Research Statement

You may download a PDF copy of my Research Statement, or read the full text below.

I research human-computer interaction (HCI), situated between inclusive technologies and inclusion in technology. Working on inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in HCI requires interrogating perspectives, assumptions, methods, and artifacts encountered in our approaches to research, design, and development of new and existing technologies. I argue that a lack of equal access and representation in today's tech ecosystem works in a negative feedback loop: the people who have difficulty using tools that are supposed to be “natural” and “intuitive,” whose understandings of the world are not present in the realities reflected back to them, are presented with implicit cues that they do not belong or these tools are not “for them.” Over time, the marginalization of diverse experiences and the loss of identities from the pipeline of talent is often framed as a missed economic opportunity, but stands for much more: without making space for the impact of marginalized voices on technology, our understanding of what interactive technologies can be will be limited. Engaging deeply with marginalization and oppression in HCI has taught me how to recognize, acknowledge, negotiate, and accept my own identity as a queer-, woman-identifying person with an invisible disability. Not only do we all deserve this opportunity for growth, but a failure to engage with systemic barriers in modern technology stands in the way of individuals’ realization of their full potential. Addressing this injustice is at the core of my motivation. Without improved understanding of the barriers to engagement with technologies along the whole cycle — from ideation as a maker, to using a product as a consumer — new technologies will continue to be limited in their reach and impact.

My long-term goal is to build a research program based in reflexive praxis, continuing to engage in the forefront of HCI research while bringing a critical lens to understanding the ways in which what we make and how we make it affects access, engagement, and adoption along all points of the “diversity pipeline.”

Summary & Link Shortcuts —

  • In my first full paper publication (1), I focussed on gender and the false implication of “neutrality” in how we envision and talk about “users” of technology. Understanding that denials of identity can impact agency and belonging, I used the “diversity pipeline” concept to frame proposed projects for my PhD. However, there are numerous opportunities here stretching far beyond the scope of one PhD, and thus informs my vision of a research program.
  • In my PhD thesis work (2), I focussed on entry points to tech careers in the form of informal learning environments (ILEs) such as makerspaces and game jams. This work highlighted narrow avenues for self-determination in these spaces that particularly demotivated equity-seeking participants wanting to explore and improve their skills. At the other end of the pipeline are the products made by homogeneous teams: when technologies are studied in environments that also lack diversity, we fail to pick up on red flags. 
  • In my most recent publication (3), I dig deeper into the issue of gender and cybersickness which disproportionately affects women, people of colour, and other minoritized groups: something that is well-known in the virtual reality (VR) research community, but often only mentioned as an aside in publications, if at all. This work is only a small step to addressing the widespread inaccessibility of VR technology. I am currently unofficially co-supervising a master's student who is taking this work forward by exploring how researchers can improve capturing and reporting of cybersickness data.
  • As a future faculty member (4) I will apply for funding, specifically the NSERC Discovery Grant to support the development of a research program around the numerous manifestations of inequality faced in VR research among other emerging technologies, which I outline below.

References found at the bottom of this page.


Is “user” neutral? A provocation for HCI research & design —

Adam Bradley, Cayley MacArthur*, Mark Hancock, and Sheelagh Carpendale. 2015. Gendered or neutral?: Considering the language of HCI. In Proceedings of the 41st Graphics Interface Conference, 163-170.

As a student in both English (Rhetoric & Communication Design) and Systems Design Engineering, I bridged human-computer interaction, rhetoric, semiotics, and feminist philosophy, and was skeptical of the reliance on the term “user” in academic and industrial contexts: when working in industry, I noticed that “user” was pejorative, implying that difficulties were their problem and not the responsibility of design teams. My mentor, Adam Bradley (who shares the same joint degree designation; now a postdoctoral researcher in information visualization and analysis at UOIT) shared that previous arguments based in the humanities had not resonated with the HCI community. I knew I needed to communicate in the language of the larger HCI community at that time, by further investigating humanistic issues within HCI using a study as the vehicle. Prior work had problematized the idea of a “genderless” user that does not reflect the realities of technology use [1]. In this work, we were able to show that Butler's concept of the “false universal” [2] held true: despite good intentions to use “neutral” terms to avoid specifying a gender, in a patriarchal society we are more likely to assume the “universal” figure is masculine, which subconsciously impacts who we really think we're designing for.

At the time of its first submission in 2013, feminist work was not common in HCI, although the call was growing: Shaowen Bardzell’s treatise for feminist HCI was published in 2010 [3]. While there are full sessions of feminist HCI work at the CHI conference today, our work was met with resistance from reviewers. One reviewer questioned our motives for not considering what they felt was the real alternative that women were not envisioned as “users” of technology because they were, in fact, less capable than others, thus arguing that what we observed was reflecting reality. We published this work at the Graphics Interface (GI) conference which is the oldest Canadian HCI conference, with a history of impact and influencing conferences like CHI and SIGGRAPH. GI gave the opportunity for this work to have continuing impact and further reach. Most recently, it was highlighted in the closing keynote of IEEE VIS 2020 entitled Data VIS for Empowerment & Inclusion, was included in a conceptual review of gender-inclusive HCI research & design by some of the field's most influential voices, and has been cited across a wide variety of domains, from human-robot interaction to data visualization.

The takeaway from this research was not as much the numbers, the drawings, and the specific terms that were investigated, but our success in demonstrating a disconnect between how people see “users” and how they see themselves. This raised a larger issue of agency, as in, to whom it is awarded and to whom it is denied through an inability to see oneself as the intended user. As technologies become integral parts of our daily lives, whether in the classroom, for professional training, or for leisure, the question of one's access to self-determination and empowerment is not an inconsequential side-effect of marginalization through design. Instead, it becomes a question of justice: who will get ahead, and who will be left behind?

* Note that I was not first author on this paper because I was completing my co-op degree requirement at the time of final submission, at which point my co-author took the lead on preparing this publication. The problem statement, research questions, study design, and analysis were my contributions and this work formed the centrepiece of my master's thesis.


Why are they leaving? Understanding motivations of makers in informal STEM learning environments —

Cayley MacArthur, Caroline Wong, and Mark Hancock. 2019. Makers and Quilters: Investigating Opportunities for Improving Gender-Imbalanced Maker Groups. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3, CSCW: 1-24.
See also: Project page

In my early work I explored how rhetorical patterns could represent power dynamics in digital systems, and demonstrated how the organization of people’s relations exerted through architecture [4,5] could be reproducible in a digital environment such as through information architecture (IA) and other layers of UX design. This informs a common thread of my research, where I examine the intersections between interaction with technologies, inclusion, and environments or spaces. During my PhD, I focussed on the beginning of the “diversity pipeline,” specically the informal learning environments (ILEs) such as makerspaces, hackathons, or game jams.

Maker groups offer an early opportunity to foster an interest and intent to pursue careers in designing technology [6], and because they are still emerging, we can benefit from an understanding of what interventions can support self-determination to foster longer-term engagement, and to potentially engender more inclusive design from such groups. Research on ambient belonging cues in physical spaces demonstrates the negative gendered impact of stereotypical elements being built into an environment on women's participation in computer science [7]. In general, ILEs provide an entrypoint into STEM, but can also be the place where these ambient belonging cues are internalized and a person decides that there is no place for them in this domain in the future [7].

The first project in this line of research began when I captained the Waterloo Game Jam and calculated a 70% attrition rate among the women who attended that weekend. In many ways, this reflects the way that my service and research become intertwined: I was able to notice the issue, and after completing this project, I was able to directly apply the work to future game jams as well as advising others organizing similar events. By looking outside of STEM-focussed ILEs and studying technically skilled maker groups that were female-dominated — quilters — I drew connections between communities that, on the surface, seem very different. At the same time, a limitation of this work was studying groups that were opposite in their gender composition but each had exclusionary factors of their own such as little variability in race and socioeconomic status. In my ongoing work I strive to engage with intersecting identity factors, which reflect the real lived experiences of individuals occupying such spaces.

The importance of the connection between people, their craft, and their space became apparent over the course of this study, as did the importance of having multiple avenues for self-determination to support diverse personal goals among members of the group. I am currently studying the impacts of remote making on these groups in the context of computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW). This includes questions like: What is the impact on the maker community (and sense of community), and the individual construction of a maker identity, in the absence of a maker space? In what ways have these groups adapted their working practices, and what can we do as HCI researchers and designers to support these makers through e.g., development or modification of new tools? Whether or not there is a future mandate against in-person gatherings as there is now, there will always be people who cannot physically access maker groups; I am excited to determine how we can improve access for all in the long term.


“You're Making Me Sick”: Investigating the relationship between gender and cybersickness in virtual reality —

Cayley MacArthur, Daniel Harley, Arielle Grinberg, and Mark Hancock. 2021. “You're Making Me Sick”: Investigating the relationship between gender and cybersickness in virtual reality. In press, CHI 2021.

My latest publication which has recently been accepted to CHI 2021 was inspired by a peculiar pattern during volunteering. As a representative of the Women in Engineering committee, I volunteered in an outreach event where we tried to engage with incoming female undergraduate students by getting them to try out the new (at the time) Google Cardboard viewer, which offered a low-cost way to explore Virtual Reality (VR) powered by just a smartphone. To my surprise, the vast majority of the female-identifying students declined, saying that they would feel sick. At that time, the major brand names we recognize today (e.g., Oculus Rift, HTC Vive) were not available commercially to the extent that these students would have had prior access. I wanted to know more about this pervasive belief that VR was not “for them” from Day 1.

VR technologies, whether head-mounted displays (HMDs), controllers, or the experiences designed for them, are an example of products emerging from a dysfunctional version of the talent pipeline where the final product reflects the realities of a limited group of its makers. Despite numerous reports in both popular media and scientific literature of disproportionate impacts of cybersickness on women and people of colour, “(dis)comfort” remains prominent in design guidelines. This discomfort is present insofar as how to mitigate its effects, but very little work has been done to ameliorate the issue altogether. Experiencing cybersickness has been positioned as a deficit of people, and not of systems, despite its pervasiveness: this has lead to researchers using this as justification for excluding women from VR studies altogether, even going so far as to also limit their samples to exclusively white men for “control” purposes. As VR is increasingly used for professional training situations, for teaching, for therapy, and other real-world applications, an inability to use this technology without serious physical (e.g., disorientation, nausea, headache, dizziness) or psychological (e.g., anxiety, distress, “fogginess”) side effects acts as a barrier to equal access and opportunity.

The first step towards designing and testing changes for measurable improvements in cybersickness outcomes in VR technology is first isolating the factors that we can control. Our systematic review of 71 eligible VR publications pertaining to gender and cybersickness revealed a number of confounding factors (e.g., a variety of technical specifications, tasks, content), a lack of demographic data, and a bias in participant recruitment. If findings cannot be validated across studies, developing a better understanding of the relationship between gender and cybersickness will remain elusive. Based on the gaps identified in this systematic review, I contributed study design recommendations for future work, arguing that gender considerations are necessary at every stage of VR study design, even when the study is not ‘about’ gender.


Extensions and Intersections: Longer-term vision for a research program —

As a researcher, supervisor, educator, and collaborator, I will contribute to advancing diversity and inclusion in the design of novel interactive technologies. At the beginning of my career, I became the local expert on gender issues in HCI, but now the sensitivity to how gender impacts our research has been adopted more widely. My background in rhetoric, communication, and knowledge integration helps to take on challenging problems facing our research community, which is why I am interested in the role intersecting identities play in HCI: not just gender, not just race, not just ability, but rather situated and complex everyday realities. Taking these into account poses challenges for our current research methods, but a starting point is working in a framework of anti-oppressive and social justice-oriented interaction design [8,9] which is positioned for today's wicked problems [9]. I will continue to push the margins in my work, into new venues that are developing a consciousness about power and equity, as I have with exploring emergent areas such as fabrication and extended reality (sections 2 and 3 above, respectively).

During my work on cybersickness in VR, I generated a number of further research questions for exploration into this issue. I am currently co-supervising in an unofficial capacity a master's student who is extending this work for his thesis project. Below are a selection of research areas that are included in my vision for a research program that interrogates the various manifestations of how individual empowerment through access to technology is hindered in research, in design, as well as in social settings.

How might we more accurately capture cybersickness data in a way that reflects the experiences of all participants?

In a forthcoming publication (see section 3, above), I discuss the bias encoded in the most commonly used measurement of cybersickness: the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire (SSQ). This measure was developed on naval aviation trainees at a time when women were not permitted to participate, but is the dominant means of describing sickness to this day. In order for this work to be both useful and usable by our community, the work being undertaken by the master's student aims to develop improved, or even brand new tools to more accurately capture the spectrum of symptoms experienced by those who were not able to participate in the original development of the SSQ. Whether this takes the form of an extension to the SSQ or a new validated scale, it will have achieved two main goals: first, exposing serious flaws that had gone unquestioned in past work, calling for reflection on assumptions of validity and generalizability (and what other measurement tools might have similar problems), and second, it contributes the development of an artifact itself, the new tool and reflections on the process: a tool that is forthcoming about who it represents as well as its limitations.

What experimental factors can be manipulated to enhance or reduce the symptoms of cybersickness?  —

Despite the number of confounds documented in our systematic review, patterns in the existing research indicate areas where controlled interventions may show effects across gender as it pertains to experiences of cybersickness. Prior to lockdown, I was designing and implementing a series of lab studies based on hypotheses exploring factors including, but not limited to: perspective (first-person, third-person, bird's eye view); navigational reference frames (egocentric, exocentric); and manipulation techniques (abstraction of the controllers in comparison to passive haptics which simulate 1:1 interaction with the physical world). When it is safe to do so, I look forward to applying recommendations from our systematic review in order to execute these studies to provide usable information from a controlled study of specific factors, for other researchers who are also concerned about the confounding effects of cybersickness on VR study outcomes.

What interventions could create a more level playing field for people with differing spatial abilities?  —

Spatial reasoning skills, more commonly referred to as spatial abilities or spatial skills, are associated with students' success in STEM disciplines such as their ability to learn programming and perform complex mathematics. Research suggests that these abilities are plastic, that is, they are highly responsive and changeable given an appropriate intervention. Additionally, women, people of colour, and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds typically have poorer spatial reasoning skills. I would like to explore potential applications of interventions to improve spatial abilities over time, in different settings, whether in the classroom, through playful interactions, or potentially as a priming activity before engaging in an activity demanding spatial reasoning. While a number of identity factors seem linked to a tendency to have poorer spatial abilities, there is no reason it has to stay this way: I want to investigate creative and engaging ways to activate this part of the brain to improve learning outcomes in STEM environments.

References —

[1] Shaowen Bardzell, Elizabeth Churchill, Jeffrey Bardzell, Jodi Forlizzi, Rebecca Grinter, and Deborah Tatar. 2011. Feminism and interaction design. In CHI'11 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1-4.

[2] Judith Butler. 2004. Undoing gender. Routledge, New York; London.

[3] Shaowen Bardzell. 2010. Feminist HCI: taking stock and outlining an agenda for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1301-1310.

[4] Elliot Gaines. 2006. Communication and the Semiotics of Space. Journal of Creative Communications 1, 2: 173-181.

[5] Michel Foucault. 1993. Space, Power, and Knowledge (Interview by Paul Rabinow). In Simon During (ed.), The cultural studies reader, 161-69. London: Routledge.

[6] Allan Fowler. 2016. Informal STEM Learning in Game Jams, Hackathons and Game Creation Events. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Game Jams, Hackathons, and Game Creation Events (GJH&GC '16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 38-41.

[7] Sapna Cheryan, Victoria C. Plaut, Paul G. Davies, and Claude M. Steele. 2009. Ambient belonging: How stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 97, 6 (2009), 1045-1060.

[8] Thomas Smyth and Jill Dimond. 2014. Anti-oppressive design. Interactions 21, 6: 68-71.

[9] Lynn Dombrowski, Ellie Harmon, and Sarah Fox. 2016. Social Justice-Oriented Interaction Design: Outlining Key Design Strategies and Commitments. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems - DIS '16, 656-671.