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Q&A with PhD Student Jessica Barfield

Jessica Barfield is pursuing her PhD in the College of Communication and Information with a concentration in information sciences and recently completed her first year of studies.

She is an active member of the CCI Graduate Student Association and served as vice president during the spring semester. She is a graduate research assistant working with Professor Dania Bilal and also works in the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center.

What made you pursue your PhD in Information Sciences? What are your previous degrees in?

My path to the PhD program in information sciences has not been direct. My undergraduate degree from Dartmouth was in environmental earth science with a business minor. As an undergraduate, I was able to perform research on the human use of technology in several courses, which as I look back now, was the beginning of my journey to UT. After Dartmouth, I completed a Master’s degree in business from the University of Wisconsin. At Wisconsin, I was able to finish my required courses early, so I decided to take courses in the information school because they matched my interests in HCI. I enjoyed the courses so much that I decided to apply for a PhD in information sciences!

What was your experience like as a graduate research assistant (GRA) this past year? What was your research about?

Working with Dr. Bilal, my GRA experience this year has been very rewarding and productive. With Dr. Bilal, I have been doing research on the use of digital voice assistants and specifically why users may prefer specific voice genders and accents as their digital voice interface. So far, we have run two studies and currently have two conference papers accepted (HCI International, ASIS&T) based on our research.

What are your plans after receiving your PhD?

After receiving my PhD, my plan is to apply for an assistant professor position at a major research university. This is my goal because I really enjoy teaching and interacting with students, and I really enjoy the process of doing research which involves using quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. As a professor, I will be able to serve as a role model for women and underrepresented groups in higher education and do research that hopefully benefits society.

What is your favorite part about being on Rocky Top?

I am from the South and after spending time up north and in the Midwest, I really enjoy being back in the South. I like the warmer climate, and less severe winters, the Smokies, and of course, the volunteer spirit at UT. Lastly, I should add that I am becoming a major UT sports fan and can’t wait to attend games in person this fall!

You’ve chosen to research human-computer interaction. What has been the most rewarding part of your research experience?

It has been very rewarding to be taking courses on research methods in the required PhD curriculum and then to apply what I am learning to the research studies I am doing with Dr. Bilal. With an interest in human-computer and human-robot interaction, it is rewarding to be doing research in areas that are not only very technology oriented but also need more research to learn how best to design robots and computers so that humans benefit from the technology.

Can you tell us more about the CCI Graduate Student Association and what your role is in the organization?

Being part of the CCI GSA has been one of my favorite parts of the year! Even though everything was virtual, I was able to meet people outside Information Sciences as well as connect with older students to gain insight about their journey through the program. I was lucky enough to be appointed a vice president and helped to organize many different events that ranged from coffee chats with students and panels with former students! I’m hoping in the fall we’ll be able to do more events in-person and around Knoxville.