Completing a PhD is meant to show that you are able to stick at a complex topic and explore it in a disciplined and systematic way, paying attention to existing literature and eventually, after some years, adding your bit to the vast pool of human knowledge.

Research questions are the core around which you conduct these activities, and serve to focus your efforts when it comes to researching and exploring the vast amounts of information out there. Recently though, I find myself growing an increasing list of references in things that I’d really love to get a handle on, but seem to not have the time to digest fully. As a bit of fear of not remaining focus has crept in recently, I thought I’d consolidate some of my current and extra research interests. Inspired in a round about way by challenge piles, here are my Reference Piles representing the broad topics I’m interested in, and what questions I want to find answers to inside those.

Pile #1: Knowledge

I spent a long time trying to answer the question: “What is knowledge?”. It’s a lot harder than it sounds! I guess in 2.5 years time I will have taken a stance on it, but for now I’m going to remain deliberately vague and instead talk about what I think I need to know more about:

  • What I can learn from the more business-management style frameworks around knowledge, particularly tacit knowledge, or “know how”.
  • The more sociological side of things, revolving around communities of practice and the theories that discuss how we learn from each other, rather than what it is we actually learn. This should inform the design of a broader sense-making framework.

Pile #2: Visualisation

This is what I’ve written the most on in papers, etc to date and what I’m most comfortable talking about. I feel I’ve got a good handle on how we make sense of images, why they help us, and what makes a good one. Still, I’d like to find out more about:

  • Social objects, and how the actual artefact of a visualisation can be used to reach shared understandings. That is, how a visualisation can help groups of people understand versus just an individual.
  • Types and variations of geovisualisations and how I might be able to apply them

Pile #3: Location Based Services (LBS)

I’m positioning this research as exploring LBS in relation to a national park, but the reality is it is more context aware than location based as such. I’ve sort of started fresh with this in the last few weeks, so here is what I’m hoping to uncover:

  • Frameworks for talking about location types and the contexts that are applicable to them
  • An understanding of the technologies involved in provided context-aware applications. Particular the technical side of phone networks and GPS.
  • Definitions, studies and examples of LBS, mobile-based systems and ubiquitous computing, particular those that have a mix of intelligent information collection and delivery, coupled with a more traditional “desk bound” visualisation and sense-making interface

Pile #4: Parks Management and Ecology

Obviously one of the most important areas of a PhD dealing with natural environments – despite approaching it from a HCI/Technology perspective, I will basically have to become as close to a park ranger as I can. Further, I will need to understand:

  • What’s important when making decisions around park management, particularly when it comes to fire prevention
  • Even before that; What decisions are being made?
  • What is likely to be effective in assisting them?

Pile #5: Research Methods

As a user experience practitioner, I’ve been involved in a number of qualitative data research projects. For my PhD however, I want to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the methods available, when to use them and what results to expect
  • The opportunity to use some more experimental methods and report on their effectiveness
  • The opportunity to explore qualitative research papers and get to understand, from a research students perspective, what has and has not worked for other deep, PhD level studies.

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