Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Mama Jeannel

Jeannel Mah is a fourth year Information Systems student and a proud Singaporean. She thinks Crocs are the best and worst fashion trend and hates it when people don’t reply to text messages. She loves snacking and reads all the [English] words on the packaging of everything she buys. Incidentally, thus far, Jeannel received more nominations to do SoC Bytes than any other student.

Describe your SoC experience. What do you enjoy the most?
[My favourite thing about SoC is] the friendly atmosphere! SoC is like one big family! Students, Staff, Lecturers, we all know each other well enough to joke and confide in one another. [I think the thing that makes the SoC experience different is] the wonderful close‐knit feel of the faculty members! I'm not sure there is any other faculty where students and staff have such a close personal friendship, the active Facebook community, and alumni who are so willing to come back for events and help their juniors!
I have been blessed to be in the best faculty in the world, [with] so many people [who] have made good impressions on me. My fantastic seniors, who were so welcoming during my Freshmen Orientation Camps, who made me feel like I belong here, have given me, and are still giving me, support and advice up till now. It is because of them that I participate every year in the Freshmen Orientation Projects because I want to pass on a similar experience to my juniors.
[There are also] great lecturers who have given me great life advice, and have been so patient with me and any questions that I may have, no matter how stupid and simple they may be (shout out to Yang Zhenbin), [as well as] other SoC staff who have been so helpful and kind to me and have been really good friends. It is because of all these people that I love this school – it is the first school I've ever felt that I fit in. SoC is the only school I've been to that I love and would recommend others to go to.
I've just done so many silly things during my time here; I think I bring the insanity onto myself. I have once eaten 5 bowls of Jelly Tau Huey in one sitting because of a dare (it was a challenge started by Wai Tsun, we were helping to raise money for SoC's Freshmen Orientation Projects by selling Tau Huey), and I one-up-ed that dare by eating 6 at a later date (honestly those tiny bowls of jelly are more filling than they seem, and they also leave a chill in your bones). I also regularly dress oddly to go to school - Pikachu hats Cat Ears, Lolita Dresses, Wing hair clips - I have a whole assortment of strange clothes and accessories. Last Halloween I went to school in Lolita Dress and gave people sweets. For Valentines' Day last year, I folded about a hundred paper lotuses and gave them to everyone I knew. When running for a Vice President position for the Computing Club Management Committee, other than my posters, I put paper-craft Companion Cubes around the school filled with candy and refilled them throughout the day each day of the voting period.
[If I could change one thing,] I would place shower facilities in COM1, because year-round, so many of us stay over in school and I think it would be nice to not have to walk all the way to BIZ or ICube to shower! 

Besides academic work, what else do you do at SoC now?
I was a member of the Computing Club Management Committee (Comp Club MC) for two years in my first and second year, being the Vice Director of Communications and Media in the first, and then the Vice President (Human Resource & Development in my second). During these terms I've helped organise and oversee the organisation of many Comp Club events, namely, the Welfare, Sports and Academic events as well as provided support and manpower for events that aren't under my wing. I also went on the ground to ask various students about how they felt the Comp Club MC could do a better job at representing them and how we could better carry out our activities. During my Vice-Presidency, I was also one of the faculty representatives for the NUS Student Union, where we discussed and planned many aspects of NUS related to Student Life. I was also part of the committee for the Love NUS Campaign in that year, organising the photo booth, and creating the huge standee which stands today in the COM1 Lobby. In addition, I have been on the planning committee for a Freshmen Orientation Camp, as well as an Orientation Group Leader (OGL) in many others. Lastly, I am a member of the Student Network Associates (informal name: Sig Labs), where we help maintain certain servers in the school's network, as well as continue on with our own projects (the digital clocks in all the SRs and LTs, as well as the printer queue display were made by my seniors and mounted by us!).

Several of your fellow students nominated you (separately) to be interviewed and suggested we discuss your uniqueness, ‘motherliness’ and interests. Tell us about these.
I daresay I am a very caring person, maybe too much so, which is probably the cause of my "motherly" personality. I'm always worrying about other people and their welfare (which is a large reason for me running for my Vice President post). As an OGL I call my freshmen my "kids" and am constantly worrying about them, that they won't get sun‐burnt, won't be hungry, which leads me to buy a tonne of biscuits, snacks, instant noodles and sunblock before the camp to provide my "kids" with what they need. Although sometimes I go a little too far and go around to different groups asking if they need sunblock, and threatening to smack those who refuse sunblock if they get sun‐burnt (I have found that threat to be quite effective at making the males put on sunblock). I'm also always open and happy to give advice and help to those who ask me, at any time of the day.
Well [re: uniqueness], the most obvious one right now would be my hair colour. Last year I decided to bleach and dye my entire head of hair purple. And since then my hair has gone through various stages of purple, blue and pink.
Recently when most people look at me they immediately assume that I participate in Cosplay. Actually, I've barely done any Cosplay although I am quite interested in it. I have only Cosplayed three times, one as a character from my favourite anime "Elfen Lied", the second as a "Pikachu Maniac" and the third was a standard Lolita. While I am trying to get more into the Cosplay scene, I am not actually particularly active in it (mostly due to my laziness in making costumes).
I am however, a Video Game Child. I love video games, and have loved them ever since I can remember. I have an older brother who heavily influenced my likes and dislikes as a kid and my parents and relatives bought us plenty of video games and consoles on which we spent hours of every day of our life playing together. I practically grew up in a country club arcade and own at least one console from every (video game console) generation since 1990. My favourite game as a child was ‘Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun’, this is the reason why real‐time strategy games will always have a special place in my heart.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I was once on the National Youth Training Team of Singapore for Air Rifle Shooting. But I quit when I entered University because I wanted to focus on my studies.

What advice would you give a prospective SoC student?
Choose this course because you're interested in it, and not because you don't have any other choice. Also, go for the Freshmen Orientation Projects activities – you'll meet many people who will be an important part of your school life and working life in the future.

Quick‐Fire! If you had to eat only one item from one of the NUS canteen stalls for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Cheesecake from the Western Stall. I've got a weakness for desserts.

Best movie you’ve seen this year?
I don't watch many movies, but probably Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie got me wondering which characters were created with make‐up and which were computer generated.

Three ultimate dinner party guests (dead or alive)?
A musician/comic book writer: Gerard Way
An author: Neil Gaiman (or Patrick Rothfuss)
A Video Gaming YouTube Channel Celebrity: Hannah (or Kim) from the Yogscast

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Associate Professor Atreyi Kankanhalli thinks ‘Oblivion’ is probably the worst film she’s seen recently (she couldn’t make out what it intended to convey!). Her pet peeve is messiness and she doesn’t like crowded or confined spaces (Ed: I sure hope she doesn’t have to use the MRT during rush hour!). And, for her, the best hawker food in Singapore is the roti prata at the Jalan Kayu Prata Stall.

Atreyi (centre, in all black) with her IS colleagues

Where did you grow up?
Not a lot of people may know that I spent a large part of my childhood in Turkey. Although I was born in India, I spent close to 11 years of my childhood in Ankara (capital of Turkey). My father was working at the State Planning Division and later as an academic at Hacettepe University (I guess pursuing an academic career runs in the family!). It was an interesting place to grow up. Turkey is quite a modern country and the people are very friendly – in fact they would invite you into their house for a meal at any time of day. Also, Turkey has a unique geographical position serving as a bridge between Asia and Europe. There is a rich history drawing from the early Greek civilization (there are interesting ruins to visit) to the more recent Ottoman empire (Istanbul has some of this rich heritage). So it was an interesting country to live in and to travel around. 
For my schooling though, it was quite challenging! I first studied at the British Embassy School for my primary school as there were very few options for education in English. For my middle school, I went to the Ankara Kolej and studied only English, Maths, and Science. This is because these were the only subjects taught in English and all the other subjects were in Turkish! Subsequently, I had another set of challenges when my family moved back to India when I was in Grade 9. I had to learn an Indian language (Hindi) at that level and adjust to a new education system – I suppose all these changes help to make one adaptable!

Describe your work and its significance.
My research work examines issues around knowledge work, collaboration, and innovation supported by information and communication technology. My early work during my PhD examined the core motivations and barriers behind employee’s knowledge sharing behaviours using knowledge management systems (KMS). This was at the time when organizations were starting to introduce KMS in order to facilitate knowledge sharing, storage, and reuse. My thesis work helped to shed light on the key drivers for KMS use, and was one of the pioneering works in this area. As a result, it produced a significant impact in the field and garnered a large number of citations – and continues to be well-cited currently as well.
Subsequently, I have studied knowledge contribution and participation behaviours in various forms of online communities and ICT mediated contexts such as virtual teams. Here, too, the underlying objective is to gain a better understanding of the antecedents and consequences of these behaviours. I typically use objective, survey, and interview data to test the theoretical models that I have developed with my collaborators and students. 
I believe that if one can do work that is theoretically novel i.e., brings a new perspective, to understanding a phenomenon that is of practical interest, then such work is meaningful and will have a lasting impact. That is what I strive to do in my research.

Describe your SoC experience.
I came to SoC after working for 9 years in R&D in I2R (then known as ISS). Fresh with a Masters in Electrical Eng. from the US, I had joined ISS and worked on image processing, computer vision, and multimedia projects (including some pioneering work in video processing). After that I had a change of heart to move to academics and also change my field to a more socio-technical one rather than a purely technical subject. That is why I ended up signing up for a PhD in Information Systems. 
Following my PhD, I was recruited in the Dept., which made it easy for me as the work environment was familiar. Though it was a bit strange that my previous professors now became colleagues! 
But even during my PhD I had found the Dept., SoC, and NUS in general to be a very conducive environment for doing research. So I was happy to be able to continue my academic career here. In terms of challenges, there is always the issue of being away from the US which is the perceived centre of cutting-edge research. But in the years I have been here, this has become less and less of a limitation with the increasing internationalization of research in my area and other areas as well.
My teaching experience has been quite smooth and pleasant so far. Students in Asia and NUS in general are quite motivated and respectful of their professors. If you prepare your materials well and are helpful in promptly answering their queries, then they are very appreciative of your efforts. I am particularly impressed by those conscientious students (we have quite a few) who take the initiative to find out more and ask questions to master the subject.
Probably, if at all there is something I would like to change about SoC/NUS is to streamline some of the processes around teaching e.g., moderation. While there is plenty of flexibility in doing research, possibly we can do a bit more in terms of teaching.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
A couple of things probably:
  • I studied Biomedical Engineering for a while and even had to cut up animals for my experiments
  • I have recently started to learn Mandarin! I am not very proficient right now, but hopefully I will get there!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Travelling and watching movies are my hobbies. Other than travelling for work, I do enjoy visiting new places and finding out about the culture and history of those places.
With respect to movies, I enjoy both Hollywood and Bollywood films – particularly biopics. One of my favorite movies is ‘A Beautiful Mind’ about the American economist John Nash. I also enjoyed the ‘The Iron Lady’ that came out a few years ago.

Quick-Fire! Most interesting use of or development in technology this year?
Self-Driving vehicle technology that many companies including Google are researching. I am particularly interested as I’m not the biggest fan of city-driving.

Most annoying word?
“Whatever” – I get annoyed when my kids use this!

Three ultimate dinner party guests
  • Agatha Christie.
  • Any one of the Beatles
  • Isaac Newton 
I grew up on Agatha Christie’s mystery novels and Beatles’ songs. Also, I’m amazed by the breadth and depth of Newton’s contributions – there’s hardly any branch of classical Physics that he hasn’t made significant contributions to.

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