Hala Assal

PhD in Computer Science (2018)

  1. What field of work are you in, and what duties are required in your position?

My job title is User Experience Researcher with You.i TV. I’m a usable security and user experience researcher. In my research, I work collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams on user-centric research projects. In my day-to-day work, I act as the voice of the user, promoting empathy and understanding of users’ characteristics and needs. Through applying HCI research methods, I evaluate existing products and services, and I’m also interested in improving the ways of working internally in my team, and across the different teams that we work with. My work involves identifying research problems, designing research studies, recruiting participants, and collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, which I find really interesting.

  1. What challenges did you face when looking for work after graduating?

I think most of the challenges were due to employers’ unawareness of my field of study.

The biggest challenge was that people misinterpreted my qualifications: because my thesis focused on usable security, many didn’t understand what that meant. It was a challenge to explain this relatively new yet booming field, and that during working on my thesis I applied HCI methodologies with a security lens.

Others assumed that because I’m coming from the academic side, I must not have any real experience. It was interesting because this was far from the truth; my field of study is very hands-on and applicable, we run studies with real users, and collect and analyze data from these studies. There’s also a prominent misunderstanding for many that user experience design and user experience research are synonyms. They are not. The latter is more concerned with understanding the users, their behaviours, and perceptions which in turn informs the design of systems and services.

  1. How did you arrive at your current position?

I responded to a job ad and went through a series of interviews for this position, including presenting some of my previous research projects.

  1. What advice would you give to a graduate student looking to follow a career path similar to yours?

The more experience you have, the better prepared you’ll be for your next step, so collaborate with others, work on different research projects, and stay connected to the research community (e.g. attending and presenting at conferences, attending local groups such as CapCHI). This will also provide networking opportunities with experts in the field (both in academia and industry), which would help enrich your research, as well as your future employment opportunities.