Caroline Hayes

Professor
College of Science and Engineering
University of Minnesota


Caroline Hayes

What attracted you to Carnegie Mellon?

During the summer before I started as an undergraduate, I wavered between University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University. As an entering freshman, I had intended to be a biology major, and to pursue a career as a researcher in cell biology. I was attracted to these two schools because both were technically excellent in science and engineering. I had no thoughts of a career in computer science at that time, so the reputations of the computer science departments never entered into my initial decision. Michigan had wider recognition for its science and engineering programs than CMU. However, I chose Carnegie Mellon because it was closer to my family, and it was much smaller and less overwhelming in scale than University of Michigan. As a graduate, I stayed at Carnegie Mellon because of its reputation in computer science, and because I was already working as a research engineer for an interesting project (The Intelligent Manufacturing Workstation) through the Robotics Institute which would provide funding and a good research focus.

What was your favorite class and why?

That is hard to say because there were many classes that I enjoyed. Probably I would have to say that my favorite was an introductory programming class that I took in spring of '78. I did not have much previous exposure to computers. Computers were not as ubiquitous as they are today, and although I could have taken programming (using a paper punch tape) in high school, I didn't because I felt that was only for geeks. However, in college, most of the science and engineering students took programming courses so it seemed more mainstream and I finally signed up for a computer course. I found the course a real eye-opener. It opened up a portal to a whole new abstract world. It was like discoving an unknown continent that had been sitting right in front of you the whole time.

Who was your favorite professor and why?

As an undergraduate, Mary Shaw. She was a role model. There were all too few female CS profs then (and there still are too few). She was bold. She was not cowed by any one. I remember vividly when someone (I think in the legislature) made some comment that CS excluded women and blacks because it required learning math -- Mary Shaw took several days off go there and set those folks straight on a thing or two about women and their ability to acquire mathematical concepts! She really put her efforts behind her beliefs. Later, when I became a graduate student, she took an interest in the women graduate students by organizing impromptu dinners and networking/career discussion sessions. I followed her lead in holding similar social events for the women Graduate students when I became a professor at U. of Illinois.

I also really liked Professor Elizabeth Jones (Biology). I noted, when reading the CMU alumni magazine the other day, that she is still winning awards for her research and teaching.

Although he was not a professor, I think an honorable mention for teaching has to go to the teaching assistant (TA) for my first programming course, Bruce Nelson. Bruce conveyed a genuine excitement about the subject, as well as being a very entertaining teacher. I recall that once (I think to emphasize a point) he leaped in the air and kicked the chalkboard. And, because he did not wear shoes to class past Easter, it left a perfect bare footprint in the center of the chalky blackboard, at about shoulder level. We all stared at that footprint about a minute. He looked it too, then decided to sign it with his initials. He was careful not to write over the footprint for the rest of class so that he could leave it up there for other classes to ponder.

As a graduate student, Herbert Simon was my favorite professor because of his fascinating approach to cognitive science. He was an excellent thinker and a fascinating speaker.

What was the best thing about living in Pittsburgh?

My family lives there. Its nice sized city, it's cosmopolitan without being inconveniently enormous. And there is a lot of great ethnic food.

What opportunities do you feel you had at Carnegie Mellon that you wouldn't have had at another university?

Access to a world class computer science department combined with excellent engineering resources. Carnegie Mellon also has a very uniquely interdisciplinary atmosphere, and the type of basic research problems explored there tend to have a very practical side, yet are far reaching. Both of those aspects are really very unique to Carnegie Mellon's research culture.

How do you think Carnegie Mellon helped prepare you to meet your professional challenges?

As an undergraduate, it taught me how to really work, and how to search for answers on my own. Sink or swim. Sometimes I sank and sometimes I swam. It was very humbling (but important) to learn that I might sometimes work as hard as I could and still sink. Sometimes, you have to be proud of simply not drowning.

Graduate school very directly helped me prepare for my future professional challenges as a researcher. I learned how to conduct research, give research talks, and write research papers. I also participated in preparing grant proposals. These are all essential skills in my profession as a researcher.

I found graduate school to be very different from undergraduate school, although I attended both at the same institution. Graduate school requires a very different set of skills than undergraduate school. As a graduate student it is important to learn to deal with large unstructured problems. Your advisor will not necessarily tell you what to do or how to solve it. If he or she knew, it wouldn't be research. You have to learn to explore problems and identify its needs largely on your own. In some sense, your research problem is your boss (perhaps collaboratively with your advisor) and you have to learn to let the problem tell you what to do. Fortunately, I like this type of challenge better than the cut-and-dried type of problems presented in an undergraduate ciriculum. Consequently, I found graduate work far more satisfying, and in some sense less difficult than classroom-oriented undergraduate work.

What do you believe has been your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement is my daughter.

What advice would you have for incoming students in the field of computer science who were worried about the difficulty of their program?

Think more about whether this program helps you to do things you want to do, and if you would enjoy the intellectual activities in which you will be participating, rather than whether the program is "difficult." If the program is in line with what you want to do, it won't feel as difficult. And graduating from a well-know program, like CMU's, has a huge impact on making it easier for you to get a good position later. However, if the program isn't in line with your skills and goals, it might appear more difficult, which might be an indication that perhaps it's not what you want to do.

The advances in the field of computer science have lead to a digital revolution. We've seen the birth of the personal computer, the fruition of Moore's law, the rise of the Internet, to name a few. What do you think we'll see next?

A better understanding of how to make effective, joint human-computer systems that work jointly with us to solve problems.

Describe your current position and it's roles and responsibilities.

I am an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, in the Industrial Engineering division, at the University of Minnesota. I am in the process of review for promotion in 2004 to full professor. My research focus is decision support systems, which are intelligent computer systems that help people to make better or faster decisions, without making those decisions for them. Decision support systems keep the human in control. This property makes them more flexible and more acceptable to people than totally automated decision making systems. Understanding how to design effective human-computer interactions, and how interactions with computers change human decision-making (for better and worse) are important parts of the study of decision support systems. As systems are becoming increasingly complex, decision support systems are becoming increasingly essential to all areas of decision making, such as military planning and intelligence analysis, design of products, and monitoring of complex systems such as nuclear power plants.

My responsibilities are similar to those of many professors. I am responsible for teaching classes, advising both undergraduate and graduate students in ciriculum and career choices. I serve on various departmental committees to decide issues such as "How should we change our admissions process to attract the very best students?" (Committees are a necessary part of the self-governing process of a department.) I write proposals for research funding, conduct research, train graduate students in research and thesis work, and write scientific articles reporting results of the research. During the past 3 summers I have participated in an educational outreach program called Science and Technology Preview (STEPS) camp for girls. The STEPS program, sponsored by the National Air and Space Administration (NASA), aimed to interest high-school girls in applying for college-level education in science. Girls participating in the camp came to the University of Minnesota for a week-long program, in which they built, launched, and analyzed the flight of a small (6 feet high) rocket.

Additionally, I volunteer for various disciplinary service related activities. For example, I am serving as the chair of the 2004 American Society for Mechanical Engineers conference on Design For Manufacturing. I review articles for journals and conferences, and review proposals for funding organizations, such as National Science Foundation. I also consult for various companies. I am currently working with the Guidant Corporation, a designer of implantable medical devices, to improve their product design and manufacturing processes.

This year I am on sabbatical leave, which means that I do all of the things above except teach classes. As part of my sabbatical, I will be visiting NASA's research center in Moffet Field Californina, for 3 months, starting in February 2004.

What research projects are you currently working on or completed recently (e.g. describe your work on the e.g. Information Awareness Interface. What is it? Why is it important? What impact has this project made or will make in the field?)

The Information Awareness Interface is a recently completed that evolved into a software system called "CoRaven." It is the result of the efforts of several faculty members: Jones, Wilkins, Barger, and myself working in a collaborative effort. CoRaven is a set of decision support tools to assist military analysis in the process of gathering and interpreting reconnaissance data from the battlefield. A major challenge faced by military intelligence analysts is that modern information technology has made it possible for them to obtain more information pertaining to the battlefield and enemy activities than ever before. So much, in fact, that analysts are deluged with information. The result is that they are unable to sift through all the data in a timely manner, which could have life-threatening consequences in critical situations. CoRaven's goals are to assist the analyst in rapidly analyzing intelligence data with respect to specific hypotheses they have posed about enemy actions. This will help them quickly identify the most relevant information in a large mass of data, track and visualize trends, and maintain an effective situation awareness.