Meet Ghana’s Youngest PhD UX Researcher

Dr. Gloria Opoku-Boateng Osardu is a PhD UX Researcher/ Scientist at Northrop Grumman (a leading global aerospace and security company). She received her PhD in Information Systems at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) with a dissertation research investigating brain fitness games as an intervention for age-related cognitive decline in healthy older adults.

Gloria completed her first degree in Ghana at Valley View University and later relocated to the United States to further her education. Coming from a family that is keen on education and excellence in life, Dr. Opoku-Boateng Osardu finds great joy in the pursuit of knowledge and its application to understanding human cognition. With a vast interest in technology and research, she’s worked with the likes of IBM, Google and other high profile tech companies as a User Experience (UX) Research Scientist.

Throughout her time at UMBC, Dr. Opoku-Boateng  received scholarships and grants from IBM, Google, LinkedIn and Xerox, and participated in several conferences, including the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, AMIA conference for informatics professionals, engineering-focused Global Students Forum, and Latin American and Caribbean Conference for Engineering and Technology.

Dr. Opoku-Boateng Osardu is also considerably involved in a number of empowerment programs and initiatives to help alleviate poverty and promote gender equality.

  • You have chalked quite a number of academic laurels at such a young age, what has been your greatest motivation and why UX.

 

Well thanks for thinking 27 is such a young age to have a terminal degree.  I am flattered. Not to sound narcissistic but my greatest motivation has been intrinsic (self). I have experienced a lot of rejections, self-doubt, and I could tell you all about it some other time when we sit to talk.

My path into UX has not been as clear and direct as it seems in hindsight. It rather is convoluted. As you may or may not know, I started and completed both my High school and College degrees back home in Ghana. Yes! Aggrey Memorial (AME Zion) Secondary School with a General Science diploma and Valley View University with a computer science degree respectively. My last year of college introduced me to Health informatics when a guest speaker from Germany came to my department to give a talk on HL7 and other healthcare messaging standards currently adopted globally. I got interested and decided to apply to graduate school for a health Informatics degree.

I applied to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Applied Health Informatics program, got in and started to understand the current state of Health IT in America, concerns, standards and federal regulations surrounding Health IT in America. Once again, I got very interested in two things; 1. The safe use of Health IT and 2. The use of HIT to make clinical care safer. Towards the second year of my master’s degree, I was accepted into graduate school to work on an interdisciplinary PhD program where I can combine Human-Computer Interaction with Health IT.  This started the path to getting the PhD whiles acquiring meaningful extra-curricular internships with tech companies and research labs. That basically summarizes my motivation and path to UX.

 

  • What do you do as a Senior UX Research Scientist and what has been your most rewarding or inspirational experience as a female UX practitioner?

 

As a Senior UX Research Scientist, what I do is similar to a UX practitioner or UX analyst. However, UX Scientists usually have a PhD and do a lot of abstract research and design on concepts and theories that have not yet been implemented or applied. We usually work in a lab space and patent our work. Sometime we take concepts from academia that have been under-applied or never implemented and incorporate them in what we are working on. In essence a UX research scientist is an end-to end- UX researcher and designer who not only evaluates tech interfaces, services and products but creates new evaluation methods, interfaces, gestures and products.

 

  • How do you handle it when people are skeptical about the value of usability research?

 

Really it depends on who is skeptical about the value. What kind of stakeholders are they? By stakeholders I mean ‘how does their skepticism affect what I do or what is beneficial to end users’? Stakeholders take the form of product managers. Depending on who is being skeptical, I usually develop a multi-step strategy to win them over. A strategy may involve creating awareness on, educating others, mapping out the projected return on investment when proper usability research is conducted, and supporting usability research with standardized scientific research outcomes in the form of metrics. I still have not perfected the art of convincing and compromising when it comes to people who see UX in a different (often negative) view than I do. I usually let my work speak for itself but there has to be a better way to do this.

 

  • What do you consider as one of the most difficult challenges you have had as a researcher?

 

For me, I will say the most difficult challenge I have had as a researcher is forging my path forward when it is extremely hard to eliminate possibilities across various research domains. What do I mean by that? In deciding to be a UX researcher, you have to settle yet not settle in one expertise.

Another challenge I face is data presentation. In UX research data is gold. Data however is collected in so many ways and forms; that presentation -if done right- becomes the sole vehicle to convey your findings and insight. I struggle with finding the right data visualization to convey the right implications for which solutions teams run with. This is because, if a finding or insight is misconstrued, the implications of that may not be eminent and that along the line may be severe. UX taught me that forging your path forward is not about the right but about the culmination of experiences that make the ride great! This challenge, I have found, builds you up with time.

 

  • How do you think women contribute to the UX field at large, given that there are quite a number of them in the field now?

 

I think women’s contribution to the UX field is as significant and diverse as their contribution to any other field. Whereas most of their contributions are downgraded, rejected and not recognized, the field, just like any other has benefited significantly from contributions of women. I think women’s contribution to UX in general is reflective on the sheer number of women in the field. A focus on design only may prove otherwise but in general, there are more women in the field. That being said, I really do not think contributions should be weighed in terms of gender lines. This is because we both know that men are more likely to receive credit for work that women do. Personally, I think women’s contribution in the field delves deeper into the amount of volunteering they do, the amount of training they provide, the amount of mentoring they give to other women in particular, and their sheer innate soft skills which the field desperately thrives on. Obviously there is more, women as a group can accomplish and achieve in the field now and later for posterity but the value of the impact is totally subjective. My contribution as a way of a vow is to do (meaningful and excellent)work, Provide as much training and mentoring to others as I can and have been blessed with and basically use my talent of foresight to enter uncharted UX territories that can lead to groundbreaking sub-domains.

  • Is there any top Female UXer you look up to?

 

Actually there are a couple. For those I have not met, I have two that I look up to; Elizabeth Churchill Ph.D, and Margaret Gould Stewart. For those I have met, Nancy Duoyon and Melissa Smith, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Churchill, PhD is currently the Director of User Experience at Google. Her role as someone with an applied social scientist background is to humanize technology solutions and make them usable. She is much more than just her work at Google. She previously worked in the area of human computer interaction in both academia and industry roles. Her past affiliations include eBay Research Labs. (eRL), Yahoo! Research, PARC, and Fuji Xerox’s research lab in Palo Alto, FXPAL. I look up to her especially for her work on gender equality in the UX field, co-authoring studies such as “Feminism and HCI: New Perspectives”.

 

Margaret Gould Stewart is currently the VP of Design at Facebook. She has been designing for Facebook users and a billion others at Facebook. At Facebook (and previously at YouTube), Margaret Gould Stewart designs experiences that touch the lives of a large percentage of the world’s population.  I look up to her especially for how she approaches her work with a combined appreciation for timeless great design and transient digital technologies, and always with the end goal of improving people’s lives. As she says: “Design is creativity in service of others.”

Nancy Duoyon is currently a UX researcher at UBER where she leads research on Global Growth -International Research Platforms. I met Nancy when she was a User Experience Research Program Manager at Google, leading research on the end to end experience for all new and critical launches. She creates solid foundations to ensure that her team meets stakeholder, partner and user objectives through rich, insightful research and effective design. She also has the pleasure of making Google consumer services better for users by helping product teams think creatively through design evaluations and sprints. I look up to Nancy because of her insatiable desire to share, mentor and motivate others in the field. In her spare time, she educates minorities in tech around the globe in user experience methodologies, culture-themed designs planning and implementation of user goals in products, and personal career management.

Melissa Smith, PhD is currently a user-experience researcher at Google/YouTube in San Bruno, California. She graduated from George Mason University in May 2016 with my Ph.D. in Human Factors and Applied Cognition Psychology. I met Melissa during my internship at Google. We worked on the same team but with different products. I look up to Melissa because she is so versatile in her UX work.  Her research interests include human-computer interaction (HCI), human-robot interaction, trust in automation, user experience (UX), iterative product development, among others. She is also the co-founder of Fly Fleet, a mobile app that simplifies the airport experience through combining historical flight data and crowd-sourced airport status information in timely, traveler-specific, alerts.

 

  • What is your best skill as a UX Researcher and what advice would you give to someone who is trying to learn this skill?

 

There are so many skills that are critical for being a successful UX researcher. For me the best skill is communication; speaking and listening. Of the two I emphasize listening. There are also two broader skill sets in the UX field that are quite shared; hard skills and soft skills.  Hard skills or background comprises of: experimental psych, sociology, ethnography, anthropology, research design, survey design, statistics, psychometrics, counseling psychology (learn empathy, questioning, and facilitation). Soft skills on the other hand relates to empathy, building rapport, interviewing, analysis and synthesis, communication – both for working with users and for communicating the results: writing reports, visualizing results and presenting to stakeholders.

Finally, I think if one has 1. Empathy with users, 2. A dash of psychological observation skills (reading people), 3. The ability to dig deeper and ask the right non-leading questions, they should be fine.

 

  • What was growing up like?

 

As a middle child of three girls, I was not the most exciting or extroverted person around. Growing up, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life.  All I knew was that I wanted to be in a career that was challenging, yet fun, and required minimal interaction with people.  My parents openly encouraged my sisters and me to pursue college/grad school degrees and careers that fit our personality and what we wanted to do.  My dad, a pastor and theological professor, did not particularly have any bias towards the sciences or arts. He also did not particularly encourage us to pursue a particular career.  My mom (aka superwoman), a Human Resource Executive, was more of an unseen force that gently pushed and encouraged all three of us in life, while playing the role of a self-appointed career psychologist who check-in on us to make sure we were each thriving in the paths we had chosen.

My dad did not get all of his degrees back to back; however, as a go-getter, he made a plan, followed through, and received his PhD. My mom, on the other hand, got married and had all three of us before she started her college and received her MBA. My sisters and I all have advanced graduate degrees in computer science. By now, you may have an idea where my drive to push harder and strive to be better each day comes from. I think it matters for readers out there to know and understand the influence my background, support systems, and Ghanaian culture played in shaping the life I live today. I always like to compare my life (both growing up and now) to two groups of contemporaries; those who have made more impact than I have, and those who have not. For example considering all the people around my age that I grew up with, there are others who have gone on to make huge strides in life (professionally or personally) than I have. There are others who are struggling to reach where I am and thus made little to half as much impact as I have. The answer lies in the opportunities one has. Growing up, I was fortunate to have so many opportunities in life which I quickly grabbed. My first somewhat real job was in a library where i read most of my life away. I was fortunate to know more about applying to grad school and preparing for life after college. I was blessed to have parents who understood the importance of education and also supported my ambitions that were rather too large sometimes. I can go on and on but you catch the drift. My childhood is summarized in the opportunities I had and the risks that I took in grabbing them.

 

  • What should we expect from Dr. Opoku-Boateng Osardu in the next 3 years?

 

Hmmm… I am not sure what to expect myself. I honestly pray for life till then. Let’s see… As you may or may not know, I barely started working full time as a UX Researcher (now Senior Researcher). Let me see… in 3 years expect me to be in a management position where I can do managerial work as well as technical. Ultimately, I want to be able to create opportunities for others. I currently volunteer; support Women in Technology with experiences and opportunities that are available. The idea of harnessing resources to come back to Ghana and host a UX hackathon that both empowers others and teaches critical UX research methods is not far-fetched. 3 years is a short or long time to make that happen depending on how you look at it. For now, I know both mentoring and planning or hosting a hackathon is on my radar. Basically, I want to be useful and make an impact!

 

  • For young girls who are inspired by you, what is your top advice for them? Any mentorship programs underway?

 

My advice for them is first for them to be excellent at what they are currently involved in. I usually also encourage people to just reach out and let me know how I can help them attain their goals. For mentorship programs, I am not sure yet. This is because inasmuch as I would like to mentor others, I am not able to mentor a lot of people at a time. I need a strategy; for now I am looking into which mentoring programs will be ideal. Maybe soon I will start a blog or community where I can provide (UX) mentorship online.

 

  • Where can people find out more about you?

People can find me on social media (Twitter| LinkedIn). Just type my name

I also have a website: www.gloriaopokuboateng.com.

Lastly via email: uxdejavumoments@gmail.com

Source:techpreneurmag

 

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