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Fostering innovation

June 20, 2023

Now in its second year, the HCDE Doctoral Research Grant Program has supported 16 phd students with over $10,000 in research funding.

The Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering has launched a new funding program to empower PhD students in their pursuit of novel research agendas that are shaping the future of the field.

The Doctoral Research Grant Program in HCDE is designed to support doctoral students with critical funding needed to carry out their research and advance progress toward their degrees. Grants awarded by the program can be used for research-related expenses such as data collection, participant compensation, specialized equipment purchases, and travel to present research findings at conferences. Eligible doctoral students may apply for funding bi-annually with a research proposal that describes their goals, research methods, and the significance of the work. 

In addition to financial support, the program fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration within the HCDE community. Grant recipients share their work in HCDE’s Research Seminar course, enhancing opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback and establishing connections beyond their research lab and PhD cohort.

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“Our doctoral students have so many great research ideas—whether from their independent work, that stem from a course, or are sparked by a hallway conversation,” said Sean Munson, associate professor and director of the HCDE PhD program. “With this program, we can support students in starting on these societally important projects. We hope that the support from this program will advance student dissertation research and support preliminary research that leads to more funding for larger-scale projects down the road.” 

While initially intended to ease barriers to starting new projects, the program has also provided incremental funding for completing projects. “Sometimes you get to a point in a project where you know there’s just a little more work that would make it that much better, but you’ve exhausted the available resources. This program can also help get the results of those projects out there in the world,” said Munson.  

As of May 2023, the HCDE Doctoral Research Grant program has supported 16 PhD students with over $10,000 in grant funding. Find details about four of those projects below.

BeadPlots: A novel text visualization to aid with reading of academic papers
Murtaza Ali

HCDE PhD student Murtaza Ali is working to address the challenge of conducting thorough literature reviews in the research field, where researchers need to review and understand large amounts of information in a limited time.

Ali has developed BeadPlots, a new visualization designed to help researchers efficiently extract meaningful insights from academic papers. BeadPlots works by representing different sections of a research paper along a vertical axis, with each section displayed as a horizontal line.

With support from an HCDE Doctoral Research Grant, Ali is conducting a user study and documenting participants’ comprehension of research papers and their use of BeadPlots, compared to those without access to BeadPlots. Ali’s eventual goal is to establish BeadPlots as an effective visualization tool to aid researchers in conducting efficient literature reviews, and as a result, support the production of groundbreaking research across multiple fields.

Machine learning systems for UX practitioners
Meena Muralikumar

HCDE PhD student Meena Muralikumar is working to uncover the challenges and needs of User Experience practitioners working with technically complex design materials like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). AI and ML are rapidly advancing, but prior research has found that designers struggle to design with AI and ML, and they are often considered new applications distinctly different from other technologies. Muralikumar is conducting interviews with UX designers and researchers about what challenges they face in effective ideation, prototyping, and testing for AI and ML products and what they would need to overcome it. Muralikumar’s research also seeks to understand issues of fairness, accountability, transparency, and ethics (F.A.T.E) and aims to enable UX practitioners to better address biases learned by AI and ML models.  

With support from an HCDE Doctoral Research Grant, Muralikumar has been able to compensate interview subjects with an honorarium. The data and results she collects from this initial study will inform her dissertation proposal and future research.

Exploring how the exercise of power contributes to racial inequity in engineering education
Kenya Z. Mejia

HCDE PhD candidate Kenya Mejia is working to understand and address systemic barriers to diversity and inclusion within the field of engineering. Mejia’s research aims to move beyond just increasing diversity numbers in engineering education and instead focuses on creating inclusive environments where all students have equitable access to resources and feel a sense of belonging. By studying the power dynamics within co-design sessions, where students and faculty collaborate to develop inclusive pedagogical practices, Mejia seeks to identify the subtle ways power is exercised and inform the creation of frameworks to address these dynamics.

With support from an HCDE Doctoral Research Grant, Mejia is conducting a series of workshops with students and faculty, and is able to compensate them for their time. According to Mejia, this compensation is critical because this work requires emotional labor and care work, both of which often go unnoticed. Through this work, Mejia aims to contribute to the understanding of power as a systemic phenomenon that can be reproduced or disrupted by individuals. By connecting individual interactions to larger systemic issues, Mejia hopes to support inclusion efforts and systemic change in engineering education.

A history of how different engineering collaborators standardized floating-point arithmetic on computers
Adam Hyland

HCDE PhD student Adam Hyland is working to document the history of how different engineering communities of practice collaborated to standardize floating-point arithmetic on computers. This standardization had a significant impact on numerical computing in the 1990s and 2000s, influencing various fields such as spreadsheet calculation, multimedia communication, citizen science, and computer graphics. Through studying the process of standardization, Hyland aims to gain insights into engineering collaboration and the construction of engineering knowledge.

With support from an HCDE Doctoral Research Grant, Hyland was able to visit the University of California, Berkeley, to make connections with members of the community of engineers who worked on the floating point standard. Hyland attended a dedication ceremony honoring the work of Professor Emeritus William Kahan, the primary architect of the standard, and discovered new contacts for future interviews. By combining archival research and oral history interviews, Hyland aims to make novel contributions to the collective understanding of multi-organizational engineering collaboration.


2023 issue cover


2023 Designing Up

View this story and others in HCDE's annual publication, Designing Up, where we highlight activities and accomplishments of HCDE's students, alumni, and faculty.

View the 2023 issue