I’m only about a month into the UCLIC program, but I thought I’d pen (key?) down my overall impressions about it first, and come back later to fill in the blanks. The whole point is that postgraduate education is quite often a very personal choice, and that students often choose based on very different factors.
How I got here
So, I’ll explain a bit about how I got here. When I started off half a year ago, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to do this. My plan was to get some UK exposure, more specifically in London. I had been applying to a few British companies to see if they would sponsor my relocation, but it became increasingly difficult. I was also presently working with a large British company, but hopes of getting relocated within the company was bleak.
I started thinking about doing a Masters when I went to a UK education fair organized by the British council. Not many universities were offering programs related to usability, human-computer interaction, interaction design or innovation. The few who did were Middlesex and City University, and I do not know why UCL was not represented on that day. I knew very little of UK universities.
My initial research on City’s program got me excited, but upon further research I found out that UCL was offering a very similar program, albeit at almost twice the price. This was when it started becoming hazy for me. How different was City’s program compared to the offered at UCLIC?
Up till now, this is one question I cannot answer completely. There is great lack of information regarding this field in the UK, and I suppose the US fares a little better but I didn’t want to go back to the States.
City University HCI vs UCLIC HCI-E
On the surface, City U’s HCI program focusses more on the working man’s objectives. It offers a whole set of modules focussed on very professional objectives such as requirements gathering, systems specification, multimedia, with less focus on theoretical or analytical parts of the subject (design theory, cognition, etc.)
UCLIC’s HCI-E program offers more breadth – allowing you to evaluate a variety of different aspects in order to draw good conclusions on a particular HCI or E (for Ergonomics) related problem. The inclusion of Ergonomics implies that UCLIC is not just about web usability. In fact, this year they’ve introduced a module on Affective Computing, which takes a look at computing from the aspect of emotion.
I chose UCL because I needed more from the analytical and reflective parts than I did from the practical and professional parts. At the same time, UCL being ranked 9th in the world meant I had some bragging rights, if at all.
The UCLIC Way
UCLIC takes a very pragmatic approach in getting you bridge the gap between theory and practice, and students are assessed on how well they fare on this. I’m required to do about as much self-study as class time, and class time is divided into 50% teaching time and 50% practicals. The self-directed reading encourages investment in topics of interest, maturity, reflection, and creativity.
I don’t get the sense that I’m being isolated from what’s happening in the “real world”. Every Thursday evening, a member from the HCI or Ergonomics industry will spend an hour with us talking about their work and get the class involved with small industry-related activities, which help to give us a flavor of what it’s like.
2 weeks ago, Gigi Demming (ex-UCLIC) from Amberlight made us work out a usability consulting proposal based on a budget and some price indicators (how much it costs for a consultant, test users, etc.). I felt it was useful, even though I was dead tired by the end of the day.
The folks here
UCLIC is made up of strong academics and practitioners who teach. Some of the lecturers are quite established in their respective fields both academically and professionally, so it’s good to be able to draw from those experiences. The class is also made up of a very diverse crowd (gender, practice, background, nationality), and it makes things more well-rounded. It’s fun when we go out for a pint or two.
We get to do field trips like visits to the Serco usability centre and attend the Ergonomics Society Conference for Students. They made us volunteer for class representation, so some of us help plan social activities like visits to museums and so on. It feels like a good place to be.
I must thank my friend, Alex Baxevanis, who helped answer a lot of the questions I had before coming here. UCLIC is quite well represented in the HCI industry here in the UK, and that gives me a bit of confidence that the program is quite well established. Even my ex-employer sung praises for it.
Quite a few UCLIC-ers set up blogs (e.g. http://www.usabilitytank.com) and are quite active on Facebook. It’s quite a community, really.