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People of SGCI: Paul Parsons

Paul Parsons

Assistant Professor
Purdue University


What is your role within SGCI and what do you do?

I work in the SGCI incubator where I lead the usability consulting service. As part of my role in the incubator, I run a usability workshop at the bi-annual incubator-led Science Gateways Bootcamp. I also manage usability consulting services that are offered to gateway creators to help them improve the usability and user experience of their gateways. In this role, I supervise graduate students that provide the consulting services to gateway clients.

How did you come to be a part of SGCI, and why were you intrigued by the opportunity?

The opportunity to be a part of SGCI presented itself somewhat unexpectedly. A colleague of mine, Mihaela Vorvoreanu, was a part of SGCI but had to leave to move to a new career opportunity. She thought I was a good match for the position, and I was asked if I would be interested in joining SGCI. The opportunity was intriguing because of the diverse team, interdisciplinarity, and societal implications. I was also intrigued by the opportunity to involve students in the consulting work, which is an excellent complement to their classroom activities.

What is the most challenging part of your work for SGCI?

The most challenging part of the work is setting an appropriate scope for consulting projects. Because user experience design connects to so many aspects of a gateway’s creation and use, there is always more work that could be done.

How else are you involved in the technology or gateway community?

My background is in computer science, and I have done considerable work in software development—across the spectrum, but most recently in front-end web development. I also have an active research program involving the development and evaluation of interactive data visualizations, so I am strongly involved in that type of technical work. Finally, I am involved in running the user experience (UX) design program at Purdue, where I regularly interact with researchers and designers in academia and in the wider tech industry.  

What do you most like to do in your free time?

Most free time these days seems to be spent with my 16-month-old son, my wife, and my dog. I enjoy learning about philosophy, psychology, and history. Once upon a time, I played a fair amount of soccer and ice hockey.

If you were a superhero, what superpower would you have?

I would have the superpower to make people aware of their own true nature. One of my favorite authors is Leo Tolstoy, and I’m often reminded of this quote of his: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." If more people wanting change looked inside themselves rather than out at others, we would likely be closer to a better world!