Rui shares his graduate experience

April 11, 2017

After deciding to pursue graduate studies at SIAT, Rui has never regretted it since. Here he shares what makes him truly passionate.

Meet Rui

What are you working on in your graduate studies?

I am a Master of Science student at SIAT. My research interests include designing interactive systems to help people communicate better and technologies for long distance relationships. My senior supervisor is Dr. Carman Neustaedter.

What are your favourite projects?

Since my lab focuses on connecting people over long distances, there are a few interesting systems that I built for this research purpose:

Puzzle Space:

One of my favourite projects is Puzzle Space, a tangible jigsaw puzzle that can be played with the other player remotely. I first built the prototype in the Tangible Computing course taught by Dr. Alissa N. Antle. Then we had a poster accepted at the CSCW 2017 conference in Portland this year, and we also created a video studying how people could use the puzzle in the context of escape rooms.

For Puzzle Space, I was trying to understand how we can use playful interactions and leisure activities to help long distance couples maintain their relationships. Tangible User Interfaces (TUI) utilize both physical artefacts and digital contents. I was wondering whether we could use tangible computing to create a new puzzle playing experience even if players are geographically separated.

One of the reviewers of my paper commented, “The topic area of the submission is well within the remit of the conference. CSCW has a long-standing interest in technologies for mediating close personal relationships. This poster is highly likely to generate interest.”  


The other interesting project that I am working on is Streamer.Space, a toolkit for prototyping context-aware mobile video streaming apps.

Imagine being able to go for a hike or bicycle ride with family members who live on the other side of the world. This kind of scenario is difficult for existing systems such as Skype and FaceTime. With Streamer.Space, we can easily prototype systems to let people experience outdoor activities together across the world.

A paper on the toolkit has been accepted as a Late-Breaking Work paper at the ACM CHI conference this year in Denver, which is the best conference in my field.

For Streamer.Space, I noticed the limits of existing video chatting systems such as Skype and FaceTime. They provide restricted control over how video streams and appear people's devices. Yet many new usage scenarios are emerging. For example:

Users now want to go beyond "talking heads" to share outdoor activities using mobile video chatting.

This gives rise to new privacy concerns. I created Streamer.Space to enable access to contextual information (e.g. location, walking speed, device’s orientation, time) to control video streaming through a simple rule-based interface. Users can then customize their own streaming configurations to fit their own needs.

About graduate school

What motivated you to pursue graduate school?

In 2014, I was selected for Mitacs Globalink Research Internship and spent three months in the connectionsLab at SIAT. That summer was splendid. I met my future advisor Dr. Neustaedter and had a great time designing a research prototype for family members. It turned into a publication for the ACM CSCW 2015 conference. That was when I made up my mind to join the lab as a graduate student.

I initially obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, but wanted more experience in interdisciplinary research, which SIAT offered.

In addition to utilizing my programming expertise, I wanted to apply knowledge from other disciplines.

Why did you choose the School of Interactive Arts & Technology over other programs?

SIAT is a very cool school in my opinion. The researchers in SIAT are from different backgrounds including fine arts, digital media, architecture, computer science and anthropology. The interdisciplinary nature of SIAT can really help researchers gain a broader perspective.

SIAT goes much further than just being “cool”. Here, researchers have a lot of collaborations that can contribute to more in-depth research. The publication records of researchers from SIAT are awesome. Each year, SIAT contributes many papers and articles to the best conferences and journals in the world.

The other reason I chose SIAT was because of my senior supervisor, Dr. Carman Neustaedter. When I had the internship with him, I felt like he was very supportive. Like many other professors in SIAT, he was open and helpful. Furthermore, his research areas (human-computer interactions, designing interactive systems and social computing) matched my interests quite well. So I decided to continue working with him as a Master's student. 

What advice would you give to those who are deciding if graduate school is right for them?

I was inspired by the illustrated guide to a PhD by Matt Might. In SIAT, both Masters and PhD students do research, so I think the guide applies to research-based Masters students too. My advice would be to make sure you have the motivation and passion to push the limits of something you are interested in. That means you have to be self-motivated and organized enough to make a ‘dent’ in the research area.

Finding the right supervisor is also important. Make sure you know the research interests and working style of the professor with whom you will be collaborating with. It's a long term relationship so you need to make sure it'll work.

How did you cope with the transition into grad school?

In my first term, I was taking three graduate courses and also doing TA work. The workload was very heavy but I gradually learnt to schedule my time. Focus on the things that matter the most to you. Also, I regularly met with my supervisor and narrowed down my research topics. Doing this helped me adapt to the area of research quickly.

Another great thing about SIAT is that the staff are very helpful. I want to thank our graduate school assistant, Tiffany Taylor, who has been providing support for graduate students since the time we applied for SIAT. If you have difficulties in either your life or studies, you can always find a person from SIAT and SFU to help you.

What are your future aspirations?

Because I joined SIAT immediately after my Bachelor's degree, I really want to have some work experience to better understand the trends in industry.  I am now looking for full-time positions, especially those in Internet and information technology companies. I hope I can work in a user-centered, diversified and collaborative environment to deliver fascinating products.

I believe I will come back to academia for a PhD in the future after several years of industrial experience.

What are some things about you that might surprise others?

Back in China, in 2011, I was the representative of incoming students and gave a speech in front of an audience of 9,000 during an orientation ceremony ;)

I also recently got two full papers accepted at the ACM Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference happening in Edinburgh, UK this year (with an acceptance rate of only 24%).

The first one is titled Collaboration, Awareness, and Communication in Real-Life Escape Rooms, in which we collaborated with SIAT undergraduate researcher Henry Lo to study how small groups of players play in real-life escape rooms.

The second one is an extended work beyond my Quantitative Research Methods (IAT 802) course project guided by Dr. Bernhard Riecke. The title of the second paper is MyEyes: The Design and Evaluation of First Person View Video Streaming for Long-Distance Couples. We designed a first person view video streaming system called MyEyes with smartphones and cardboard goggle. The system can help users “see through their partner’s eyes”. We ran a study with 12 pairs of couples and compared three interfaces of the system. The results showed that couples valued the novel video sharing experience and they wanted to share everyday activities with it.

If you are interested in chatting more with Rui about his experience, feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.