People Profiles

Sheelagh Carpendale, PhD, Computer Science

September 14, 2015
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Dr. Sheelagh Carpendale is helping make data make sense.

Carpendale completed a PhD in Computing Science at SFU in 1999 and is currently a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary. She holds a Canada Research Chair in Information Visualization and NSERC/AITF/SMART Technologies Industrial Research Chair in Interactive Technologies.

Carpendale's research combines visual analytics, data visualization and interface design to create new ways for people to understand and engage with data. As she explains, her research is focused on not just what goes on inside computers, but on what happens outside.   

“Most computer scientists are focused on how to develop with algorithms, storage and transfer of data but I think about how to bring it back to help people as humans,” says Carpendale.

Carpendale works across a wide range of fields in health and education to find ways to help professionals develop new and more effective ways to use data and in doing so, better meet their objectives — which in some cases may mean helping save lives. Her work integrating an uncertainty visualization in a decision support tool for diagnosing pulmonary embolism was successful in pre-clinical trials and is now moving forward to clinical trials.

Just as she is helping organizations develop new ways of accessing and utilizing data, she hopes to help individual people access and utilize the massive amount of personal data that they generate in today’s information-saturated world.

“People don’t know how to react or interpret their own data — financial or health data or otherwise. You and I are living in a data society yet we largely don’t have any way to use it. I want people to have better info without losing control or being manipulated,” Carpendale says.

Carpendale’s innovative approach to building bridges between people and data has been recognized internationally with awards such as an E.W.R. NSERC Steacie Memorial Fellowship; a BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television Arts Interactive Awards), an ASTech Innovations in Technology Award and the CHCCS Achievement Award

And it all started with a single conversation during her SFU graduate school experience. Prior to studying computing science, Carpendale had a successful ten-year career in the visual arts. “Some of the professors in my department knew I had worked in clay and glass so they asked me visualize their theory," she says.

She did. And credits the freedom of her program for helping inspire her to do it well.

“It was early in the field. I did a lot by myself. There was really no one telling me how to do it which was what I needed," says Carpendale. 

Towards Personal Visual Analytics

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