Parmit Chilana uses an interdisciplinary approach to design human-centred computer technologies

February 11, 2020
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By Andrew Ringer

With a lifelong goal of becoming a professor, it’s fitting that Parmit Chilana is now realizing that goal at SFU’s School of Computing Science, where she graduated with her bachelor’s degree. Her father was a professor and her mother was a teacher, and these influences helped motivate Chilana throughout her PhD.

One of the founding members of Women in Computing Science (WiCS) at SFU during her undergraduate degree, Chilana now serves as a faculty mentor to the group. Years after its inception, WiCS is running outreach events to encourage female students to join computer science, as well as providing support and an enhanced sense of belonging to current students.

Chilana’s research focuses on human-computer interaction (HCI), which puts the end user in the spotlight when developing new technologies. The main goal of this emerging interdisciplinary field is to design computer technologies to be human-centered so that they can be useful in the long run.

“As an HCI researcher, I am excited about how we can build new tools that help people learn or improve their work in some way. More importantly, how we can get these tools in the hands of end users and have real-world impact,” says Chilana.

Some of Chilana’s most notable inventions have enabled novel forms of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing within an application user interface, including LemonAid, CheatSheet, and MarmalAid.

Chilana’s work has been recognized with several international awards and honors, and she has recently seen one of her research projects become the basis for a startup. Despite these accolades, she is perhaps most excited about mentoring her students and seeing them grow as researchers.

“I have been lucky to work with some amazing PhD, MSc, and undergraduate students over the years,” says Chilana. “It's very gratifying to see them grow into mature researchers, present at top conferences, win awards, and land top internships and full-time positions.”

She is passionate about computer science and the good that it can do for the world. Since an early stage in her studies, Chilana was interested in how she could connect computer science with other fields and believes that computer science skills can really make a difference in solving many societal problems.

“I think this is the best time to pursue a career in computer science, perhaps more than ever before. The field can really benefit from different perspectives, especially those of women and minorities who have been underrepresented in computer science for a very long time.”

Read the SFU News story on International Day of Women and Girls in Science here