Monday, March 10, 2008

The “How’s Your Thesis Going” Post

Now that the KIIT graduation ceremony is over, I need a new academically related post to keep this blog going. I looked around trying to find something that had a long gestation period so that I could keep a similar format as that post. So naturally my Thesis came to mind. It is a requirement for my Masters degree, which I am doing from FAST-NUCES. As you know a thesis requires you to do research and development so that you may come up with something original and make a contribution to your field of interest.

I had to ask myself what interests me enough to take on such a challenge? The answer lies in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Currently the boundary that separates us from our computers is the User Interface (UI). The most popular example of a UI is Window’s start button. It allows us to access our programs quickly and easily (most of the time). Otherwise we would have run them using a command prompt, yummy!

So what could I do in this area? Help out HCI designers of course! They have to follow a set of heuristics when designing an Interface. They may not be aware that their design may be violating this set of guidelines. That’s where I come in; I’ll be creating a tool that analyzes end user behavior when using a UI. After the analysis is complete the tool will generate a report stating which guidelines were violated. As any marketing expert will tell you a good product is only as good as its name. So I am asking you the “I Don’t Know” reader to help me think of an exciting and relevant name for this tool. Because frankly speaking, I can’t think of one.

As always this post will be updated and reposted when new information is available about this project, so here’s the low down:

January 10: I had an epiphany today, which was so potent that it helped crystallize exactly what I had to do and how to do it. I wrote it all down then started to break it up into pieces and plugged those pieces into a schedule, which I plan on following, by the will of God of course.

January 29: I finalized an agreement with a former professor who is an expert on AI. He works at another university so he can’t be an official advisor. Now I have to get an official advisor.

February 06: I am working on a presentation that will help me pitch my idea to potential advisors. This presentation will be modified to garner industrial contacts; they’ll be needed to test out the tool on their products.

February 14: The project is picking up steam I found a faculty member who is willing to help me out by being an official advisor. His areas of interest coincide with mine so we’ll make a good team.

February 21: I got a taste of the typical Pakistani student’s mindset. When I tell them I am doing a thesis their eyes light up. “You’re doing a thesis? No way!” they then go on and tell me how I’ll crash and burn and how I should drop this silly idea of a thesis. “You’re better off doing a research survey” which is a glorified term paper. I plan on returning to the US after getting my degree. I know that a thesis will be critical for getting a job and gaining admission to a college. So I have to do a thesis.

Now don’t get me wrong, these guys are my friends and they mean well. The problem is that the basic education they received didn’t prepare them for imaginative thinking. Their education was more focused on memorizing facts and figures so that you could pass a test. Understanding the material wasn’t necessary. That’s why it’s so hard for them to come up with an original idea and then remain motivated to complete the project.

Another reason for de-motivating me is something that I like to call the “lemmings effect”. Students over here don’t like to stand out and blindly do what every one else is doing. For example when a teacher asks a question often times the whole class answers back. That way the individual is safe in the crowd. So when everyone else is doing a research survey your nuts for not doing the same thing.

However, this doesn’t go for all Pakistani students there’re plenty of them doing cutting edge research. When I meet them I can tell that they are strong-minded, know what they want, and then go get it.

February 28: Finished up my presentation sent it out to a couple of potential advisors, hope they take the bait. I am going to modify this presentation to pitch my ideas to companies so that I can use actual interfaces for analysis, makes the project that much more credible.

March 08:Got some feedback on the presentation that I sent out. They say that I am off to a good start. But I am keeping my fingers crossed anyway.
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