We’re celebrating with Dr. James Prather the successful defense of his dissertation and earning his Ph.D. after years of hard work and dedication. Defending a dissertation is the culmination of a long and laborious doctoral program, usually taking place over the span of many years. The dissertation defense is, in its self, a momentous milestone that signals reaching the pinnacle of one’s graduate student career. We’ve asked Dr. Prather to share with us his thoughts on the process.
What did you major in as a doctoral candidate?
The PhD is in Computer Science and my research focus area is Human-Computer Interaction.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in this process?
Teaching full time while also being a full time PhD student.
What were your most satisfying achievements during this process?
The publication of papers that I wrote, including work out of my dissertation.
What did you learn that most surprised you?
When I was studying for my comprehensive exam in Computer Networking, I ran across a surprising little story: an undertaker named Almon Strowger found out that the wife of his competitor was the town telephone operator and was directing any calls for an undertaker to her husband rather than Strowger. So Strowger invented automatic telephone switching to remove humans from the decision making process and let an impartial machine do the job instead. It’s amazing what often drives technological innovation!
For students thinking about pursuing graduate school, what advice would you give them?
Find yourself a study group and communicate regularly – it’s a lifesaver. Get to know your professors and get involved in their research. Treat school like a job: go to work, do your work, come home and leave your work at work. Get some sleep!
You do a lot of research and projects with students. Please tell us what you have been doing this year and how you have engaged students in the process.
This year I have been mentoring a group of nine senior students who formed a local chapter of SIGCHI (Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction). They developed a research idea, carried out an experiment, analyzed the data, wrote up the results, and submitted it to a top-tier international conference (SIGCHI 2018) and were accepted. In April, we’ll be traveling to Montreal, Canada, to present the paper and enter into that conference’s student research competition. I have also mentored an individual student in a one-on-one capacity who carried out her own research project during Fall 2017. Both the large group and the individual student will also be presenting at the ACU undergraduate research festival. Finally, I also involve a student or two in my personal research into how novice programmers learn to code and how we can make better user interfaces to increase usability and learnability.
What are you looking forward to now that you have successfully defended your dissertation?
Definitely spending more time with my family.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
My wife, Erin, deserves a big shout-out because while I was spending most nights and weekends at work, she was often at home alone with our small children. This PhD was a team achievement, for sure! Also, I don’t think that it would have been possible to complete the PhD without the support and encouragement of my colleagues here at ACU. The faculty with whom I work have all been through this process and have been sympathetic and even offered to help where they could. The staff have gone out of their way to help me when I was beyond busy. I’m so very grateful to work at ACU and I’m looking forward to the years ahead spent right here.