Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


June 2004

Vol VIII Issue V

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iSchool Student Spotlight: Meredith Skeels

By Phoebe Ayers, MLIS Day
We recently interviewed Meredith Skeels, a senior in the Informatics Program, about her capstone project, her life as an Informatics student and her plans for after graduation. The following is a transcript of the interview (which has been slightly edited for clarity and space).

Silverfish: What have you been studying [this year]?

MS: Last year we did most of the coursework. So last year every quarter was kind of a human-centered class and then a really technical class. …They’d have one with a bunch of reading where you’d get to discuss and talk, and those are the ones I really like… Then there’s [the] technical class[es]…we took networking and databases, and computer science, [which is] like an algorithms class. And then this year there aren't quite as many classes that you have to take, there's more choice, so … I took 424 … information visualization, and that was fun. Now everyone’s working on their capstones – the research capstone is two quarters – the design capstone is one quarter, so they’re already done.

Silverfish: What's your capstone project about?

MS: Well, it's called "Giving Users Control” – and the goal is to use semantic types. UMLS is unified medical language; it’s a conglomeration of a whole bunch of medical vocabularies… Semantic types as part of the UMLS are these categories that medical literature fall into... The goal is to show these to a user in a way that they can use the categories [and] choose the ones they’re most interested in to get a smaller subset of medical literature before they do their query, [and] to get a smaller part of their query results. So I'm looking at their mental models – interviewing them, and transcribing things, to get their mental model[s] of how they think of semantic types working. …Then I’m going to design a system based on how they think they work, instead of just coming up a couple that I think are good and then testing them. So it will be an interesting thing to do.

Silverfish: So, who are you interviewing for that?

MS: My participants… all have graduate degrees in either a medical or some kind of biology-related field. I got an M.D., a couple nursing students, some public health people, a social worker… There were ten people, so that was pretty good.

…A really great thing about the Informatics program is that you have the opportunity to do the research, as an undergraduate, because a lot of programs don't give you that, and so I feel like I’ve learned a lot from just doing a project this big, that will be helpful the next time I have to do a project this big…

Silverfish: What are you hoping to do after you graduate?

MS: Well, starting in July I'm going to be in the Biomedical and Health Informatics program down in the med school here... [laughs] I like saying it's in the med school, but it's a division of the Medical School! It's called BHI, usually, and I'm going to do the PhD program there. Yeah, more Informatics.

Silverfish: So, what will that lead to? Will that lead to teaching?

MS: Well, for a lot of people it would, but I don't think I want to be a faculty member. I think that seeing the faculty members here, it's a little too much for me! You have to do eighty different things at once... I think I'm really interested in doing research and development for a company, and right now, I think I'm interested in clinical informatics. But we'll see – that's changed a lot of times already!

Silverfish: So what's the most interesting thing you've studied here?

MS: I really like the information-seeking behavior stuff – we took a whole class on that from Trent, and that was really interesting to me, that there are different groups of people, and that each group has their own kind of information seeking behavior, and that if we study that, we can use that to our advantage to help design systems or to help design library resources to serve those populations – and it was also interesting to see the commonalities between groups… And I also really like the HCI visualization stuff...and to do user testing well... That kind of stuff is really interesting to me. I like to see how people interact with computers and devices like that. I'm way more interested in that than in how to code the devices.

Silverfish: What brought you in to this really small program?

MS: That's a really interesting question. [Laughs] I was so not a computer person. I still feel like I'm so not a computer person! I was in political science, and history, and that kind of thing, and this major when I heard about it really appealed to me, because I feel like one of the main goals is trying to make technology useful for the people. …That really speaks to me, because technology is great and everything, but if people can't use it it's pretty useless. And so the focus on people is really important to me. I like the whole human-centered strand. People in this program are going to go out and design systems and they're going to do all that, and in the meantime they're going to know something about the users...

Silverfish: So, what do you do for fun? If you have the time to do anything!

MS: I walk between campus and my house! I really like to garden...I took some horticulture classes just for fun – I would never major in horticulture but it was a lot of fun! And I bake bread.

Silverfish: Are the Informatics students pretty tight-knit? Do you guys do a lot of stuff together?

MS: Well, we spend a lot of time together! Yeah, I was surprised by that, actually, because coming from this giant university... I would have a couple people I might know in my classes, but not that many, and then all of a sudden it's like you're in this really small university within the university. So it's been really great to have all these classes with the same people, because you get to know people and you know who to go to if you have a certain type of question, or you know what other people are really good at. It's been great to get to know all these people, and it’s going to be weird to not see them anymore... even this quarter is weird because the capstones split us up, and then the people with the winter capstones are pretty much done, so I don't get to see them anymore.

Silverfish: So are there problems with the program, particular things that you see?

MS: Yeah... I think there's a real struggle for people like me who haven't had as much of a technical background, and then there are people who have a really strong technical background, and they have to put us all in the same classes ... and it's really hard, because the people who have had a lot of it are pretty bored with the basic stuff, and then there are some of us who are like, "well, I have a router at my house, and I hook the cables into it, and that's all I know..." …it’s really hard for us to be in the same class. But I think that also helped us build a sense of community, where people in the lab helped each other...that's been really great. You learn a lot from your fellow students, sitting up in the TE lab working on your homework.

But yeah, I think they're working on the curriculum and it will just get better. And the idea behind the curriculum is really great. I like the two, the human-centered and the technical, and then finishing off with a really big project. I think that's a really good way to do it.

A link to information about UMLS:

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