Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Moving to UC San Diego Cognitive Science

For the past two years, I've been an assistant professor in the computer science department at the University of Rochester. At the end of this month, I will become an assistant professor in the cognitive science department at UC San Diego (UCSD).

Why did I move at such an early stage of my career, why UC San Diego, and why the cognitive science department in particular? Lately I've been fielding these questions a lot, so I wanted to summarize my thoughts. In brief, I decided to move because:

  • it felt like the exact right time given my career trajectory,
  • UCSD is an awesome school in an ideal location for my family,
  • and it has a top cognitive science department that can enhance my research, teaching, and intellectual development in creative new ways.

Why did I choose cognitive science when my academic background was in computer science? Because my recent research has been heading more and more toward using computers as tools to augment human cognition rather than trying to improve the underlying computing technologies. I see computing as a means to an end (e.g., to help people get smarter or become more effective) rather than something that I want to optimize for its own sake (although I deeply appreciate that sort of work).

While I was interviewing, the UCSD cognitive science department felt like an ideal home for the kinds of work I was already doing and wanted to do in the future. It now has 25 tenure-track faculty, and 5 of us specialize in human-computer interaction, which I view as one kind of bridge between computer and cognitive sciences. In addition, I estimate that half of the faculty run computationally-based labs. Thus, there are many “computer science-y” people in the department, but we use computers as tools to understand and augment people.

In the past 15 years since starting college, I've built up a solid foundation in computer science, and I'm now really looking forward to more deeply incorporating themes from cognitive science into my research. In fact, I've already started talking to several cogsci faculty about collaboration ideas. So stay tuned!

Inside Baseball

OK that was the brief answer. Now I'll go into more “inside baseball,” calling out names of individual faculty around campus who were especially vital in attracting me to UCSD.

UCSD has amazing faculty working in four major areas that are directly relevant to the vision that I outlined in my job application research statement. Strength in any one area is enough to get me energized, but having all four is unbeatable:

  1. Design and HCI – The Design Lab, directed by the legendary Don Norman, is a magnet for design, HCI, and human-centered research across multiple disciplines. It will be awesome to join Jim Hollan, Scott Klemmer (both co-directors), David Kirsh, and Steven Dow from cogsci in growing this initiative. I first learned about Jim and David back when studying for HCI quals as a Ph.D. student, dissecting papers such as Beyond Being There and On Distinguishing Epistemic from Pragmatic Action. Scott was actually the person who got me hooked on HCI when I took his course at Stanford in 2007 and worked with his group on opportunistic programming. Steven and I also briefly overlapped at Stanford when he was a postdoc, and I've been a long-time fan of his work on crowdsourcing + creativity.

  2. Online learning at scale – UCSD is at the forefront of the recent boom in online learning. Scott was a pioneer in teaching early MOOCs, experimenting with innovative methods such as peer assessment, and leading the first generation of top-tier research on learning at scale. Jeff Elman from cogsci is the inaugural director of Online and Technology Enhanced Education. Beth Simon is a world expert on what works effectively both in huge in-person courses and in MOOCs, and how to bridge residential and online education.

  3. Computing education – As Mark Guzdial points out in his blog post, UCSD now has a critical mass of computing education researchers, which is rare for any U.S. research university. I'm looking forward to joining Beth, along with CSE colleagues such as Leo Porter and Christine Alvarado, in growing this area. They provide the rigorous education research expertise that complements my strengths in HCI, design, and building scalable systems.

  4. Programming languages and software engineering (PL/SE) – I began my research career working in this area within computer science, and I'm always looking for ways to bridge PL/SE with my current trajectory in HCI and online learning. That's why I'm super pumped that CSE faculty such as Ranjit Jhala, Sorin Lerner, and Bill Griswold are getting more interested in HCI and online learning. Over a decade ago, I missed my chance to come here to work with them as a Ph.D. student, but now I get another chance :)

I'd love to work with everyone listed here and more, but there are only so many hours in the day. Thus, a big challenge that I'll have to manage in the coming years is how to sustainably collaborate with folks in a way that benefits everyone involved and that also doesn't spread myself too thin as a junior faculty member who needs to focus. But even for people whom I don't end up directly working with, I still think there are tremendous benefits to being on the same campus since it's easier to meet up spontaneously and to learn from each other via osmosis. As they say, it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future. So stay tuned!

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Created: 2016-06-05
Last modified: 2016-06-05
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