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Iowa Recruitment Fellows Q&A

Megan Corbett (Left) and Jeehan Malik (Right) overlaid on fall MacLean Hall - Graduate College Iowa Recruitment Fellows

Two first-year PhD students, Megan Corbett (Left) and Jeehan Malik (Right), were awarded Graduate College Iowa Recruitment Fellowships, which "enhance departmental recruitment packages by offering our most accomplished new Ph.D. students a stipend supplement for up to five years and fellowship support for up to four summer terms."

Q&A with Fellowship Recipients:

What were you doing professionally before coming to Iowa?

Corbett: Before coming to Iowa, I attended Western Illinois University (WIU) where I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Computer Science. My master’s thesis research explored graphics and mobile application development for educational purposes with a focus on interface, interaction, and game design. Under the supervision of my advisor, Dr. Justin Ehrlich, I developed an educational mathematics game as an iPad application and then conducted a user study on the intervention’s efficacy with elementary educators and students in local classrooms. I also taught an introductory computer science course at the university during my time at Western. Prior to attending WIU, I worked in special recreation as a 1:1 special recreation aid and assistant Special Olympics basketball and track coach.

Malik: Before coming to Iowa, I was working as a technical consultant in the government health sector of Punjab, a province in Pakistan. My workplace was based on a development program for maternal and newborn child healthcare. I helped with and built some technologies for rural women in the province and conducted trainings on the field. Before that, I completed my undergraduate degree in Computer Science, also in Pakistan.

What led to your decision to start in the PhD program in CS at the U of Iowa? 

Corbett: While completing my Master’s, I found that I enjoyed researching and started to wonder how computer science research could be used to develop technologies that support children with disabilities. I was excited to learn about the Health and wellness Computer-Human Interaction (HawCHI) Lab and that the faculty, Prof. Kyle Rector and Prof. Juan-Pablo Hourcade, have expertise in accessibility and child-computer interaction research respectively. The university also offers excellent support for learning teaching techniques at the college level, which I plan to pursue after completing the PhD program. After visiting on Admitted Students Day last spring and meeting several faculty, including Prof. Rector and Prof. Hourcade, I felt like the program would be an excellent fit for me.

Malik: My job experience and research experience with children with autism led me towards the area of Human-Computer-Interaction. While searching for relevant work by faculty, I came across work done by Juan Pablo and Kyle and that got me interested in U of Iowa. In addition to the motivation for research, the coursework and environment also seemed friendly and interesting.

How has your experience at Iowa been so far -- including research, courses, and other outside-the-department experiences? 

Corbett: I am really enjoying Iowa City! Prior to moving to Iowa, I lived in a rural town in Illinois so I’m definitely enjoying the abundant activities that are available here for both my son and myself. There are several beautiful parks and nature trails that we visit often, and I am looking forward to attending the Iowa City Farmers Market in May. I’m also really enjoying working with my advisor, Prof. Rector, on our current research project on improving art accessibility for people with visual impairments through crowdsourced sighted contributions. This work is being done in collaboration with Vero Smith, an art curator at the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. This is my first experience conducting collaborative interdisciplinary research and it has been an amazing learning experience. I also have an amazingly supportive research group with whom I get to meet weekly and discuss current HCI research. The courses I’ve taken so far have also been great learning experiences and have really helped improve my research skills, especially in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction and Child-Computer Interaction. I also attended the Computing Research Association’s Grad Cohort for Women 2019, where I was able to meet and network with other female graduate students and professionals in the field and present a poster on our current research. I also gained valuable advice for continuing my PhD studies, including building confidence and balancing grad school and personal life. Overall I am having a great experience here at Iowa!

Malik: My experience at Iowa so far has been exciting! I found a wonderful and supportive research group, and new friends. Academic work, especially research, can get stressful sometimes and it’s been good to have an encouraging and supportive bunch of people around. The professors and other people in the department are cooperative, and the coursework is rigorous but interesting. I got involved in a research project with the Hank Lab at the university and met with people from other departments of the university and attended workshops where I met people from outside the university. These experiences helped me gain more insight into different areas in computing and what I wanted to do. Iowa also offers many things to do beyond just academia, such as sports, poetry (it’s the city of literature) and art (even if it is all indoors during winter – Iowa also offers the worst winters).