Hi, I'm Sophia. I'm a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds and visiting student with Kirstie Whitaker's Lab at the Alan Turing Institute. Although I tend to work on a lot of projects, I primarily sit at the intersection of data, neuroscience, and human-computer interaction where I study how our brains interpret our world. I believe that the technologies that were once sci-fi can be used to create a safer, kinder, and brighter future that supports equal access for all.
My PhD is focused on understanding how we, as humans, learn and adapt to virtual reality. I do that by teaching people new skills in VR, and then testing those skills in the real world. With Kirstie's lab, I work on projects supported by the Tools, Practices, and Systems group at Turing and focus on Open Source and Citizen Science initiatives that drive the reusability and reproducibility of scientific tools.
Why I Do It
Every "what" begins with a "why".
Facebook designs new features because it wanted to give us more ways to share and connect with people, iOS 7 brought transparency to drop screens so that you could feel the depth, and 3D interaction within the device.
So why do I do what I do?
Have you ever looked at a house and thought "why are those windows there, in that corner, at that height, in that room?" Or seen turning traffic backed up at an intersection, but no cars driving down the side road to sneak around it? Have you thought about what pocket do you put your phone in, and do you know why that pocket?
My parents have old videos of me as a kid that generally go something like this:
"why the sky is blue" (scattering of blue light)
"but why?" (because blue light has a shorter wavelength)
"but why?" (Rayleigh scattering)
"what's that"? (Go ask your mother)
Why did I ask questions?
Because it's so very very interesting, and because someone had to have made a choice that the windows of a house should go exactly there.
So why do I do what I do now?
Because it's hard. Neuroscience, HCI, Human Factors, AI, Engineering; it's endlessly frustrating and every day I have to think. Every day we spend in the space we have to work on untangling some of the most impossible questions. Because the stakes are so high (either it's someone's brain, or it affects a couple million users) and you have to outpace the universe as it finds the flaws in your design -
- but mostly because we can be better. Because I look at how my brother discards something when it's "too difficult" to use. I hear my parents' brand new washing machine beeping for another unknown reason and the ways Mum works around it by manually switching things over. I feel the problems we create with "innovative" technology, I hear the promise spatial computing brings, and I notice the harm that can be done by it.
I see us as users, creators and builders of the future that we are going to inhabit.
Why do I do what I do?
Because if we are to be the creators of the future, then let's build it brighter.
When we open our eyes, photons come through, hit our retina, and gets integrated with other sensory stimuli, and through that process, the world exists. We then act on the world. This loop of perception and action gives rise to our understanding and cognitions about the world. This is what I study.
The signal processing,
and how that gives rise to us.
I build and research these dynamics from this 3 stage approach.
How our sensory perception is created and interpreted by the brain
How what we perceive guides action within a system.
How these interactions and perceptions of the world combine and give rise to the way in which we experience our worlds.
The way we design reflects how we view the world, and our projects are how the world gazes back.
What's Up Next
I am looking for internships for during the PhD.
Job wise, I thrive in cross-functional environments that support collaboration. I lean towards agile project and product management within the technology sector, and personally enjoy R&D teams with their eyes on the future.
While I don't know what I will be doing just yet, I will keep building. I will keep learning. I will stand on the shoulders of giants, and reach just that little bit higher. And I will always ask what happens to the brain on silicon.
- PhD (perception-action-cognition within VR/AR and BCI)
- Data Privacy and Biopolitics