As you may have noticed, it has been somewhat quiet on my social media outlets. That is because I was busy surviving my first year as Assistant Professor at Utrecht University. The first few months I was nearly drowning, the second half of the year I was managing to keep my head above water at all time, and –now that I have also survived the first semester of my second year– I finally feel like I can safely remove my floaties and swim on my own. After all this craziness, I still would like to update you about the milestone of my past year.
Most of my time adjusting to my new position was spend on getting a grasp of how teaching works at Utrecht University and getting acquainted with the courses. I am the responsible teacher for the bachelor course Human, Technology and ICT that addresses the societal impact of information technology with approximately 160 students enrolling in this course. Given that the course has had many critiques in the past years, I have the challenge to take this course to a higher level for next academic year. The other excited teaching task was the start of the new HCI master last Fall and the development of a whole new course from scratch. I am the responsible teacher for the master course Cognitive and Social Psychology for HCI that introduces several main aspects of the field of psychology as relevant for human interactions with technological systems.
At Utrecht University, I am teaching in the program of Information Science; a program that is currently undergoing some structural changes to adapt the program to contemporary advancements in our technological society. I have contributed to this endeavor in multiple ways, specifically by rethinking the central vision of the program of Information Science advising particularly to equip students with a stronger background in experimental design and statistics and imbue them with a stronger understanding of the ethical and societal implications of IS systems. That document served as the foundation for multiple working groups to further improve the program; and I am currently involved in the one ensuring a general line of ethics throughout the bachelor program.
Other highlights under this header were happening outside my university. Starting early 2019, I am one of the Associate Editors of the ACM Transactions on Human-Robot Interaction, which is the main journal of our field. Additionally, I am very excited to announce that I was elected to become an At Large member of the HRI Steering Committee; a group of prominent member of the international research community. With my background in behavioral psychology and communication science, I aim to be the voice of people from the social sciences –a group of scientists whose involvement in the HRI community has become of crucial value given the progressively ubiquitous presence of robotic applications in our everyday lives which will inevitably transform our societies. To further mature HRI as a field, my goal is to encourage the HRI community to apply rigorous research methods and data analyses commonly practiced in the social sciences, as well as the inclusion of a wider range of theoretical and methodological approaches to better reflect the interdisciplinary nature of HRI research.
Starting my own research lab
In supporting the further advancement of my research line, I was able to by my very first robot, Softbank’s Pepper robot. I want to give them a gender-neutral name, but cannot seem to land on one, suggestions? Currently, this robot is still residing in my office, but the construction works for my research lab should be fishing soon. The name of my lab will be “REsponses To RObots” or ReTRo Lab which will document the affective (emotions), behavioral (anticipated and actual), and cognitive (beliefs) components of people’s responses to robots. More news coming soon(ish).
And last Fall, my department allowed me to recruit a PhD student, Anouk Neerincx, who started in November 2019. She has the opportunity to shape her own thesis topic in the next couple of months within the scope of social human-robot interaction taking a (social) psychological approach.
Awards and Grants
After the honor the be listed as one of 50 women in robotics by Robohub in 2017, it was my pleasure to see myself nominated for the VIVA400 as TechTalent as well as being awarded as one of the Inspiring 50 Netherlands in 2019. The VIVA400 is a list of 400 women who inspire others with their goals and achievements. Inspiring 50 is a non-profit that aims to increase diversity in tech by making female role models in tech more visible to encouraging more girls and women in technology.
But also within my university, I am partaking in initiatives to promote female scientist role models, draw attention to the problematic issues women are facing in their academic careers, and advise policy makers in how to retain female talent in academia. This all is happening through the WiCS (Women in Computing and Information Science) community who have won the Diversity & Inclusion award from Utrecht University.
Regarding grants, my year has not been that successful so far. I have submitted to the Dutch Research Organization twice for a personal grant; the second time not even making it into the next round. I also unsuccessfully submitted an EU grant last Spring. My current hopes are for the NWA grant which we are about to submit later this month together with a highly multidisciplinary team of renowned researchers coming from seven Dutch universities and two universities of applied sciences, covering the entire country and with many existing collaborations. But even more importantly, the applicants form a balanced mix of highly qualified senior researchers and very talented junior researchers, all with excellent track records. So, finger crossed for this one.
In March 2019, I presented at the HRI 2019 conference our research on robot behavior explanations. The research documents how people’s explanations of robot behavior resemble and differ from corresponding explanations of human behavior. We found that people use the same conceptual toolbox of behavior explanations for both human and robot agents, robustly indicating inferences of intentionality and mind. But people applied specific explanatory tools at somewhat different rates and in somewhat different ways for robots, revealing certain preferences and expectations people hold when thinking about robots. With these findings we not only gain insight into people’s perceptions of robots as intentional agents (and likely future members of human communities) but also offer a template for how robots could explain their own behavior in ways that are understandable to people.
I was invited to submit an article to the “Journal of Human Factors” in The Netherlands discussing what is needed to successfully introduce robots to the workplace. Given that my former colleague Suzanne Janssen recently received a personal grant to study employee motivations to work with robots, I contacted her to join me in this endeavor. The article outlines several steps of the adoption and appropriation process of robots in the workplace.
At the HRI 2019 conference, I have co-organized two workshops. One with the goal to introduce communication science as a relevant field to better understand the interactions between humans and machines. The other taught the HRI community on critical thinking techniques to address societal issues related to robot design and applications.