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Andrea Bunt.

Coffee With A Co-worker: Andrea Bunt

November 12, 2014 — 

Assistant professor Andrea Bunt fought going into computer science at first. With her father being a computer science prof at the University of Saskatchewan, it took a while for Bunt to recognize that a high school interest in algebra and problem solving might mean that she’d be good at the same vocation. “I didn’t want to do what he did,” she laughs. Instead, she pursued a math degree, but quickly found university algebra too abstract for her taste, she says, calling herself a “concrete thinker.”

She and her husband, who’s also a prof in the department of computer science, Faculty of Science, started at U of M in 2009. They met in grad school at UBC.

Bunt researches human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence and all things interactive technology — and she spends a lot of time thinking about people. “A lot of my work is looking at how people use existing technology, and ways it’s supporting or not supporting what they need to do, and trying to propose alternatives. My work definitely involves computer science and knowledge of it, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about people, and actually working with people.” She finds the research “varied, creative and exciting,” she says.

“Even if you don’t come up with the solution, you’re working towards a solution [with] potential for really tangible benefits for people…. That’s what drew me to it.

 

Bunt: “You’re working towards a solution [with] potential for really tangible benefits for people…. That’s what drew me to it.”

 

Bunt’s major area of focus is complex software applications with many options and potential tasks — specifically, research into making these less overwhelming for newcomers and helping users to understand what’s possible. What’s changing is the ever-expanding user-base, previously more limited to office workers performing specific tasks. It’s evolved to become a more general, everyday user with a broad range of usage types.

Which means it is all the more urgent to help students to understand that they are not the typical or representative user — one of the greatest challenges for teaching computer science, she says.

What might people find surprising about what she does? “The strong interdisciplinary component, with both psychology and sociology. A lot of our methods are inspired by those disciplines.”

In her work, she finds teaching and working with students especially rewarding, in spite of being an introvert, she says. She notes that U of M has many outstanding students and that the university’s size is “kind of perfect” — big enough to have the resources and supports, but small enough to be supportive of individuals, as she puts it.

“It’s a stimulating, supportive environment.”

— Mariianne Mays Wiebe

 

Q + A with Andrea Bunt

Coffee or tea? Coffee, with cream. I just gave up sugar; it took about a week to stop missing it.

One thing not too many people may know about you: I was a competitive squash player as a kid/teenager and was given the opportunity attend the Canada Games in 1991 in PEI. I lost all but one of my matches, but it was a wonderful experience.

Where did you grow up? Saskatoon.

A favourite childhood memory: Many of my favourite childhood memories involve watching or attending sporting events with my dad. For example, we attended the Canada vs.
Russia Gold medal game during the 1991 World Junior Hockey tournament in Saskatoon. The energy in the building was amazing.

Childhood hero: My dad is a big Boston Bruins fan and he brainwashed me into liking them as well. Growing up, Cam Neely was my favourite player.

What puts a smile on your face? My kids. In my biased opinion, they are at incredibly cute ages right now (2 and 6).

Dinner with friends — Cooking at home or out at a restaurant? Going out for dinner is one of my favourite activities, but since most of my friends also have young kids, dinner with friends these days often involves take out or something really easy and kid-friendly.

Something essential or enjoyable to do every day: I find it really important to have at least 30 to 45 minutes of downtime at the end of every day. Life with two working parents and no family support in town can sometimes make finding this time challenging. But if I don’t make time for it, I don’t sleep well and I become a very grumpy person.

How do you like to spend your free time? Activities that the whole family enjoy. As the kids get older, this list is growing and growing. For example, there are now movies that we all like, we’ve had some great days at amusement parks (Canada’s Wonderland last year), we can almost all go skiing together, etc.

Place to visit: I love visiting France. The French really know how to live. The food is amazing, people are relaxed and the geography is beautiful and diverse (and the country not quite as spread out as Canada). I would love to spend a sabbatical there at some point.

Something eye-opening you’ve experienced: I’m unfortunately drawing a blank on this. That probably means that I live a very sheltered life.

A recent book you enjoyed: I recently read Lynne Coady’s Hellgoing and really enjoyed it. Inside by Alix Ohlin also really stuck with me.

Favourite TV show, film, blog or website: Breaking Bad is probably my all-time favourite show. I love shows with good acting and it had a fantastic cast.

Something you do better than anyone else (or most people) you know: You would have to ask my friends or colleagues. Self confidence is not my strong suit.

A goal (or two): I’ve started running again after a few years of sadly ignoring exercise. My goal is to keep it up over the Winter, even if it means running on the track for a couple of months.

Something you appreciate or admire in another person: Humility

Underrated: Being able to laugh at yourself.

Overrated: Working long hours. At a certain point productivity diminishes rapidly.

Guiding principle or motto: To work towards a work-life balance that I’ll be proud of when I look back. I wanted to make sure that I enjoy this time with my kids. I feel like before I know it, they will be embarrassed to be seen with me. So I try to make time for things like volunteering at their school or daycare.

Anything else you’d like people to know about Andrea Bunt? I think that pretty much covers it!

 

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