Just got back from Vancouver and CHI, the biggest human-computer interaction conference. My research blog has a list of some papers I found cool. But more importantly for this blog, I loved the experience.
About 8 of us drove up from the UW Ubicomp Lab in a van. We stayed for 4 days, and each day involved 4 90-minute 4-talk sessions. Super cool stuff. I don't think a single session passed where I was bored by the talks. "Human-computer interaction" apparently does mean what I hoped it meant, which is "Anything where a person uses a computer, come on guys, let's make this all better." It's a bit generalist: it seems like people study "Computers + X" and learn a lot about X. Which is wonderful! Sure, you could study databases or something and squeeze out 4% more efficiency from some algorithm... or you could apply a computer to something that didn't previously have any computers and gain 100% more efficiency! Or solve problems that nobody else knew existed, or they knew they existed and had no idea how to solve them!
Between and after the sessions, of course, was massive standing eating drinking talking, which I understand is referred to as "networking". And here's the other thing: I like the people. I could see myself working with a lot of them in the future. So that's great.
Finally, I felt like I could hack it! There are hard problems, but I wouldn't mind tackling them, which means I could solve them. I feel like I can really make it in the academic world.
Okay, enough talk; time to go actually make it in the academic world. Cancel that; time to sleep so I can go learn how to motorcycle tomorrow. Woo!