What Researchers Can Learn From Designers

Communicating Effectively

In our first class meeting, we were told to introduce ourselves and our research to the group in two minutes. Though it might seem like a very simple exercise, this was surprisingly a challenge as we had to explain our research to other people that weren’t familiar with our research field, let alone our research topic. I am so used to being around people of my discipline, and people who are familiar with my research topic, that I always want to start explaining my research in detail.

Thinking Visually

In one of our classes, we had a guest lecture from Professor Sebastian Kernbach on visual thinking for research. He first asked us why it was important for us to be able to think visually, and his answer struck a chord with me: to be able to get insights, clarity, and perceived progress. I’m sure I’m not the only PhD student that struggles with thinking that they’re not making progress, and so for me, I was very excited about the workshop.

PhD on a Page: One of the many visualization tools Professor Kernbach showed us. I took the opportunity to visualize the main ideas of a paper I’m writing

Identifying Stakeholders

As I mentioned previously, as I continue my PhD, I become more and more immersed, surrounding myself only with people that are familiar with my discipline. During the CIRS program, the teaching team challenged us to brainstorm every single person that is somewhat related to our research and creating what we call a stakeholder map. To a lot of us, the most obvious people related to our research, is of course our advisors, other PhD students, collaborators, or other researchers in the field. However, we were pushed to think about stakeholders that are one, two, or even three connections away from us; people that we have never really thought of being related to our research, and even people who might potentially be one of our end-users.

My stakeholder map, which I have grouped by colors into different aspects of my research

Conducting Empathetic Interviews

We then spent a couple of weeks practicing empathetic interviews, which is a fancy term for having a conversation with people, where the focus is on them, and not us. The teaching team challenged us to contact stakeholders from our map that we wouldn’t have reached out otherwise (I was challenged to reach out to the President of Indonesia).

Brainstorming and Prototyping

After conducting our interviews, we were asked to summarize our interviews, and list several “how would we” questions. In the research world, this would be similar to research questions. However, instead of looking through the literature for gaps in the research domain, we developed questions based on what the pain points and problems are our interviewees.

The result of our 15-minute brainstorming session. I later went ahead and clustered all our ideas based on how similar they are.

Takeaways for Research

I learned a lot during the 10 weeks of the CIRS program and thankful to have met a group of diverse PhD students in a time when meeting new people is difficult. I’ve talked about most of the things we learned during the CIRS program, but if I were to sum up my CIRS experience in a couple of points, it would be: to always think about other people by putting myself in other people’s shoes, always be curious even though it’s outside of my comfort zone, and not limiting myself through self-judgment.



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