Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Raida Karim

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Autumn 2021

Research Project: Community-Based Data Visualization for Mental Well-being with a Social Robot

Project Description: Social robots have been used to support mental health, because they are capable of forming meaningful interactions with humans due to their social intelligence, which boost user engagement with social robots. Thus, social robots can better foster emotional support with mental health data visualization compared to other technologies in collecting and displaying relevant data from humans. In this Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) research work, I explored their potential as community-based tools rendering data visualizations that represent a community’s mood patterns. Collecting and visualizing the mood patterns of a community might help its members raise awareness about their collective mental health, and whether there are significant factors negatively impacting the mental health of community members. In a two-day study, twelve participants recruited from a university community engaged with a robot displaying mood data. I created a data visualization template to show random mood data and placed it in a social robot. The design choices (e.g., spectrum of data varieties, data representation) of the template were made hypothetically in a random manner with no evidence basis from any particular community’s moods. During the study, participants were asked through verbal questions and written prompts on paper to express their feelings about robot-rendered visualizations’ usefulness in their lives. Given the feedback from participants, I modified the data visualization on the robot screen with the aim of increasing accessibility, universality, and usefulness of such visualizations. Currently, I am implementing a real-time data collection and visualization system in the robot’s end-user-programming tool. In the near future, I plan on conducting studies to assess how interacting with the robot’s automated data collection and visualization software affects users and if it produces an improved experience for them. Eventually, I hope to evaluate how data visualization enhances a sense of belonging and support among community members.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

Coming from a non-traditional background in Computer Science (CS), I never imagined a career in robotics was possible for someone like me. Being engaged in robotics research for the last two years, and being mentored by robotics researchers from different backgrounds really pushed me to think out of the box and succeed as an aspiring researcher in this field. Although many CS classes have strict collaboration rules at UW, in research, it is essential to closely collaborate with others which helped me develop strong skills to proactively communicate and collaborate to help each other succeed. Being passionately mentored, I have been able to develop effective mentoring and teaching skills, and have applied them to train younger researchers in the lab. Research also enabled me to find small communities in this large UW campus to sustain myself. Before conducting CS research, my aspirations as a CS student centered around working for a well-known technology company and graduating with strong grades. However, after getting involved in CS research, my aspirations have drastically changed, as I now hope to have a more impactful career by conducting cutting-edge research in HRI, applying my CS skills in real-world problem solving, and being part of a broader worldwide community of researchers in this field.

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

My advice for future Mary Gates scholarship applicants would be to DEFINITELY APPLY. Although it might seem there is no time to apply to an extra scholarship carving out time out of classes and other commitments, I can tell you that even going through this application process is a worthwhile learning experience. You will learn prioritization and time management skills effectively, as well as get feedback from the advisors on your project. Even though you might hear most undergraduate research/leadership positions are unpaid, advocating for yourself to get paid for your contributions with this scholarship will teach you essential research or leadership skills that will help you in the future.