Sharing My Conference Experience

I could use many words to describe my experience presenting research at conferences and seminar.

On the day my PhD proposal defence was approved back in 2014, my supervisor spoke to me about presenting my preliminary work at the 1st International Conference on Creative Media, Arts & Technology (REKA) in Penang, Malaysia. I followed her advice – to expand my exposure in the field of research. The next thing, I found myself presenting at the main hall feeling nervous especially during the Q&A session. Receiving questions from the audience gave me extra drive to address the gaps in my research.  I have also learned to start connecting the dots by listening to presentations by other researchers.

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Sharing research work – Labelling for Good: A Descriptive Study of Nutritional Label Format and Design to Help Consumers Make Better-Informed Choices (October, 2014). You can also find my full writing here

After the first experience, I attended the second international conference on Local Knowledge (ICLK) held in Bandung, Indonesia. Although I didn’t get as much constructive feedback as I expected at the conference, but it taught me to see a deeper value of my multi-disciplinary research from a different perspective. More specifically, I learned that choosing the right conference would be beneficial.

It was only 10 months later that I received an e-mail from the chief editor of USM Press, acknowledging the acceptance of my paper to be published in their upcoming Local Knowledge Book entitled Dynamism for Local Knowledge – Revisiting History and Culture. The publication is still in progress, but I can’t wait to receive a copy of this book.

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Sharing research work – Tracking the Past: The Local Culture of Malaysians Eating Habit and Lifestyle (November, 2015). 

While I continued to work on the second phase of my research, I also shared my progress at the Postgraduate Colloquium in Penang, Malaysia with many other postgraduate candidates. Apart from receiving positive comments, having other Asian postgraduate candidates sharing their methodology with me was something quite unexpected. Never before had this generous gesture felt more true for me as a learner/researcher. I finally understood that disruptive learning only happens when people no longer work in a linear (self-absorbed) way.

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Sharing research progress at Postgraduate Colloquium (October, 2016).

At the end of 2016, I relentlessly working on the last phase of my research by meeting and conducting interview sessions with 12 policy makers, health advocates and design experts in Malaysia. During one of the interview sessions with the President of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), the Chairman of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) SEA Region, he was intrigued by my research work and invited me to share at the 9th Scientific Seminar on Drivers of Consumer Food Choices at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was overwhelmed with his interest in my work, and at the same time distressed just by thinking about speaking to a room full of science and nutrition experts, yet, I’m nowhere in between as a designer.

Just as I was contemplating with making the decision to present at the seminar, he bought me in with a comment, “There will be many policy makers in our country attending this seminar, and it is time for others in this field to see things from a different perspective. So if you want your work to be heard, you need to be in it to win this.” Till today, I was thankful that I did not back off. Not only I was able to learn more about the science research from industry practitioners and academics, I managed to pick a few important name cards and invitation for future collaboration in research and publication. Despite the lack of common topics with the science delegates during lunch, this experience provided an opportunity for others to eventually acknowledge my research as a viable integration between the field of science and social science.

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Sharing research work – Rethinking Nutritional Labels Design to Make Better-Informed Food Choices (November, 2016). You can find the summary report of the seminar here

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While I often have to sit back and reflect on my conference experience to find a few key moments worth sharing, the 11th International Conference on Design Principles and Practices in Toronto, Canada was indeed the most fulfilling. I always knew my intensity for working out loud on my research – obsessively discussing about the process – and had envisaged the end results in multiple design outcomes. I just never realized who was really listening, and how much influence my interactions could have on the people who are into design research so far. For the first time, I fully recognized the experience and new gains from presenting my work and speaking to many professionals in the same design field across the world. It was so much more than just knowledge sharing. In fact, my involvement as an Emerging Scholar opened up more understanding in the field of design research. More importantly, this experience strengthens my belief more in why I do what I do.

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Sharing research work – Design For Visibility and Wellness: Looking Into Design Elements on Nutritional Labels (March, 2017).

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.13.26 PMAlthough the entire process took almost five taxing months of advance planning (getting the acceptance into the conference with a full paper ready, competing for Emerging Scholar Awards, long process of visa application, working around the restricted budget and the tedious planning for inconsistent weather and limited duration of stay), still, I’m very looking forward in the run for the next design conference!

Note to self: Be the person who decided to go for it, even if others think you’re not ready for something bigger.

“What’s in it for me?”

Being a full-time Ph.D student, I also have a full time work that gives me unique opportunities for intellectual reflection and stimulation on how to become an enthralling leader. Recently, I came across a statement where I thought it could be worth sharing to many other middle managers like me.

“What’s in it for me?” A self-serving statement or a statement to reassess the sense of purpose?

Managing change is tough, but part of the problem is that in trying to initiate a change, many ‘leaders’ (or some called bosses) make common statements: “It is not easy to get people to work together as selfish peole are everywhere”; or “The management would like to change, but first, are the people ready for the change”; or “People should first put the big picture (Company’s goal) in mind, rather than prioritizing their own agenda.” To these leaders, they perceive their change idea is completely logical even if by sloganeering with an executive fiat. Trouble is, when the millenials ask “What’s in it for me?”, this question makes a lot of leaders cringe, or – worse yet – a question is often seen as a selfish, self-serving query.

But think about this for a moment. When we make decision be it in career, study or personal life, isn’t every starting point of any decision making process involves YOU, has to be you. Because let’s get this straight – if it’s not for you, then for who and for what? How can one possibly make a conscious choice and decision, if you do not even know your WHY for doing. The fact is, when this question was raised to the management, this is not out of disrespect. This is in fact a question from many millenials who seek for more information simply because they don’t want to be given work just to keep them occupied. They want to be sure their work matters in the larger scheme of things while knowing they are making a difference than their predecessors do.

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So, if you being the upper management hear this question the next time, perhaps learn to embrace that gone are the days of viewing “What’s in it for me” as a selfish or self-serving statement. Because to millenials, this question is raised simply to suggest their positive attitude by assessing the sense of purpose for doing (no longer about cuz’ you’re paid to do so). More importantly, it is a display of how they value the openess of communication with a leader like you.

“Note to self: Knowing why you do and what you do fuels the sense of purpose to constant evolvement.”

Designer Learning Theory

During the last theory learning session in Research Methodology class, I overheard a student saying why do we – designers need to even learn and understand theories when design principles of methods, techniques, tools, models, and skills are the necessity to design solutions? This has kept me thinking – when design educations introduce students a ‘non-skilled module’ such as research methodology, is the objective of learning theory indeed practiced, applied and needed in the design work itself? Does the application of theory only imply to design researchers (academics) but may be less relevant to design practitioners? In this post I would like to share some thoughts about the notion of generality – theory is not an exclusive possession solely by design researchers.

Although much has been written and discussed about the recognizable differences between design practitioners and design researchers who function and work in disparate environment, they somehow share one common purpose – to providing design solution, perhaps with different approaches. One of the obvious approaches of design practitioners to design solution is the sensitivity in craft and immediacy with materials (skills and techniques), while design researchers project the not so obvious quality in solving problems by answering a ‘research question’. Despite their differences to design solution, what actually gives more meaning than just solving problems with skills and techniques or to answer a research question is by learning and applying theory.

Be it practice-led or research-led designers, they speak to people around them about the things that matter, solutions that they perceived needed for certain problems and/ or discover commonalities beyond day-to-day. Very often these conversations lead to some forms of theory, perhaps without them even realising. A theory of ideas that help them to explain or speculate about why they do the things they do, or why the situation related among variables, or how the concept is developed and reflected as the outcome. It is theories, that enable the thoughts being sequential, the thinking process being engaged and the attempt to explain why so that the thought is being understood widely. That being said, theory gives designers three basis.

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Whether your intention is to be a design practitioner or design researcher, there are many key ingredients that make great designers. One of the indispensable ingredients is to learn and apply theory in and when doing design.

Note to self: The purpose of theory is to assist solution based thinking. Consequently, in constructing displays of solutions, the first question is – what serve the thinking tasks to make the solution purposeful?

Designer Learning Re.Search

For the next 12 weeks, I’m assigned to co-teach research methodology module with another colleague who has more than 20 years of teaching experience in scientific disciplines. The process of preparation, teaching and learning with her had not only given me new understanding of methodology, the afterthoughts about “research” often make my journey home seems shorter than usual. Often enough, quite a few constructive learning points vividly sit on my mind, and I have decided to blog down, hoping this knowledge sharing could be a beneficial one for many like-minded readers who are into research in art and design.

The basic definition of “R/research” was listed in the Oxford English Dictionary:

As far as I can remember, this definition confused my social science background especially being a design centric learner, visualizing the outcome or how the prototype should look like is far easier than absorbing the definition. It took me long enough to decode until the recent class of research methodology; this colleague decrypted “R/research” such effortlessly.

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This undemanding definition of “R/research” also brought me back to an article I recently read – Research in Art and Design (by Peter D. and Christopher F.). An article I was told is an essential reading for many design researchers. There seem to be a lot of common ground for “R/research” pertaining to art and design and science, yet there is also a lot of private territory within the research of art and design that define what they actually do. And this kind of research may not be the most known practices to science researchers per se. Here is a little summary derived from the article.

I’m always looking forward to her lecture every Tuesday. Not only she makes uncommonly good explanation for theory, most importantly, getting to understand the way a scientist designs the information in slides to conduct the lesson can be immensely interesting.

A Remarkable Day

April 16 – Thursday

After 4 months of slacking in my research journey, I picked myself up and flew to meet my supervisor, again. Looking at the documents I have in hands, I realised the points and ideas were rather scattered, perhaps close to nowhere to even start writing a chapter. When this worry almost took over me, a wonderful email came in.

Wonderful News

For the first time, I understand the joy of getting a writing published. Not only this paper derived from my research interest, most importantly it adds another milestone in my career as an academician. After an hour of flight with an overwhelming happiness I finally reached the doorstep of supervisor’s office; feeling excited and determined to expedite the progress of my research.

The 5-hours discussion has brought me to another fruitful discovery. Despite many things were streamlined and refined, the highlight of this meet-up was the introduction to the idea of cultural probes as a “new friend’ to my research methodology.

Heading home with this “new friend”, I was pumped with motivations and great plans running through my head that I couldn’t wait to start penning it down.

Note to self: Big Things Often Have Small Beginnings.

Counting the Blessings

Today, I do a self-check of the to-do-list for year 2014. Deep down inside I have lost count of the challenges I faced in a daily routine. Some are crucial ones while some are just forgettable. All I do in order to move forward is I often hypnotize my brain with one thing,

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

And today, I’m counting these blessings 2 months before 2015 hits in. Besides the blissful feelings circulating my heart now, the abundance of satisfaction wrapped my mind with many positive thoughts.

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I look up highly to my persistence and truly appreciate “you’, the one who has witnessed every bit of what’s happening in my daily life. You are not just the critic of the bad decisions I had made but always a standby supporter in case I fall. While my aim continuously grows bigger and further, you grow along and complement me in those changes. When I count my blessings for this year, I count you twice.

You are, more than the best to me!

A Menu of Labeling Format in Malaysia

Over 25 years ago, Ministry of Health (MOH) enacted the Food Act 1983, followed by Food Regulations 1985 with the main objective of protecting the public against health hazards in food and fraud in preparation, sale and use. Then, nutrition claims were introduced and permitted by MOH in 2003.

Numerous amendments have also been made to these regulations in requests of the food industry and consumer needs over the years. It was first published in 2005 and updated in 2007. The primary objective of nutrition labeling and claims still remain as a tool to assist the consumers in making better food choices when planning their daily meals.

Despite the good function and objectives of nutrition labeling, its format is often listed in a long written form or shared in a discussion report, which is less memorable to a commoner like me. After doing a thorough study, I have decided to present these with information design. It is hope that with this initiative, it will enhance one’s understanding and learning of nutritional labeling format in Malaysia.

 

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