Reflections on CHI 2023 in Hamburg & Presenting “Pears”

I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at the CHI 2023 conference in Hamburg, Germany. This was my first time attending an in-person CHI conference since 2019 in Glasgow, and it was fantastic to reconnect with the HCI community face-to-face after several years of virtual conferences.

I presented my recent TOCHI paper titled “Designing Technology-Mediated Peer Support for Postgraduate Research Students at Risk of Loneliness and Isolation”.

Student mental health and wellbeing have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Postgraduate research (PGR) students are at risk of experiencing mental health concerns and this, with the often isolated and competitive nature of their work, can impact their sense of community and social connectedness. In response to these concerns, we designed Pears, a system to connect PGR students for regular “pearings” (in-person meetings) and provide activities to promote reflection and conversation. A four-week evaluation of Pears with 15 students highlighted its potential to sometimes, but not always, facilitate peer support. Some participants would instead meet formally and according to their needs, others instead used the system to make new social connections. Additionally, some participants who faced work-related difficulties during the study found using the system contributed to their stress levels. We conclude by noting how technologies that encourage peer support can help build social relationships, providing an avenue to share similar PhD experiences and guidance for those new to the experience, while importantly raising awareness and an understanding for the need to take time for self-care. However, these technologies must be utilised carefully, and are not a replacement for other sources of student support in universities.

Designing Technology-Mediated Peer Support for Postgraduate Research Students at Risk of Loneliness and Isolation

CHI 2023 was an exciting conference experience for me, not only professionally but also personally, as it was the first conference I attended with my 3-year-old son. We had a great time exploring Hamburg and it was amazing to experience Germany through my son’s eyes – aside from the CHI presentations, we particularly enjoyed all of the vegan restaurants, and the amazing play parks!

Attending an academic conference as a parent was a new experience for me. The CHI organizers did a great job accommodating families through providing free childcare during the main conference days and a dedicated nursing room. As a family with a young child, these services were invaluable in allowing us to fully participate in the conference.

The ability to connect with other researchers and practitioners in HCI after a long break was invigorating. CHI 2023 reminded me of the welcoming, intelligent, and enthusiastic nature of our community.

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