same depth online.

Pantoja: The biggest advantages of attending are connecting with people, exchanging professional experiences, disseminating your research, and getting feedback about it.

Rector: The biggest advantages of attending are connecting with people, getting/giving advice, and disseminating your research with others.

Wedoff: The biggest advantages of attending for me, since I am normally not a researcher, was the experience and perspectives I gained from attending. For Microsoft, I was able to bring back state of the art information on Human Computer Interaction research. And who knows, maybe someday we will need to collaborate with universities for the future of the augmented reality at Microsoft.

I also suppose I made a lot of connections within Microsoft as well (it is a very large company) and I met some great people from Microsoft Research which I will be meeting again in the near future!

  1. Has CHI sparked new thoughts for elevating HCI research at Iowa or in your career?

Hourcade: I am very thankful for having Kyle Rector as part of our faculty so that we can have an HCI group, as well as a strong group of students. Our challenge is to step up our internal collaborations, as well as reach out to key partners outside the University of Iowa. I think our junior PhD students will be taking us in that direction with their research.

Pantoja: Yes, I was inspired to keep pursuing research in my career and hopefully developing future collaborations with people I met that have different skills and experience.

Rector: Yes, I found that the Q&A sessions were helpful – hearing your research through other’s perspectives will help me adapt as a researcher. There was also a symposium advertised where researchers, industry members, and people with disabilities will discuss Mixed Reality Accessibility. I will now be attending later this summer! Finally, I second Juan Pablo’s mention of our students elevating our research – I find that a lot of exciting collaborations happen because of PhD students follow their passions.

Wedoff: Oh, for sure, I am certainly more motivated when it comes to research and I have already met with some people at Microsoft to discuss collaboration to push the boundaries of accessible augmented reality (which is certainly a subset of HCI). Along with this, CHI has started to blend my various roles of my life together. It wasn’t until CHI that I was able to put on my Microsoft career hat, with my research at Iowa hat. These types of events are also a good time to reflect on everything, and I certainly made a good choice in my career path and the research I chose at Iowa.


In the Health and wellness Computer Human Interaction (HawCHI) Lab, Professors Hourcade and Rector focus on the design, implementation and evaluation of technologies that support quality of life for people from a variety of age groups and abilities. Specifically, they focus on health, wellness, creativity, collaboration and information access using mainstream technologies.