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Anna cox

Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, University College London

 

And - Specialist Advisor, House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry

Working in STEM opens up opportunities to you that you never thought would be possible. 

What do you do?

I am an academic interested in how people use technology and the impact that technology has on people. I sometimes ask people to come into a laboratory to take part in experiments but also measure and observe people’s behaviour with technology in every day life. I have researched topics from email to videogames. In addition to conducting research I also teach students about how to make serious video games. These are games that don’t aim to be fun but instead aim to convey an important message or teach the player about something.

Why did you choose this field?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in science.  Some of my favourite childhood books were encyclopaedic volumes full of fun facts such as “What do you call the number made of up a 1 followed by a hundred zeros?” In the 1980s my dad was a science teacher at a secondary school. One day he borrowed a BBC micro computer from school and brought it home. That’s where my interest in computers started.

But I didn’t pursue this as a career to start with. Inspired by characters like Tess McGill in the movie Working Girl, when I was young I thought I should go into “business”.  So, when I left school, I worked in the investment department of an insurance company as an investment accountant.

 

After a few years I realised this wasn’t for me and went to university to study Cognitive Science. This is the study of human and artificial intelligence and gave me the opportunity to discover all the different fields in which we can combine knowledge from computer science with knowledge from the field of psychology. One of these fields is Human-Computer Interaction – it is the study of people and computers. I really enjoyed my degree and continued to do a masters degree and then a PhD. I loved university so much I never left!

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Even when I started out as an academic researcher doing my PhD I never really believed that I would be a full Professor one day. Getting promoted to this level felt like a real achievement.

I have recently been appointed as a Specialist Advisor to a House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry. I wish the younger me would have known that one day I would be helping the government and having the opportunity to inform policy making.  Though to be honest I doubt I would have believed it was possible!

Why do you love working in STEM?

"I love known my research has the potential to make life better for other people."

I love being a researcher and having the opportunity to find out the answers to questions that intrigue me. I also love training other people to be researchers and enjoying seeing my PhD students develop into independent researchers who go off and embark on exciting careers in academia and industry.

 

I love knowing that my research can have an impact on the world – whether that’s by demonstrating that playing videogames can be good for you so need not feel guilty about it or by showing how the ways in which we use our technology can improve our productivity and wellbeing.

 

I also love the fact that equality, diversity and inclusion has such a high profile within STEM at the moment. There are a whole host of people who are dedicated to making workplaces better for everyone so that we all have the opportunity to reach our potential regardless of our age, gender, sexuality, race, or ability.

Best advice for the next generation

Working in STEM gives you the opportunity to find out the answers to whatever burning questions keep you up at night. It also gives you the opportunity to be creative, write, read a lot, spend time with lots of interesting people, help others, and travel the world. It opens up opportunities to you that you never thought would be possible.  But it’s important to remember that there’s no one working in STEM who hasn’t had a failure or a setback so learning to be resilient so you can recover quickly from disappointment and persevering so you don’t give up on your dreams are both important skills to develop.

Role model 

My hobbies are parkrun, snowboarding and crocheting baby blankets. This year I crocheted a toy penguin for a friend’s newborn.