Happy Belated Ada Lovelace Day!

Thanks to the Jewish holidays, I’m way behind on just about everything – including celebrating Ada Lovelace day. So I’m declaring today Ada Lovelace Day (Observed), at least in my little corner of the world!

Last year I wrote about a mentor of mine, Dr. Helen Tager-Flusberg. This year I wanted to honor a former student who is now a peer, collaborator and friend. Her name is Azadeh Jamalian, and she is one of my science heroes.

Azi’s research interests relate to technology, usability, learning and play. She uses psychology and learning theory to analyze the design of technological artifacts, as well as to create them. She once told me that she wants to revolutionize the use of gesture with mobile devices. If anyone can do it, it’s her! She’s already studying gesture and mobile devices with some of the top people in the field, and they’re damn lucky to have her.

Of course, I don’t just admire Azi because she works in areas near mine. There are three things about her scientific life that particularly impress me, and that I hope to emulate for myself.

First, she is an incredibly fast learner. When she decides to get up to speed in an area, she chews through research papers like they’re candy! She doesn’t just gain superficial knowledge, either. She immediately begins to integrate what she learns with the questions she already has in mind, with a keen eye for both gaps in the literature and new possibilities for scholarship.

Second, she asks really good questions. That was the very first thing I noticed about her, when she took my introductory game design class back in the fall of 2008. She was one of the people who could ask a question that showed an understanding of the material, but also that I did not have an answer to. Sometimes no answer existed – but when one did, I found myself hunting down ideas from multiple disciplines to get her subtle, sophisticated questions answered.

Finally, she is one of those people who just gets things done. This is a very dangerous quality in a graduate student, as it’s a recipe for getting lots of faculty members to want lots of non-dissertation-related things from you! But it’s an enormously important quality in a scientist. Before I started graduate school, I had no idea how much of research was based on organization, discipline, competence and logistics. She somehow manages to juggle multiple research projects, make forward progress on all of them, and have it look easy.

I count myself fortunate that I get to work with Azi on a regular basis. We brainstorm well together, we argue well, and we always come out of a conversation with a better understanding of our field than when we went in.

In short: thank you, Azi. My father used to say, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and most of all from my students.” When I think of that saying, I think of you.

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