Moving to UC San Diego Cognitive Science
June 2016 (perspective of an assistant professor)
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:
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!
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:
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!