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Undergraduate Researchers

Jeffery Boyd

Jeffrey Boyd, Information Systems

Summer Researcher

What research have you been doing this summer?

This summer I have been working on a project to make fashion more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. One approach to this is to use an iPhone app called VizWiz (developed at the Univ. of Rochester), which allows visually impaired users to take a picture of something, ask a question about it, and then have people on the Internet answer their questions. We just launched a six-month study where pa rticipants will ask questions about their clothes and get responses from a pool of handpicked volunteers. They can ask a mix of objective and subjective questions, with everything ranging from, “What color is this shirt,” to questions like, “Do you think these two items work well together? Can you offer me any pairing suggestions?”

How did you find out about this opportunity? Was there a formal application process?

I approached one of my professors about my interests in Human-centered Computing (one of the graduate programs available here in the Information Systems department). The professor suggested this project. I initially started out by helping a Ph.D. student researching a smart chair during the spring 2012 semester, and was offered the opportunity to come onboard for the summer to work on other projects in the lab.

Who did you work with on this project?

The primary investigator for the VizWiz trial is Michele Burton, a Ph.D. student studying accessible fashion. I worked closely with her and with our advisor, Dr. Amy Hurst, with whom I had worked during the previous semester. Also on our team was another undergrad from Washington State University, Vancouver.

Do you get course credit for this work or get paid? How much time do you put into it?

You can do both, actually. If there were more time (I am concurrently enrolled in an accelerated summer course, so my free time is somewhat limited) we would have added on an credit-bearing component of the internship where I would be learning iOS development and programming. That portion wasn’t possible this summer, but it is still a paid internship. On average, I work about 20 hours each week in the lab.

What academic background did you have before you started?

I am a senior Information Systems major. Before coming to UMBC, I was enrolled in the Information Systems Security program at Anne Arundel Community College. When I started in the lab, I had only just finished my first “Fundamentals of Human-Computer Interactions (HCI)” course. That is to say, not a lot of my academic experience directly related to the projects I worked on this summer.

How did you learn what you needed to know to be successful in this summer project?

I think it was a combination of prior work experience, coursework training, and my natural curiosity. For the past two summers, I held an internship at Legg Mason Capital Management in their technology department. I brought some of that systems administration knowledge with me to the lab. The knowledge of HCI processes that I gained in class also helped me to better understand the type of research that goes on in this field (and the research that I would later be working on.)

The one thing that helped me most to be successful this summer was a willingness to diversify. I naturally have a lot of varied interests, and those things came in handy when my labmates and I needed to do ‘non-science-y’ things like producing two tutorial and demonstrational videos – projects which incorporated my knowledge of lighting, videography, and photography.

What was the most unexpected thing?

I really didn’t expect the time to fly by so quickly! It seems like only yesterday the other undergrads and I were meeting for the first time, and already we are only a week away from the end of our time together. I thought that it would feel more like work, but this whole experience has been really enjoyable.

What has been the hardest part about your work this summer?

Besides adjusting to a new commute, I’d say the hardest thing was probably figuring out the right amount of attention to devote to each task. I have a tendency to become somewhat myopic when I’m focusing on a task, and in the lab I got involved in a number of different areas (exploratory projects, data coding and analysis, audio-visual projects, and systems administration, to name just a few). So, figuring out how to strike the right balance between all these things was something of a welcome challenge for me this summer.

How does this research experience relate to your course work?

Experience leading and working with user studies is extremely useful to Human-centered Computing prospects. It is helpful for those with plans to go to graduate school and also aids in drawing practical connections between the theories taught in classes and the real-world concepts people use in the industry every day.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research or taking on internships?

Absolutely, do it. I cannot stress enough how much easier it is taking classes once you have real-world experiences to relate the endless PowerPoint slides and those dry, wearisome book chapters to. While research may not be right for everyone, I would definitely encourage undergrads to find an internship somewhere. For any student in the tech field, nothing stands out to potential employers (or grad schools) more than practical, applicable work experience.

What else are you involved in on campus?

I’m a staff photographer and contributing writer at The Retriever Weekly. I also work for the Office of Residential Life and am a member of the UMBC Gospel Choir.