Faculty candidate talks in Cornell InfoSciPosted: 2011/02/01
Last and this academic year, Cornell Information Science Department has been trying to find a faculty candidate for a tenured-tracked position in Policy subfield. In general, Policy is not my interest, and I was rather lukewarm about going to the talks and participating in the discussions. Recently, I became more active in going to these talks and joining the discussions as I became interested in learning the hiring process in an academic institute. Currently, two candidates have been invited: Katie Shilton and Laura DeNardis. It was very interesting to attend these two talks as I always appreciate good female presenters. I also learned a lot about interviewing techniques from them even though their topics have nothing to do with what I do. Interestingly, they were strong in different ways. Laura had numerous books that she’s written, variety of research contacts. Katie had an admirable presentation skill. I especially learned a lot from her question answering skills. While I do not remember details of Katie’s talk other than the general topic and some snippets of my personal interest, I took notes on Laura’s talk, which made me reflect about her research topics and candidate talks in general.
The title of Laura’s talk was “Arrangement of technical architecture is an arrangement of political influence and power”. Laura started her talk by giving us a general picture of what “Internet Governance” (Protocols, Critical Internet Resources, Communication Rights, Intellectual Property Rights, Internet Security & Infrastructure management) is. I really appreciated how she started her talk. She gave the audience a very nice reference frame to understand the rest of her talk. This made me realize that in my current presentation deck (for my will-it-happen? interview), I do not have any slide that gives an overview of my field (HCI) or subfield (devices and interaction techniques) to the general audience.
Then she narrowed down to the first topic, protocols, and gave out three protocol examples: ODF, IPv6, MAC addresses. While talking about these examples, issues such as open source licenses, commercial versus non-commercial standards, socio-economic constraints to participation (thx Karin), was raised. She spent a lot of her time talking about IPv6 versus IPv4. She argued that it is a moral imperative for US to quickly upgrade to IPv6 to maintain dominance in global internet market. It was very evident that she knew her topic and her field very well. Comparatively, I still strive to show such confidence in giving out talks and I struggle.
It is always debatable whether an academic should also pursue popularity. This is the question that I raised for the rest of the day. Laura’s main example, political power play in transition between IPv4 and IPv6, is not as hot these days as Katie’s main topic, personal privacy in designing sensor networks. P raised a question that made me think about this issue even longer. When Laura talked about MAC addresses invading privacy issues, he asked why we should care about MAC addresses when our cell phone is more intrusive. In my personal opinion, privacy implications of MAC addresses and that of sensors (e.g., GPS) are orthogonal topics. Hence, when this question was raised, I personally felt that the popularity of the topic (IPv6 vs Sensors in a mobile phone) was more in question than anything else. This was actually a sad realization because my research topic is also considered a fading star. Market size of the digital pens has shrunk so much thanks to Apple and Steve Jobs. When people from industry ask me questions, they ask “We do not have any plan to support styluses, if so, how do you plan to make your research useful to us?”.
Lastly, attending these policy topic talks are really new experiences for me because I find it very difficult to internalize the basic premises of these work. I am a strong believer in “regulations make things slow”. The entire time Katie was advocating how we should impose security concerns to the designers, I sincerely wanted to ask, “Did you observe any scenarios where the security concerns limited how much cellular network applications can innovate?”. Thankfully I didn’t really have to raise these “I don’t believe your research” questions because someone else always did. It was a sincerely fruitful experience to see how the speakers respond to these questions. Some candidates become very defensive and try to convince the opponent, which usually does more harm to the speaker than anything else. Some candidates politically avoid the touchy topic and beat around the bushes and show that “maybe you and I can agree that we disagree?”. From the observations, the former seemed to make the speaker more satisfied. The latter seemed to make the rest of the crowd happier.