In August I moved across the country (again) for a new opportunity that I am so excited about. I have started a new position as a tenure-track assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yay! I am part of a new campus-level initiative called Technology Innovation in Educational Research and Design (or TIER-ED). I have a split appointment within the College of Education; I have a 75% appointment in the Educational Psychology department and 25% in the Curriculum and Instruction department. The plan is to do a lot of interdisciplinary work across campus (e.g., with VR/AR researchers, speech researchers, and the physics department).
This is a big change in some ways from my six years at SRI, but hopefully not too much. I’ll be continuing many of my research threads from SRI, but I will be able to focus more on a few areas that I am most interested in, rather than have a broad research portfolio like before. I will also obviously be teaching and advising graduate students and I am really looking forward to that aspect of the job.
Another big change is in location – moving from the Bay Area back to the Midwest is no joke. Luckily I’ve spent a couple years in this general area before (doing my post doc at the University of Wisconsin at Madison) so I know what I’m getting myself into (and I already have a lot of SmartWool socks and a parka). A lot of people I’ve talked to here are surprised that I’m so happy about leaving California and the truth is that living in the Bay Area was financially untenable and I could see no long-term future there. Here, I’ll be able to pay off all my student loans and related debts within a couple years and buy a house shortly thereafter. My new commute is 10 minutes via bike (it’s very flat here) instead of 45+ minutes. Also, I really like having four seasons and seeing the leaves change and Laika loves romping in the snow and chasing squirrels and bunnies in the big yard we now have. So, for me, this is a net positive. I’ll still visit California a bunch to see my family so this doesn’t feel like that difficult of a change.
This semester I’m teaching a graduate-level class called “Advanced educational technologies for engagement and interactive learning”. That is a mouthful, but basically we’re talking about different kinds of interactive technologies that are used in various scenarios to improve teaching and/or learning. This includes games, simulations, intelligent tutoring systems, AR/VR applications, affective computing, mobile and wearable technologies, and other things like that. I have a big class of students from many different programs across the University. Their unique perspectives and interests have made it an interesting class so far. Throughout the semester they are working in small teams (2-3 people) on ed tech projects that they will be able to demo to the public at the end of the semester. If you’re in the Chambana neighborhood, you should definitely come check out their projects on demo day (Dec 12).
We’re about six weeks into the semester right now and I’m getting settled into my new office and my new house. I still have a few boxes to unpack but I’m nearly there. Everyone has been very warm and welcoming and helpful and I feel really lucky and grateful to have landed at such a wonderful place that is as excited to have me here as I am to be here.