Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) Professor Charlotte Lee received the Junior Faculty Innovator Award from the College of Engineering on May 29, 2013. We recently sat down with her to learn more about her research background and interests.
Professor Charlotte Lee joined the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) in 2008 as an assistant professor. She received her PhD in Information Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Prior to that, Lee received an MA in Sociology from San Jose State University and a BA in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research in sociology was on gender roles, specifically, gender and family. Lee says that the transition from social sciences to information studies came when her academic interests in sociology met her hobby—computers.
Lee says that she has always enjoyed working with computers, so much so that she worked part-time doing system administration while studying for her MA. After graduating, Lee worked at a company doing computer work and project management. While there, Lee helped implement a new information system. Lee says that it seemed that a lot of the problems occurring with the new system were sociological rather than technical. Lee thought she could find solutions for those problems by marrying sociological methods and theories with what are traditionally seen as engineering or scientific problems, so she began pursuing a PhD in Information Studies. While she continued to use qualitative, social science methods, she worked with computer scientists with deep social science interests for the duration of her PhD and her postdoctoral work at the University of California, Irvine. This further cemented her approach to research as both social and technical.
Lee's current research involves using observation and interviews to understand how people work together and how they learn about information systems. More specifically, Lee studies collaborative design processes in creative fields and cyberinfrastructure development for the physical and biological sciences, which fall under the broader fields of computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) and human-computer interaction (HCI). Her work has two primary goals: to better understand highly dynamic, emergent collaborations and to inform the design of information systems that support innovation.
Lee directs the Computer Supported Collaboration Laboratory, where she and her students conduct research to inform the design of information systems for collaboration. One of Lee's current research projects focuses on farmers markets. Lee and her students used ethnographic methods and a grounded theory approach while interviewing and observing low-income parents who were eligible for government food subsidies in order to illustrate the parents' information needs and better support the practices of low-income parents looking for fresh, affordable food. The results of this study will develop an understanding of the design space, particularly the shopping practices and information needs of low-income parents who shop at farmers markets. This information can then be used to inform the design of a mobile app or web service that can serve demonstrated needs.
Lee says that she was attracted to HCDE in particular because of its interdisciplinarity and that she appreciates the congenial atmosphere in the department. Lee further credits the University of Washington with promoting interdisciplinarity and collaboration across colleges and departments on campus and beyond, and she appreciates being in a small department while still having access to the resources of an R1 institution. Lee considers one of the highlights of being a professor to be mentoring students into scholars, and she is inspired by observing students become comfortable with research methods, expand their skill sets, and become critical, creative thinkers. Lee also says that research is a "passionate love affair" for her, and she feels like she can make a unique contribution to the field as a researcher. As a qualitative researcher with a social science background who trained with computer scientists, Lee has a unique perspective in looking at human-computer research problems and finding solutions.
In recognition of Lee's excellence in both research and education, she received the Junior Faculty Innovator Award from the College of Engineering on May 29, 2013. She is the first faculty member from the department to receive this honor. (Director of Student Services Gian Bruno received the Professional Staff Innovator Award in 2009.) The Innovator Awards are presented annually to engineering faculty who exemplify excellence in research and education through their scholarship, contributions and dedication, new and innovative research, commitment to students; and who contribute to the expansion of knowledge or improvement of quality of life through their research. Congratulations to Professor Lee for this tremendous honor!